By Steve Wright
Warren Spector was contagious at this year’s Game Masters in Melbourne. He wasn’t spreading some illness from the plane he’d taken from America, but instead was infecting gamers with enthusiasm and joy.
It was obvious that Spector was excited about his studio Junction Point’s upcoming game, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. Not a huge fan of the first game, I found myself ridiculously excited for its sequel, as Spector spoke of his team’s efforts to correct the things done wrong in the first. Spector called out flaws like overly silent characters, a failure to bring the game’s RPG elements to the foreground a lack of musical elements that are constantly found in Disney movies. Not only did I believe Spector that he’d been successful in fixing these issues this time around, I wholeheartedly wanted him to be.
Fast forward half a year and Epic Mickey 2 is on store shelves. Does it hold up to Spector’s claims? Yes. The problem is, Spector forgot to scrutinise the gameplay elements of the game whilst he was listing other problems.
Epic Mickey 2 is a pure delight to load up. You play as Mickey Mouse, who has been called back to the forgotten toon haven of The Wasteland. Pairing up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and his friends, your mission is to stop whatever is causing a series of horrible earthquakes that are tearing the world apart. Immediately, I was engulfed in a land of nostalgia and pure-hearted Disney goodness, and I can honestly say that I haven't felt so much love for Disney since my first crack at Kingdom Hearts 2. It’s incredibly obvious that Spector has poured every ounce of his own love for Disney and its characters into this game.
The best bits of Epic Mickey 2 are simply the interactions between characters. They’re full of care and attention to detail, and coupled with the animation throughout the game’s cutscenes, create a gorgeous and magical experience. RPG elements of Epic Mickey 2 are constantly in your face, and you very easily get into that mentality of only turning in one more quest before you stop playing, which turns into two, which then turns into three…
As in the first game, Mickey has a magical brush that can be used for destruction -- in the form of spraying paint thinner at the world to erase it -- or creation, by throwing around paint that draws in details that have been previously erased. Oswald commands a magical remote that kick-starts computers, flips electronic switches or reprograms terminals. In short, it’s more fun to control Mickey, and that’s what you’ll do if you tackle this game solo.
New inks are thrown into the game that make you invisible or indelible. They vary gameplay somewhat, but you don’t really need to use them most of the time. Invisibility is used for stealth, but in some locations you can just sneak up on enemies and splash them with paint to make them friendly rather than tip-toe past them.
Music-wise, Epic Mickey 2 hits all the right notes (see what I did there?). The orchestral score is a perfect fit, though at times repetitive. As far as musical numbers go, you’re treated to one straight off the bat by the Mad Doctor, followed later on by another musical number… by the Mad Doctor. Then another. Then another. I appreciated the charming musical sequences, but I found myself wishing for a song sung by someone other than the character with the very thick, very clichéd European accent.
The best parts of the game are its 2D platforming segments that essentially connect areas in the world, fast travel projector to projector. Taking elements from classic Disney shorts, the sequences are charming, at times challenging… and constantly engaging. Unfortunately, platforming in 3D is plagued by horrible game mechanics. Most 3D sections are so frustrating – beginning with the first main platforming sequence before the Mad Doctor’s lair – that you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment for beating an area, merely a feeling of relief to be done with it.
When platforming in 3D, surfaces are inexplicably slippery; you’ll constantly have to reposition your character on a moving platform even though you’d assume you can remain stationary on it. The camera is also extremely shoddy, meaning you’ll constantly be misjudging your jumps… and, after falling to your death, will be forced to replay the entire frustrating platforming sequence you’d been struggling with, yet again. If this is a game for kids -- and simply put, it is -- I'd be hard-pressed to see how they'd succeed in its platforming sections at all. Or, in its long and difficult boss battles for that matter.
Parents can help counter the difficulty curve by playing cooperatively with their children. Two players can take part at once, one controlling Mickey and the other Oswald. It's a must, because the partner AI when playing alone is nothing short of atrocious. At times, Oswald knew exactly when he needed to use his remote to toggle a switch, and other times I had to find a sweet spot on the map to coax him into helping. When you're not pressed for time, that's fine... but when you're dodging enemies waiting for Oswald to reprogram them to be friendly, it's a recipe for disaster.
While Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is spectacular if you could judge it purely on its character interactions, referential story, gorgeous cutscenes and nostalgic and fun 2D platforming elements, its 3D platforming sequences – which comprise a majority of the game – really let it down. If you’re wishing for a “skip” button for the core of a title, there’s something very wrong. Mr Spector, now that you’ve got the spirit of the game sorted, fix up how it plays and you’ll have a near-perfect Epic Mickey 3 on your hands.