Disclaimer: I’m a hardcore fan of the 3D platformer and a diehard Disney dork.
Above: Hooooo boy...
Now, that’s not to say you too must be able to tell the difference between a Horace Horsecollar and a Clarabelle Cow in order to enjoy Epic Mickey. Nor does it require you to have played all the Jak, Ratchet & Clank games, or everything ever released on N64… but it certainly does help. And judging by those criteria alone, Epic Mickey is absolutely breathtaking.
For animation nerds, it’s going to be nothing short of a godsend. Epic Mickey tells a sorta true story about very real Disney characters and what happens to them once they’re forgotten. The game takes place in Wasteland, a warped, scuffed re-envisioning of Disneyland that is essentially an afterlife refuge, where cultural castaways can live on in peace eternally. And it’s overseen by the granddaddy of tragically squandered potential, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Never heard of him? He was – make that is – Walt Disney’s first popular creation, but a squabble between Walt and Universal Studios meant Oswald would be banished to obscurity and his destiny rewarded instead to another big-eared cartoon rodent.
Above: When visiting Mickey Junk Mountain, feel free to stomp on a copy of Capcom's Mickey Mousecapade!
That last part is historically accurate, actually. If it weren’t for the Oswald turmoil, there’d be no Mickey Mouse, or possibly even a Walt Disney Company. And if it weren’t for Mickey Mouse, Oswald could’ve had all the fame and glory bestowed on the world’s most recognizable character.
Above: Even the cutscenes have a style all their own
The two are not enemies in the game, though. Oswald’s built The Wasteland in according to Walt’s vision, so it’s an instantly recognizable doppelganger of Disneyland, albeit a bit darkened and skewed. There’s a crisis occurring here, and what Mickey’s estranged sibling wants more than anything is to get the famous mouse out of the Wasteland as soon as possible.
Above: Certain characters will seem familiar, although their appearance won't
I hate to spend so much of this review harping on the (back)story and characters, but the thousands of pieces of Disneyana tucked into every fiber of Epic Mickey’s being is inarguably part of the game’s charm. And recognizing them, especially for an animation enthusiast, is a wonderful, nostalgia-fueled game in and of itself.
Now for the game itself. It’s possible that I, as a Disney fan, was a bit more easily won over by the inspiration than someone with no vested interest in animation would be. But I think these are some of the most elaborate, well constructed platforming levels I’ve ever seen.
It’s not just about pointing out fifty-year-old Mickey posters, Tomorrowland rockets and the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (although… OMFG!), you’re also looking at some of the most complex, vast, and impressively branching game environments the genre’s ever seen.
Above: Mickey travels between worlds via 2D sidecrolling levels that reference his previous adventures
The gothic take on Disneyland has made for wonderfully realized meta-verse almost anybody will recognize immediately. Outside of a slightly crappy camera, I haven’t fallen so head over heels with the look, feel, and play of a third-person platformer since the original Banjo-Kazooie. And through it all, Mickey runs, jumps, and spins attacks with all the grace found in Mario Galaxy, only with collectibles Disney fans will find infinitely worthwhile.
Add to that, you’ve got the ability to restore or remove parts of the world with the power of Paint and Thinner. Add platforms, activate nodes, erase objects to reveal hidden items, solve environment puzzles, and use it as a passive or offensive weapon. The incalculable number of ways Mickey can interact with the world is simply staggering. And complain all you want about the lack of HD, but I haven’t seen anything on Move or Kinect that leads me to believe that those controls could pull off running at full speed while accurately firehosing gallons of paint with the grace of the Wii Remote. (Although, it’s probably just a lack of interest… Who’s up for more bowling?!)
The ability to use the entire game like an interactive canvas will undoubtedly entertain kiddies for hours, but there’s something far more hardcore hiding underneath the Epic Mickey’s surface. This world is alive, and all too aware of what you’re doing. Everything Mickey does matters intensely, and in ways never entirely predictable. Wasteland inhabitants respond to you differently depending on what you do, and your actions can then indirectly affect what quests open up to you in the game.
OCD gamers like me might even get a little frustrated, as Epic Mickey forces you to make crucial decisions with very little guidance and sometimes… there’s no going back. There’s a morality system in play and sometimes you’ll see where it’s going, sometimes you won’t.
Other times you’ll be presented with a noble task, and then a faster, easier way out. I got stuck on one such quest and still haven’t quit punching myself for essentially bargaining my way out of it. That said I absolutely applaud the fact that there are options. In fact, seeing, doing, and collecting everything in Epic Mickey is impossible to do in a single playthrough. But it’s hard to fault a game for offering ample incentive to replay it.
Is it better than...?
Super Mario Galaxy 2? Yes… and no, especially if you’re asking about the 1st Galaxy. There’s a layer of spit-shiny polish only Nintendo itself seems to be capable of delivering consistently missing in Epic Mickey. But the game is darker visually, and it’s still above and beyond anything else on the Wii. I actually found the levels more creative and intricate than the rehashes in SMB2, as they tended to be designed solely to get Mario from point A to point B, whereas Mickey’s levels allow him to take on numerous directions, goals, and dare I say… plot points, at once. They both have semi-useless power-ups, but nothing will ever be as awful as Spring Mario.
Kingdom Hearts II? Yes! The story is (20,000) leagues better. There’s never a dull moment or wasted scene and the characters are rooted in a “real” situation more befitting of their history, instead of getting squeezed into the unnecessarily convoluted roles of Square-Enix crybabies. The combat in Epic Mickey is technically more simplistic - using only jumps, paint and spin attacks - yet it’s somehow more versatile than a Keyblade, not to mention infinitely more refreshing than simply hitting one button over and over again to unleash hack-and-slashery.
Toy Story 3? Yep. It’s not only that every single setting in Epic Mickey looks more polished and unique, the best levels of Toy Story 3 were the ones you built yourself! Pixar’s platformer didn’t stray far from all the stuff you’ve seen before, whereas level design of Epic Mickey is practically a revolution for the genre. I’ll give Toy Story credit for including several characters from the Pixar stable, but none of them can hold a candle to the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s first appearance back under Disney for the first time in over eighty years!
Just for you, Metacritic!
For me, the surprises, historical reverence and inspired platforming creativity make this the Wii game of the year. Hopefully, it won’t all be lost on the broad audience it’s aiming for, because both Disney nuts and old school gamers will find Epic Mickey well worth their while. It’s a life-affirming tribute to both forgotten characters and game genres well worth remembering, with an all new added twist. And contrary to how it looks, there’s a startling amount of maturity and replayability wrapped within this family-friendly package.
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