Reposted Review: Epic Mickey 2

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(Originally posted on Retro Retreat before its hiatus.)

Mickey Mouse returns to help his forgotten ancestor Oswald the lucky rabbit save Wasteland once again. Is it a trip worth taking?

PROS: Everything you loved about Epic Mickey, with optional co-op! Oh, and musicals!

CONS: While improved, camera still gets iffy. NPC Oswald sometimes gets finicky. Story isn’t as memorable or as emotionally impactful as the original game’s.

DISTURBING: Enemies, and some NPC’s are as twistedly Tim Burtonesque as ever.

Epic Mickey was a pleasant surprise for me.  I went into it not expecting much as I’m not a die-hard Disney buff. I like Mickey Mouse alright, he’s a cultural icon. But I don’t share Junction Point head Warren Spector’s obsession. I also like a lot of his material in video games, but most of it has been role-playing which isn’t my strong suit. Still, I picked it up, and really enjoyed it. It had a great story, faithful use of the characters, cool enemies, and it made great use of it’s paint/thinner mechanic. Gameplay was a nice mix of action platforming, and classic 80′s/90′s PC adventure game design. It reminded me a lot of American McGee’s Alice, but with Mickey Mouse, crossed with stuff like Grim Fandango, and Ultima. It had it’s flaws. A sometimes wonky camera, and some cheap A.I. in spots. But in the end it was a fun game. Epic Mickey had a fairly mixed reception. A lot of folks thought it was pure gold. A lot of folks thought it was average. Ultimately I thought it fell between good, and great. I enjoyed my time with it’s story, exploration, puzzles, and side missions.

Epic Mickey 2 will be more polarizing than the first game though. Because it improves on the first game’s mechanics, while doing a couple of other things slightly odd.

The story in Epic Mickey 2 isn’t terrible, but it is a notable step down from the first game’s. Epic Mickey 1′s story centered around how Mickey Mouse’s goofing around with magical paint, and thinner accidentally caused a catastrophe in Wasteland, the land of forgotten Disney cartoon characters. The catastrophe also gave birth to a race of baddies called the Blots. Mickey met Oswald who was jealous of Mickey’s success because he was sold to Universal, and in his absence Mickey went onto become a mega star. Oswald was also angry with Mickey because of the disaster.  Mickey had to set things right, reconcile with Oswald, and stop the looming threat over Wasteland. The story was on par with some of Disney’s animated movies. With themes of pain, forgiveness, atonement, and love.

Epic Mickey 2′s story sets it’s sights on The Mad Doctor. Promising that he’s turned over a new leaf, he wants to help the citizens of Wasteland put an end to the recent earthquakes that have been plaguing their world. As the story progresses, The Mad Doctor does a lot of his exposition in musical numbers. It’s like a fun cross between Dr. Wily, and Ursula the sea witch. Unconvinced that The Mad Doctor changed his ways, Oswald’s wife enlists the help of The Gremlins to bring Mickey Mouse back to Wasteland.

This is where the game starts up. Like Epic Mickey this is a platform adventure game with some role-playing elements. There are several areas in the game that all act as hub worlds. Within each of the hub worlds are projectors that contain some side scrolling stages that connect to other hub worlds or levels. There are also a ton of side quests you can do for NPC’s in the hub worlds. Some involve finding an item in a stage, and bringing it back to them. Other’s involve taking a photo of a certain structure. Others involve using your paint, and thinner to build or destroy geometry or any number of puzzles. Doing these gets you collectible items that another NPC may need for an entirely different quest, or an item needed to progress or something else entirely.

There are also many collectibles you can find throughout the game, as well as costumes. Some of these will aid you while others will be needed in a side quest. Costumes also impact the game. For instance, getting the Tron costume for Oswald makes his boomerang attack have more power, and range.  You can also enter shops to buy items, and power ups if you can’t seem to find them in stages, or if they don’t exist in stages or side quests. All of this is done in a way that doesn’t feel like boring fetch questing. You will actually have fun finding pins, parts of costumes, scrap metal, and such. Even the side scrolling projector missions have been tweaked, as spinning the reels on the film before entering changes what plane in the 2.5D world you end up. This is important too because some coveted items exist in these stages, and landing on the right plane is key to securing them. Even after you beat the game you may want to revisit it to finish uncompleted quests or try items you didn’t get the chance to. There are easily 20 hours worth of quest content in the game.

