For all the Disney trappings, you should not forget that this is a Warren Spector game we’re talking about here. As such, we’re very much talking about a player-driven narrative and player-driven problem solving. Much like Spector’s seminal Deus Ex, there is no right or wrong way to solve a puzzle, and you’ll be free to fudge together any method that works.
Showing us the old platforming chestnut of stopping a spinning fan so that Mickey can walk through, Spector told us that he’s already found five or six ways of completing the task, so expect a very, very freeform experience from this one.
Seriously. The gameplay freedom even goes that far. If you want to make the effort, you can avoid combat altogether. Apparently the idea came from a conversation between Spector and Pixar boss John Lasseter, who mentioned that writing Toy Story’s characters was a matter of working out what it was that a toy wanted. Spector applied this thinking to cartoons, and so, if you can work out what a boss character needs and can deliver it, you can pass peacefully without a bit of aggro.
While the overall game is based upon Disney lore as a whole, certain levels are based upon specific cartoons from Mickey’s history. These levels stand out even further by playing out as traditional 2D platformers, for which we can only whoop and cheer thankfully. The only example we’ve seen so far is a stage based upon much-lauded 1937 Mickey/Donald/Goofy toon Clock Cleaners (watch it below), but expect lots more.
A game based on the most famous cartoon company of all time has no excuses for ropey animation, and none are being allowed. Spector's instruction to his team throughout production is that things can't just be great, they have to be "Disney great". As such, the game uses a brilliant character animation engine which allows all the kinetic character movement and stretchy athleticism of classic Disney cartoons. It's so good that the team has actually been able to use it to flawlessly recreate Mickey's movements from his animated appearances, as you can see below:
The relaunch of Mickey? One of the biggest cultural icons of the century? What fresh madness is this? But think about it. Who is Mickey Mouse? We know about the rest of them. Donald is the cantankerous git with the anger-management issues. Goofy is, well, goofy. But Mickey? He’s just a face on a t-shirt. A corporate logo devoid of a personality.
But it wasn’t always like this. Back in the days of his early animated shorts, Mickey actually had a personality, and as a massive animation geek it's this Mickey that Spector wants to give back to the world. Mickey's going to be purposeful. He’s going to be funny. Most importantly of all, he’s going to be youthful and mischievous, but definitely not babyish. And he’s going to be less human than he has become in recent years, and more like the “cartoony rat” (Spector’s words) that he used to be. This can only be a good thing.
Well, sort of. Kingdom Hearts aside, Disney has deliberately kept Mickey out of games for a long time, largely because it hasn't been confident that it had come up with a suitable treatment for its biggest star.
In the interim it had passed the idea of a Mickey game on to its internal think-tank, made up entirely of film, game and art students on work placements. Being young and fresh of idea, said tank came up with the concept of the game, before Warren Spector was brought in to make it. Classic characters, new ideas. That's what Epic Mickey is all about.