It’s been a while since Mickey Mouse has been the star of his own video game. Hoping to rectify that problem, Disney Interactive tapped Warren Spector and Junction Point to try and bring Mickey and the gang back into the spotlight they rightfully deserve with Disney Epic Mickey. Combining elements of platformers like Super Mario Galaxy and De Blob along with some of the most recognizable characters in the world, Disney Epic Mickey has all the ingredients of sure-fire hit. Unfortunately, not every aspect of the game works as well as it should, and even though it’s an enjoyable title, Disney Epic Mickey is far from the blockbuster it could have been.
Once upon a time, a wizard with a magical paintbrush created a world where all the forgotten characters from the world of Disney could live. Using special paint and thinner, the wizard was able to fashion an entire inhabited universe out of nothing more than a map. One day, Mickey Mouse stumbles upon these mystical art supplies, and accidentally creates an abomination called the Phantom Blot. The Blot transports into the land of forgotten characters, and Mickey rushes away before he can be blamed for what’s happened. Months later, the Blot returns, kidnapping Mickey Mouse away to the Wasteland, the world he inadvertently created. Now it’s up to Mickey to restore the Wastes, and the hope of the forgotten characters, before he’s stuck there forever. Mickey’s journey will take him all across the Wasteland, which is chock full of forgotten lands, rides, characters, and imagery from Disney’s past. The two most noticeable inclusions are Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who ran the pre-Blot Wasteland and was basically the precursor to Mickey, and the Gremlins, a race of tiny creatures with a knack for fixing/destroying things. While it’s great to see so much of Disney’s history brought to life once more, there isn’t a very strong narrative at work in Disney Epic Mickey. On the whole, the story spends way too much time treading water before it gets really engaging. Though the final moments are strong, a large percentage of the game boils down to nothing more than a series of fetch quests.
The Wasteland is a dark place where only the most obscure and unremembered go to live. When Mickey arrives, and even he doesn’t remember the people he’s talking to despite the fact they were in his movies, it should be absolutely devastating and heartbreaking. Instead, it’s just glossed over, and everyone acts like it’s not a big deal that the most beloved character in their sad, little universe doesn’t even know they exist. As a world, the Wasteland is incredibly interesting. Whether it’s when you’re climbing the mountain of old Mickey related garbage, or the jaunting through the broken down Small World ride, there’s a lot of fantastic design work at play. If only the plot had been as interesting as the world.
Players are supposed to be able to influence how the world reacts to Mickey’s presence with a feature called “Playstyle Matters.” There are a series of moral decisions the player can make as Mickey Mouse, which are in turn supposed to affect the Wasteland at large, right down to the way the NPCs interact with him. The decisions are tied to your magic paintbrush, and whether or not you use paint (good) or thinner (bad) to solve puzzles or beat bosses and enemies. With multiple solutions available for nearly every challenge in the game, there’s no shortage of moral decisions to make. Unfortunately, “Playstyle Matters” doesn’t make as much of a difference in the game as I believe the developers intended. Sure, if you play nice, and do all the heroic things you’re supposed to, the people in the world are more inclined to help you out. The same could be said about the inverse. The more thinner you use, the less welcoming and forthcoming the inhabitants of the Wasteland are. But similarly to other video games that make use of moral choices like this, the morality is pretty empty, and only serves as a tool to aid you in your quest by giving you bigger or better bonuses.
Travel through worlds is handled by Mickey jumping into a projector screen that throws him into a short side-scrolling level that recreates some of his earliest cartoons. It’s a great way to break up the pace, and showcases another side of the Disney universe that many had probably forgotten. When not trekking through the different worlds progressing the main story, there are dozens of side quests to embark on. Unfortunately, most of these boil down to talking to someone who lost something, finding that something, and returning it/delivering it to another person. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was more variation, but the ratio of non-fetch quests to actual fetch quests is extremely skewed. There are a lot of extra goodies to find in the world as well, from secret pins and concept art, to E-tickets, which can be exchanged for goods like more health and more paint capacity. You’ll also find hidden sketches in the world of either a television or a watch. TVs are used to power up certain sections of the twisted theme park or trick enemies into watching, and the watch can be used to slow time, either when trying to solve a puzzle or battling a horde of the Blot’s soldiers. The two items are a nice way to add some depth to the combat, but I hardly ever used them when fighting. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of things to do or find in the Wasteland.
Now, as much as I did enjoy the story and side quests, despite how repetitive they were, one aspect of the game really bothered me. The Wasteland has been torn apart by the Blot, and the thinner that Mickey initially spilled has left much of the world is disarray. Homes are left with half of their façade missing. Walls have huge gaps in them. Grass growth is splotchy and scattered. With the help of a little paint, Mickey can restore as much of this world as he wants. Every new location you visit looks a little worse for wear, but you can change all that with a flick of Mickey’s magic paintbrush. Seeing towns spring back to life is one of the game’s strongest non-essential points. At least I thought it was. No matter how much of a town or area you’ve restored, once you leave, that town goes back to the way it was before you visited. All the homes fall back into disrepair. All the fertile lawns go back to patchy messes of dirt. All of the color you put back into place disappears. If I’m going to spend ten or fifteen minutes making sure to find every last inch of ruined architecture and agriculture, I expect my work to count for something. When I keep seeing my hard work continually evaporate as if it had never happened, I get a little frustrated. There’s really no reason or explanation given either, which drove me even crazier. Depending how you want to play, Mickey is here in this world to try and do some good. Why should the player’s efforts to make right what was once wrong be thwarted so frequently? This may not bother you as much as it did me, but it was annoying nonetheless.
Despite the world of the Wasteland being, well, a wasteland, Disney Epic Mickey is a good-looking game. Part of the reason I was so frustrated with towns constantly reverting back to the pre-restored states was due to how vibrant the lands became after I painted them. When the world is dark, it’s extremely dark. The first hour or so of the game shows off the extreme of how much damage the Blot has really done. The broken down rides and crumbling castles really look terrible, but in a good way. Later lands aren’t in as bad a shape, and traveling through Ventureland and Tomorrowland only shows just how much planning went into carefully constructing this weird world. All of the characters you’ll interact with look fantastic in three-dimensions, with Mickey a true standout. Honestly, I don’t think Mickey has looked this good digitally in a long time, and the same could be said about the various iterations of Pete. Though there isn’t any voice over, the trademark squeaks and sighs are present, and the soundtrack is pretty decent. The only issue with the presentation I have is the game’s camera. Even as a game playing veteran I had trouble getting the camera to work in my favor, and subsequently died numerous times, so I can only imagine how infuriating it’s going to be for people who play third-person platformers much more casually.
While the game is certainly not without its flaws, I had a good time playing Disney Epic Mickey. The world created by Junction Point is impressive, and despite how much time you spend grinding along before the game gets really interesting, the overall experience is very enjoyable. Had the game included a much better camera, or had the story hooked me from the very start, Disney Epic Mickey could have been the game that restored Mickey Mouse’s name amongst the video game crowd. Instead, the game is merely another solid effort that is unspectacular, which is a shame. Hopefully it does well enough to warrant a sequel, but as it stands Disney Epic Mickey is just another game that does a few things wonderfully, but a majority of things just okay.