Genres: Platformer, Action-adventure
Platform: PS3, Xbox 350, Wii, Wii U, PC, Mac
Release Date: 23/11/12
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review
Remember the first time that you picked up a controller? For a lot of you that would have been when you were quite young and you were seeing worlds of wonder appear in front of your eyes, whether it was Mario, Sonic in the early nineties or Crash Bandicoot during the reign of the PlayStation. It’s hard to remember some of these times when every other game seems to be about shooting another stereotype in the face. As consumers we pick apart a game piece by piece, looking for every tiny flaw without stopping to think “am I having fun?”. Epic Mickey 2 is a game that has transported me back to the time where I didn’t nit-pick about everything; I concentrate on the one thing I’m supposed to be doing while playing a game – having fun.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two picks up the story some time after the first game, and while I never played the original (it was a Wii only title) it does a pretty decent job of filling you in. The setting is a place called Wasteland where forgotten Toons live, which was attacked by the Mad Doctor. Mickey Mouse and his new pal Oswald saved the day and now the inhabitants of Wasteland are back on track after fixing up all the damage. Of course the peace doesn’t last long as earthquakes rip through Wasteland and monsters return, but this time not at the command of the Mad Doctor. This nicely brings me on to one of my favourite things about Epic Mickey; the characters. Each character you encounter along the way is it’s own little person. We all know Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy etc and we know what to expect from them but interactions with other, lesser known characters just leave you with a smile on your face. The Mad Doctor for example; instead of saying his lines he sings them, like a musical. The opening cinematic, which is gorgeous, ends with the Mad Doc singing to the inhabitants of Wasteland about how he is no longer evil and wants to help. It kept me chuckling for a little while afterwards and it makes me look forward to the next time the Mad Doc is on the screen.
Mickey is called upon to help save the day with his little pal Oswald and both have their own set of unique moves. Mickey has his magical paint brush that can either fill in areas of the world or can thin away items. This adds an interesting element to the platforming where you need to fill in areas that have been thinned to reach higher ground, or remove bits and pieces of the scenery to access hidden places. Oswald has his remote control, which is used to zap enemies and to unlock electronic doors. You need to use the two powers in conjunction when fighting the creatures of Wasteland; Mickey is able to turn the Blots into friendly creatures using the paint brush, but when the Blots jump inside mechanical devices Oswald can help slow them down for Mickey to use his thinner on them. Different enemies require different tactics and while not overly challenging it keeps the combat varied throughout the game.
As you might have guessed, co-op is a big theme in EM2, hence the full game title but you don’t necessarily need a buddy to play it alongside as it works well just letting the computer take control of the second character. You can instigate double team moves such as gliding with the use of Oswalds ears and Mickey hanging off his legs to reach platforms further away. In fact I found it easier to play by myself; when I invited a buddy over to play split screen (no online options) it became more difficult to control my character due to the smaller screen. The frame rate also dropped here and there.
There are a couple of different level types in the game, with third-person platform/action taking up the majority of the time with some side scrolling platform sections that help connect the main areas up. Throw in some boss fights and there is some nice variety in EM2. As well as these types the game also includes some RPG-like traits, with upgradable health from collecting a currency and also a ton of side quests to keep you amused if you fancy straying from the side story, which include a load of pins to collect, photos to take and general fetch missions.
When controlling Mickey or Oswald in third-person it did get quite frustrating at times, due to the way that the aiming reticule (which controls where you aim your paintbrush/remote) also controls the turning of the camera. One thing to remember with EM2 is that it is also PlayStation Move compatible and I actually think that it would be easier to utilise the Move for certain controls. When using the analogue sticks, instead of the reticule being stuck to the centre of the screen it is loose and floats about, so you have to keep hold of the analogue stick for longer than normal in order for the screen to move. When there are a few enemies around or you are trying to do some platforming it isn’t always the easiest to keep control over.
As much as I liked EM2 there were more than a few times that I felt utterly frustrated with it. Sometimes I was stood in areas without any idea of exactly what I was supposed to do next. I don’t know whether the game told me and I wasn’t paying attention or it just didn’t really give me some decent direction, but there were a couple of times I quit the game and walked away for a bit because of it. It may also have been a mind-set issue from me, where you see a cute game and you think it’s going to be relatively easy (and a lot of the time it is), but to become so stuck you just don’t have a clue what to do is very, very annoying.
Gorgeous, charming but frustrating are three words I would use to sum up Epic Mickey 2. With an endearing story that's easy to pick up without playing the first one, a host of familiar characters with their own personalities and an interesting way to keep platforming interesting with the use of Mickey’s paintbrush, there is a lot to like about this game. It does get brought down by it’s clunky control scheme and at times frustrating lack of hints on what to do in certain situations, but still I find myself thoroughly recommending this game to everyone. Epic Mickey 2 is a game that will make you laugh, as well as the occasional temper tantrum but, at the end of the day, isn’t the medium of video games about having fun?
- Nice use of paint and thinner to create new ways of tackling sections
- Wonderful characters
- Some gorgeous visuals, especially in the FMVs and cartoon looking sections
- It will make you smile and laugh
- Lack of clear direction in areas leave you confused at times
- Controlling characters can be a chore (could be better with the Move on PS3)
- The fact it’s a Disney game means a lot of people will overlook it
The clunky controls and camera mixed in with the lack of directions at times pull this down from being something truly magical. The saving grace here are the characters, the writing and it’s visuals which certainly pull on the nostalgia strings. It’s no way near a perfect game - it’s a good game, a pretty darn good game and not one that should be overlooked because it isn’t another grey, bland shooter.
