GAME NAME: Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
DEVELOPER(S): Blitz Games Studios and Junction Point Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Disney Interactive
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, Wii U
RELEASE DATE(S): November 23rd 2012
2010’s Wii-exclusive Epic Mickey was one of my favourite Wii titles. Sure it had it’s flaws, not least of which was the fact it was a Wii exclusive, but with Warren Spector heading the project, backed by Disney’s almost bottomless pockets, it was a game that laid foundations that seemed solid enough that the sequel could not fail. With Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two coming to all the major platforms, I was sure we were in for a treat. Unfortunately developer Junction Point have failed to address the flaws of the first title, and the transition to multiple platforms has created new issues, ultimately leaving us with a title that still has the initial promise, but fails to deliver in the anticipated fashion.
The game opens with the return of the Mad Doctor from the first game, who insists he is a changed man to Oswald. The opening scenes are delightful, wonderfully animated and colorful, all trademark touches we expect from a big budget Disney title. Wasteland is being ravaged by earthquakes and the Mad Doc insists he can help. A magic television is built and our hero Mickey Mouse is once again pulled into the adventure, tasked with using his magic paintbrush to solve the problems of the world. Oswald is a permanent partner in his adventures however, either through co-op play or by letting the AI pick up the slack. Rather than a magic paintbrush, Oswald is armed with a remote control that allows him to electrocute enemies, allowing Mickey time to finish them off.
Epic Mickey worked on the Wii thanks, in part, to the excellent use of the Wii’s control system. Painting with the magic paintbrush was effortless with the Wiimote but unfortunately this has not translated well in the switch to 360 this time around. The game plays like a sloppy twin stick shooter at times as a result of the adoption of the right stick to control the flow and direction of paint or thinner, allowing none of the fidelity of movement we would have enjoyed on the Wii. We’re told that the PS3 version also allows for Move support, which makes us wish perhaps we’d checked that version out. Additionally, and admittedly it’s a minor complaint, but the cursor to indicate paint aiming remains on screen at all time, and can distract from the otherwise gorgeous visuals.
Level and mission design is another area that has not received the attention we had hoped for. While both the 2D and 3D platforming areas from Epic Mickey make a return (and we really mean that, there seems to be a fair bit of recycled assets here), they are punctuated with alarming regularity by puzzle rooms that seem to be an exercise in player frustration. With little to no direction or instruction, it can at times be a complete guessing games in figuring out how to progress. Having an AI partner helps, they’ll eventually tire of your brute force efforts and point you in the right direction. The other issue is that help is often delivered via audio cues which seem improperly balanced, which meant a significant adjustment via the sound settings, reducing the delightful orchestral soundtrack to almost nothing to ensure I never missed them. The cause and effect choices system that’s supposed to drive the narrative is another misstep, hindered in no small part by the murky 360 control setup. Too often I found myself “punished” due to the fact I’d set an enemy free or destroyed too many machines thanks to the imprecise nature of the paint controls.
Finally, on the major problems front, there’s the camera. I know the camera in Epic Mickey was frustrating, but this should have been fixed this time around. It was the chief complaint in the first game, front and centre. To see the exact same issues plaguing Epic Mickey 2 is unforgivable. Boss battles in particular become painful slogs thanks to the camera’s preference for lowering itself just that little bit too far, often meaning a manual readjustment is required, which will quickly be followed by the camera resetting to it’s natural position and a cry of anguish as you die, again and again. The same is true during some of the platforming sequences, especially when having to make literal leaps of faith due to an inability to see what is next.
Complaints aside though, and yes there are many, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two does get many other things right. Warren Spector’s mix of darkness and Disney’s cute charm is once again abundant, a brilliant blend that comes together in most of the game, drawing inspiration from countless shorts you won’t even remembering watching throughout your youth until you see them in-game. For the obsessive collectors amongst us there’s a bounty of collectibles, and they unlock all manner of bonus material that’s sure to appeal to the Disney fan in all of us. Despite the flaws, the difficulty curve also feels spot on, in that the game never feels difficult when everything works. This is a kids game after all, one I played in large parts with my son, and only design flaws ever slowed down our twenty or so hours of progression. Speaking of my co-op partner, the co-operative play system in Epic Mickey 2 works great. Both Mickey and Oswald are great characters, different enough that each brings something different to the adventure, but also working together well to solve some of the puzzles. Oswald’s ability to fly and carry Mickey comes in useful while some enemies must be tackled in stages by each character’s abilities in order to take them down.
Graphically, Epic Mickey 2 is a triumph. As previously mentioned, Spector’s design aesthetic draws from Disney’s extensive catalogue of assets, blending them with the foreboding darkness of Wasteland. Navigating Mickey around the world you’ll stumble over all sorts of references to everything from an animated short from yesteryear to an attraction at Disneyland, although it’s doubtful you’ll ever pick up on them all, so numerous are they. The 360 version we played ran pretty much flawlessly, with a consistent framerate and gorgeous HD visuals.
Audio-wise, it’s another consistently high point. The characters are voiced this time around and for the most part the voice work is very well done. Disney musical style songs are also littered throughout the game, mostly performed by the Mad Doc, and they fit with the Disney tradition wonderfully. None of them are particularly memorable admittedly, but I do wonder how much of the musical charm was lost on me due to the fact I’m no longer a child. When it came to the score however, there was simply no escaping the orchestral brilliance on show. James Dooley returns, and works with Mike Himelstein to create a fantastic arrangement, everything from short jingles to showtunes that always seem to fit the mood of both the area and gameplay.
Junction Point and Warren Spector obviously had lofty ambitions for Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, and for the most part ambition should always be encouraged, even applauded. However, with two titles in the series under their belt, the same basic errors cannot keep cropping up. The camera issues especially are maddeningly frustrating, inexcusable really. Instead of trying to revolutionise the core of the original, refinement should have been the first port of call for the developer. Fix the issues that picked at the first game, then add on your new bells and whistles. Instead we get another title that promises much but ultimately fails to deliver. In the current market with so much pressure to deliver hit games, I fear they won’t get another shot at this franchise, and that’s a real shame because there is definitely a fantastic game buried in there, somewhere.