Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two Review
A Minnie improvement.
From the mental paintbrush of Warren Spector comes the sequel to the 2010 Wii exclusive that featured an incredibly ambitious concept that unfortunately fell flat in execution. Epic Mickey was a clever crack at mixing old and new colours, of revisiting forgotten names while concurrently updating their characterisations. Mickey Mouse was revamped into a more comic-mischievous hero, while Oswald the Rabbit, one of Disney’s original toons that got sold to Universal early on, finally returned after a half-century’s absence.
Epic Mickey‘s nostalgic narrative and its ‘paint the environment’ gameplay, which seemed to be clearly influenced by Super Mario Sunshine’s spray away the soil mechanic, were both solid, but major camera problems and limited mission variety killed whatever charm the game managed to muster. The sequel is here, and on multiple platforms, but have the outstanding issues of the original been doused with thinner, or is Power of Two a misnomer?
The story of Epic Mickey 2 is as delightfully nostalgic as it is… well, epic. Created by the Sorceror from the 40’s classic Fantasia, the Wasteland is home to the forgotten characters and concepts of the Disney universe. The Mad Doctor, villain from the first game, is back as an apparently changed man, appealing to Oswald the Rabbit and his girl Ortensia that he’s cleaned up his act and wants to help them out in the recent rise of a series of earthquakes. Suspicious of the Doctor’s motives, Mickey is called upon to aid Oswald in securing the safety of the scrapped cartoon realm.
The well themed plot is solid but harbours a few holes. One of those holes is inconsistent direction. The game starts off as a musical, the cutscenes topped with sing-along sections that, infantile or not, are quite catchy numbers. But as quickly as they start up, the musical fills are nowhere to be found, and Power of Two suddenly suffers a serious identity crisis. Was this supposed to be a musical but the developers just gave up halfway in?
Slightly more entertaining than the first, the game is the subject of extremely dated and derivative platforming. The primary point is co-operation – the subtitle should indicate as much. Whether you’re playing on your own or with a friend, Mickey and Oswald work together to solve a series of standard puzzles.
Mickey is armed with a paintbrush, the main gimmick of the series, which allows him to fill in the world or erase it depending on navigational needs.
Mickey is armed with a paintbrush, the main gimmick of the series, which allows him to fill in the world or erase it depending on navigational needs. Oswald, on the other hand, carries around an electric-charged remote control that’s mostly used to flip switches. He can also use his helicopter ears to help himself and Mickey to glide across great gaps, a la Rayman.
The problem is that the gameplay here is so generic, doing nothing for the platform genre. While being able to create, manipulate, and destroy the environment in order to steer through its challenges is a superlative sandbox concept vigorously being explored on the lesser levels of independent gaming all the time, Epic Mickey 2 is, in the most ironic twist, a creative failure. The constructive power here is phony as you can only create and destroy objects that the designer allows. Objects that can be manipulated are highlighted by a ghostly outline, and usually include environmental stepping stones and machines that you need active in order to progress.
The frustrating part is that because the ‘paint the world’ mechanic is so linear, predicated solely on the imagination of the developer and not your own, the paintbrush-and-canvas concept loses its magic and in fact becomes tedious. For example, you might need to ascend a cavern. The outline of a staircase is made obviously clear and is the only way you’re going to get up to where you need to go, so you pull a trigger and colour in the lines of the staircase. But if the creation of this staircase is mandatory, then what’s the point of creating it? Why couldn’t the developer have created it and saved me the hassle? Similarly, you can only erase certain objects with your thinner. So if an obstacle lies in your way, and you’re not meant to pass through it, you’re not getting through it. So again, why arm me with a tool that erases matter?
The control can be difficult, to say the least. One of the common complaints of the first game was its clunky camera, and promises from Mr. Spector that you would be able to play through the sequel’s entirety without ever needing to touch the camera control stick have proven to be laughable lies. It’s definitely a better camera this time around, but it still gets stuck every now and again behind walls and shrubbery.
Now, that said, the control sticks are not your true enemy in this epic; that role has been filled by the ‘A’ button… yes, the A button. Mind you, I’m only reviewing the game on the Xbox 360, so when I say ‘A’, I’m referring to the standard ‘jump’ button. But whatever console you’re playing on, the grievous error that the developer has committed is setting the ‘jump’ and ‘interact’ actions to the same button. I can’t tell you how many times I went up to an object to activate it only to find my character hopping around like an idiot until I could settle him down, carefully align him with the context indicator, and press hard and sure on the button. Just as annoying when it comes the ‘A’ button is its part in skipping cut-scenes. Whatever happened to the days of just hitting the start button? Seriously. In Epic Mickey 2, you need to hold ‘A’ for almost 5 seconds before the cinematic will end.
Thank the ghost of Walt himself that production values save the game from its ‘meh’ gameplay and control quirks. The art style of the game is beautiful and sentimental of an older Disney era, and the vintage-style cartoon cutscenes increase the title’s nostalgia factor. The voices are all lent by Disney’s regulars, and hearing Mickey and Oswald – two lynchpins of animated lore – converse in a scene taken straight from an old Disney serial is golden. The music matches the voice-over and graphics in terms of merit, and conveys both the listless luxury of the cartoon life, and the grand scope of a darker world in peril.
As noted, Epic Mickey 2 is a co-op experience, and the co-op mode has been integrated as seamlessly as other games like the Lego series. Jumping in is as easy as hooking up a controller and tapping ‘Start’, and given that this is without a doubt a kid’s game, despite the Epic Mickey brand being marketed as darker in tone compared to previous Mickey Mouse series, most Dads will be buying this one to play with their kids. To them I say, you can do a lot worse than this one – 2002’s Magical Mirror and 2011’s Disney Universe are but two of the E-rated, brain-dead abominations I have already mentioned in previous reviews – and so for the purpose of spending time with your tykes, I’d recommend Epic Mickey 2. It is far deeper and emotionally challenging than those games.
The model has promise, I will certainly give it that, but just like its wire-framed cartoon obstacles, this model is a rough sketch that desperately needs some colour to flesh out its design.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then check out the video review.
Epic Mickey and the Power of 2 was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Mickey’s House Of Delusion
A well told and thematically focused plot that dwells on the past and while looking forward to second chances, and some fine attention to reforging forgotten childhoods make this one of the better Disney games of recent memory. But the co-operative based platforming is run-of-the-mill, stifled by repetition and some stubborn controls, and the ‘paintbrush’ ploy is incredibly under-utilised as you have no freedom to create or destroy at will. The Disney license is honoured, but the idea of creating and destroying the material world demands freedom and consequence; Epic Mickey 2 offers neither, and thus its ambition overtakes its outcome.