“If you’ve played games like Deus Ex, or some of the other games I’ve worked on, they are all about choice and consequence. You decide how you’re going to interact with the world – I show you the result of your choices and your story at the end of it is unique, and what you did is different from what every other player did. We did some of that with the first Epic Mickey, but we’re now doing way more and with this game…. when you make a choice, it really matters.”
That was legend of the video games industry, Warren Spector, introducing me to the world of Epic Mickey and making a point about how the narrative in games is presented to us as the player. I could have continued the conversation with him for hours. It’s a hard thing to explain; you can think you might know everything there is to know about video games… but then you’re put in a room with somebody like Warren Spector and you very quickly realise you know absolutely nothing. I take a sip of water, compose myself and continue with our conversation before swinging back around to talk about story and how best to tell it.
As you’re creating Epic Mickey do you look back through Disney’s history and archives to pull out little things that people may not necessarily know about that you then bring into the forefront, much like you did with Oswald?
Thats exactly what we do – everybody in my studio is now a Disney historian, it’s amazing. When we started the project everybody would come to me and be like “what should we do? Is this a Disney thing, or what Disney thing can we use to do this? Is there some Disney memorabilia that we can use for a gas mask?” I used to have to be the one to answer those questions but now I don’t need to. We used to go trawling through Disney’s archives and those guys are great at helping us find stuff that we think is cool and meets our requirements. I don’t want to reveal too much because I want players to discover it as they play but we’re showing a new level here, based on Frontierland which is something I’d always wanted to do. It was there in 1955 when Disney Land opened and its changed dramatically over the years, so there’s lots of stuff there that we can look back at and remind people about.
Everything in Epic Mickey is based on something real; the concept artists now know that when they come to me with a concept they put the sketch in the middle of the screen and then around it will be photos of part of a ride or the original blueprints used to create the thing, or even the original concept art that they were inspired by or the shot from the film they were inspired by. So they surround their concept pieces with the real Disney stuff because they know I wont bug them with questions asking “so where did this come from?”
Do Disney take stuff the other way though? Have they taken anything you and your team have created and woven it into their lore if you like?
Well, that’s an interesting question… I can tell you that… this is pretty amazing that Disney even let us do this. Oswald never spoke in a Disney story ever and the gremlins, which where created in World War II, never spoke. They never had voices, nor did Ortensia, Oswald’s girlfriend. So we got to work with the guys at Disney Character Voice, which is a department at Disney that handles all of this, and we provided them with character descriptions, the scripts that were used to audition potential voice actors and now if you ever hear Oswald speaking in a movie or the Parks or any place it’s going to be our game Oswald. Same goes for Gus gremlin; if you ever hear him its going to be our Gus gremlin. Not only have we honored Disney’s past but we’ve also effected Disney’s future, which is really cool.
So it’s not just an exception for the game then?
Oh no, this is it. In the United States… well in English, Frank Welker, who is an amazing voice actor, is the voice of Oswald and Carrie Elwis is the voice of Gus. Forever. In the same way that Walt Disney was the voice of Mickey Mouse who handed it off to a guy called Jimmy McDonald, who passed it on to Wayne Allwine, who handed it off to Bret Iwan who is doing it now. There are official voices that define the characters and we’ve got to define some of those characters.
You’ve become part of Disney’s legacy then.
Yeah, exactly. We are part of Disney’s future and there are a few other things… but I can’t really talk about them just yet.
When you’re trying to get across the narrative of the game… from looking at it at first glance, to a lot of people it does appear as a kid’s game or for the younger generation…
Why are Mario and Sonic games not for a younger generations then? Why are Zelda games loved by everybody who plays them? What about Ratchet and Clank – is that adult? You’re firing goo guns that create balls of jelly, your making things dance with a gun. I hear you and I certainly have heard that plenty, but I don’t understand it at all and I think that Epic Mickey is the most mature game that you’ll see at gamescom.
I hear you and I certainly have heard that plenty, but I don’t understand it at all and I think that Epic Mickey is the most mature game that you’ll see at gamescom.
Sorry, go ahead, make your point.
You’ve thrown me… I did start to ask that question a bit stupid though so I’ll try again. With a Disney film, you’d watch it when you’re a kid over and over again. I’m pretty sure me and my brother wore out two copies of The Lion King on VHS, but then you watch it again in your twenties and you find something completely different, you take something more meaningful away from the experience. That’s the kind of story that all Disney films tell, but is trying to tell that kind of story in game form an easy thing to do?
First of all trying to tell a story in game form at all is not an easy thing to do. When you try to tell a story you’re either telling too much to a player, I mean there is no point in telling a story to a player. If thats what you’re doing go make a movie, get out of my meeting. The trick in any game is telling a story with players – that may be hard to understand but my point is that it’s not my story, its your story. The way I approach story in games is to just ask you a bunch of questions and that’s literally what I think.
In the first Epic Mickey all I wanted to do was ask “how important are friends and family to you?” and every choice you make, everything you do in the game is you answering that question and me showing you what your answer means.
In a movie, most other games or in a novel – the author, director or the designer would say “here’s what I think family means and how important I think they are” and all you can do is interpret that. The challenge for me is to ask questions and to give players the freedom to answer them. This is a really long answer I know but that is the hard thing about telling stories in games…
How do I not tell a story? How do I let a player discover their own story?Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review,