I think there are few games I wanted to love more than Epic Mickey 2. I love Warren Spector’s past work, have a huge mouse shaped soft spot for classic DIsney-ana, and not having a Wii I missed out on most of the first game and was stoked to see what they would do with more powerful platforms. There was a ton of potential here to make up for the shortfalls of the first game and make a game so stuffed with awesome Disney moments that John Lasseter would roll a tear. Well one of those things was made reality, the latter one, but sadly it’s still not enough. Hardcore Disney fans will have no problem enjoying this game but it will be for the nostalgia and most certainly not the “game” part of it.
Mechanically this game is pretty much the same as the first just with co-op added. It’s still a 3D platformer with the occasional 2D level used as a transition. You’re still spraying paint and thinner around to build up and destroy specified pieces of the environment as well as deal with enemies. There is still some amount of player choice in the game in that how you deal with enemies and various situations will impact how NPCs perceive and treat Mickey. All that stuff is the same, just applied to a new story and adapted to work with your co-op partner, Oswald the Rabbit. Controlled by either the computer or another player, Oswald has some interesting mechanics which will afford you some new strategies. For one he can hover using his ears like a helicopter and carry Mickey for a short distance. He also has a remote control which he can use to electrify enemies, power up machines, and even reprogram your more computerized foes. While all these are interesting new twists, they’re not executed very well. Where you can and can’t use a lot of Oswald’s abilities is very defined so it feels less like a fun new tool and more like just an Oswald shaped key for Oswald shaped doors. Just like Mickey’s paint/thinner mechanic, it’s all very binary, what you can and can’t use this stuff for is so specific that there isn’t really much fun experimentation to be had in using any of it.
Of course it’s all at least somewhat fun if the Oswald shaped key is in the hands of someone who knows how to properly turn it, sadly that seems to not be Oswald’s AI. I played this game solo and the experience of dealing with the Oswald AI was one of the worst parts of the game for me. When playing solo the mechanic is simple, press B to get Oswald to come over to you, press it again to get him to do whatever context sensitive action is displayed, and hold it to throw him up in the air so you can use him to glide. This seems like it would be simple enough to work but the fuzzy little bastard could never seem to get it right. He’d jump up for a glide in places where I just wanted to him to trigger a switch, he’d stand in the exact wrong spot making it impossible to get the context prompt needed to get him to do what I want, and of course he’d wander around and screw up my platforming whenever he thought I progressing too efficiently. Put quite simply I would’ve had more fun if all the tools Oswald had were just given to Mickey and he remained an NPC. So yeah if you pick this one up, have a partner on hand to play with.
Of course there is a reason to pick this up, if you’re a self-proclaimed Disney fanatic then the nostalgia will easily make this one worthwhile. Before you even get started playing you can hop into the extras and watch the 1929 Silly Symphonies episode “Skeleton Dance”, an all time classic if there ever was one. Once you actually get playing the game the nostalgia doesn’t let up, the voice cast is the same voices you’ve always known for the classic characters (as we discussed on last week’s podcast) and the art style balances a stylistic flourish with the classic Disney magic. Hell, there’s even musical numbers now; whenever the Mad Doctor shows up he speaks entirely in song and turns his every scene into a Disney music number. I do wish the other characters got in on the act (all you get is one nervous line from Oswald) but it’s still a nice touch. You’ll also see a lot of classic Disney memorabilia just littering the environment, familiar cassette tapes and lunchboxes can make up the platforms and massive heads of characters you may have forgotten are embedded in the walls. Remember Paul Bunyan’s blue ox Babe or the Big Bad wolf from the Three Little Pigs cartoon? Well you will when their billboard sized heads are staring down at you from the ceiling. It’s treat for all those who spent countless hours watching Silly Symphonies or Goofy “How to” cartoons and the sheer amount of references to classic cartoons and Disneyland (upon which the game world is based) is truly astonishing. Honestly my only complaint here is that the references weren’t overt enough, I really like Disneyland and I would have preferred to wander a more accurate (yet still warped with the Epic Mickey sensibilities) version of that rather than the interpretations of classic areas like Frontierland and Adventureland presented here.
I suppose I should touch on the story quickly though to be fair it really didn’t make much of an impression with me. Basically Oswald and the rest of the toon/animatronic abominations from the first game (seriously Goofy looks horrifying in this game) are trying to rebuild the wasteland when all of a sudden the Mad Doctor shows up and offers to help, in song. Unfortunately in his wake come earthquakes and new breed of foe, the Blotworx, a terrible combination of the inky foes from the last game and the Doctor’s abandoned creations. Knowing only Mickey and the magic brush can stop them Oswald summons Mickey back to their world so they can confront this new threat and uncover its source together. While the actual plot and story are interesting enough the gameplay felt weirdly disconnected from it all and as result it just didn’t carry the weight it should have. While I understood what I was doing was progressing the story, the gameplay felt so linear (each of the many paths the game has still feel very guided) yet divorced from emotion that I just made it hard for me to grow attached to the characters as they were presented here.
So yeah sadly the most prevalent thing I feel with this game is disappointment, it just feels like they could have done so much more with it. Let me remind you again I’m a massive fan of Warren Spector’s past work and Disney’s stuff as well (I’m literally watching a 1950′s Goofy cartoon as I write this) but this game just didn’t do it for me. The nostalgia is certainly there but troublesome AI, unnecessary co-op, and gameplay that’s just too binary for its own good prevent it from really shining. There’s a number of paths to take but little to no gradation between them and that only stands to highlight the mediocre platformer underneath all that great fan service. So for an experience I wanted to love more than I did, Epic Mickey 2 gets a 3 out of 5 stars.