Paint, and thinner is once again, a focal point of the design. Using paint to solve puzzles or complete an objective will veer you closer toward a lighter, happier, moral side of the story. The execution of using thinner to do these things is considered selfish, and lazy. Thinner is often times the easier way to do things. Other times you may find it a necessary evil as it isn’t always apparent a paint way to progress is possible even if it is. New to this mechanic are double team moves involving Oswald, and ink wells.

Seeing how Epic Mickey 2 injects Co-Op, Player 2, (Or the A.I. if only one person is playing) controls Oswald.  Oswald has moves of his own, and a special remote. This ensures that two people don’t end up trying to do the same thing, but always work together. Oswald’s remote can turn on terminals, reprogram robots, and shoot laser orbs. Both players can also revive each other if they get to whoever’s fallen in time before they die. A lot of the puzzles throughout the game require both Mickey, and Oswald to solve. Sometimes Mickey may have to paint or thin a computer box before Oswald can hack it. Sometimes two adjacent gears require both players to simultaneously move them to progress. Even bosses require team work.

Where this gets a little problematic however is two-fold. First is the camera. While it is better than the camera in the previous game, there are just some angles where it will twist annoyingly away from what the two characters need to see, and you’ll slowly have to move it while trying to play. This will undoubtedly cause a few deaths until you can come to grips with workarounds in those spots. The second is when playing single player. Sometimes NPC Oswald will get stuck in a loop until you move. Other times he’ll insist you have to be in an exact spot for him to use his remote. Also unexplained in the manual is the fact that some double team moves in single player require you to press the help button, and the paint button at the exact same time.   This is why I said earlier the game will be more polarizing. Those who don’t have trouble adapting will only feel annoyed enough to dock a couple of points. Those who can’t stand anything other than flawless A.I. will probably feel enraged.

Moving on, the game also adds two power ups called Ink Wells. One of them is filled with invisible ink, which allows you to do some stealthy moves. There are also some puzzles that require it. The other well has indelible ink. This forms a gold plate over the characters that chips off slowly as players take hits. It’s a Godsend in spots where you need to go through waterfalls made of thinner, or in a crowd of bad guys. Speaking of bad guys, enemies, as well as most of the art in the game is unbelievable. Like American McGee’s Alice, there is an emphasis on dark, twisted versions of Disney rogues or other characters. Every texture has a wonderful eerieness to it.  Similarly when in hub towns like Ostown, using paint gives that optimistic cheer that Disney always seems to get right. Epic Mickey 2 looks great. The atmosphere is only helped by it’s wondrous score. From the entertaining musical numbers to the whimsical, and ambient soundtrack this game screams “Environments!”. As the original game did, Epic Mickey 2 also dangles the nostalgia carrot on the proverbial string. You’ll find old Disney merchandise you once owned as a piece of stage geometry, or run into characters you remember liking, or gasp when you see one that has been completely Tim Burtoned out.

Sadly, one of the low points however has to be the bosses. They’re fun to play through, but they don’t have the same sense of wonder or tragedy as the bosses from the original game did. You still can defeat them either the heroic way, or the evildoer way. But they probably won’t make you marvel. They’re challenging enough, you will have a battle on your hands. But they’re not as memorable as Pete as a Tron guy, or Cyborg Captain Hook, the evil clock, or the Blot Demon.

It should also be noted that the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii U editions were not done by Junction Point Studios, but were ported from the Wii by Blitz Games.

Epic Mickey 2 is a great game brought down by a couple of technical hitches. The wonky camera, and sometimes spotty NPC Oswald don’t break the game. But these can’t be overlooked. The story could have been better. The bosses could have been grander. But it’s still an entertaining ride. If you have an Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or Wii U it may not be something that beckons to be picked up immediately. But for anyone with an original Wii it is a flawed, yet wonderful send off for a soon to be retired system.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 

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