If mice could cry.
For all its shortfalls, Junction Point’s original Epic Mickey was a project born of inspiration. Visionary Warren Spector managed to create a twisted Disney universe which somehow successfully married beloved Disney characters and places with a subtle sense of horror. It was as much magic as it was nightmare, and that’s a strange interpretation of something as traditionally pure and predictable as Disney charm.
But in spite of its undeniably unique approach, the game was marred by relentless mechanical issues, starting with an infuriating camera system and underscored by otherwise thoroughly mundane gameplay. The black/white choose-your-own-alignment paint/thinner gimmick proved less fulfilling in practice than in concept, thanks primarily to the fact that your decisions ultimately didn’t affect much of anything in the long run. The end result was a game which was certainly enjoyable for its nostalgia and its mature reinterpretations of childhood acquaintances, but which, when stripped of its subject matter and removed from the Disney universe, would have been long forgotten as a thoroughly unremarkable platformer.
You know, I learned long ago, it just makes a lot more sense to hire someone to paint.
Epic Mickey 2 looked to change all of that. Learning from the mistakes of its predecessor, it seemed poised to offer a revised formula that better balanced the paint/thinner system and hopefully would rework the unforgivable camera. And just for bonus points, all of it now takes place in HD. So, is it worth taking another plunge into Wasteland?
You know what they say about first impressions: they’re paramount. Epic Mickey 2 immediately grabs the player with an opening cinematic featuring solid voice acting (something new to the series) and the same great cut scene animation as the original. It’s also got a great sense of humor: the (allegedly) newly-reformed Mad Doctor bursts onto the scene to provide the backstory, but it soon becomes obvious that he is only willing to communicate via song. In fact, he won’t even reply to others unless they, too, sing their dialogue. It’s a promising opening to a game which soon becomes considerably less exciting.
But before we elaborate on that point, a quick note about the premise. Epic Mickey 2 sends you back to Wasteland once again to help rebuild it following a series of devastating earthquakes of unknown origin. The rehabilitated Mad Doctor now claims to want to help you—if not simply to try and right his previous wrongs. His Beetleworx robots now crawl the streets in an effort to repair, not destroy, Wasteland.
Oh man, we are WAY past the "E"!
Meanwhile, Mickey has a new companion: none other than Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who, of course, was the subject of the entire first game. While Mickey’s powers still center on his paintbrush (which, again, allows him to either repaint degraded objects in the environment or “thin” some selective objects out of existence), Oswald’s ability is through electric shock, which he can use to apprehend foes and reprogram consoles to open doors and fix devices. The two progress through the adventure together cooperatively even if only a single player is participating (Oswald is in this case, naturally, controlled by the CPU). It isn’t terribly disconcerting to have to deal with him in single-player mode, but there are moments of isolated frustration when, for instance, you mean to command him to interface with a console but instead end up tossing him into the air (which is inexplicably mapped to the same button).
The co-op gameplay unfortunately isn’t very compelling. It more or less boils down to Mickey dealing with monsters and painting objects while Oswald slows the enemies down and makes his way to the next console to reprogram. Combat is unfortunately frustrating and often just plain bad, consisting primarily of a sequence of 1) Stun, 2) Hit, and 3) Thin or some permutation thereof. Of course, you can once again choose whether to paint or thin, a dichotomy which sometimes results in multiple paths to completing the same necessary objective, but as before, this hardly affects anything beyond the immediate present.
The world is once again littered with nostalgic references to forgotten Disney lore laced with more modern subject matter that seems oddly out of place, but which is still appreciated (Pete wearing a Tron suit, anyone?). It’s perhaps even more widespread in its references than the original, something which alone will render it appealing to hardcore Disney fanatics.
There's an awful lot of this sort of boring lever-pulling going on in this adventure.
The side-scrolling projector stages are back again in Epic Mickey 2, but this time, there are multiple paths through each cartoon short (selectable by toggling the projector before hopping in), something which provides replay value to what was previously a short-lived novelty. In addition to these, other side-scrolling segments also exist which are not based on old cartoons, but instead which feature Mickeyjunk Mountain-esque piles of rare Disney paraphernalia that’s sure to spark some memories. It’s cool to leap along the collectibles in 2-D, playing music on organs, bouncing on balls and the like. While the platforming is hardly premium grade, these are still some of the best parts of the game.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game does introduce some other clever new ideas, such as invisible and indelible inks (one which makes you invisible, and the other which armors you) and “guardians”, which are little swirling sentries which can be flung at distant objects and enemies like projectiles from afar.
But in familiar fashion, all of these elements are overshadowed by the game’s mistakes. Deflating expectations right out of the gate is an immediate reacquaintance with the same maddening camera system as in the original, whipping around and hanging on walls always at the worst possible time. It’s possible to manually control it, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.
But even bigger problems exist in this sequel. Apart from the camera, the next thing you will immediately notice is the completely illogical choice of control scheme. Meaning, in spite of the fact that:
A) The pointer functionality is what made the original fun to play, pointing at objects and painting/thinning them as you saw fit, and
B) The Wii U includes full support for pointer functionality
…Mickey is entirely controlled using the Wii U GamePad with no pointer functionality. Even worse, no option exists to switch control schemes. Instead, only Oswald, with his considerably less impacting electrical attacks, is controlled using the Wii remote and Nunchuk. This means you’ll be fumbling not only with the rebellious camera, but also with two analog sticks simultaneously to try and pick your targets. Not fun.
Did I remember to close the garage door? Wonder if it works from here.
Finally, all of this congeals overtop a thick layer of rushed port syndrome. The Wii U iteration of Epic Mickey 2 performs like an HD version of an N64 game. That is, while it’s occasionally smooth, the frame rate spends most of the time south of 30 frames per second in large areas, routinely dropping to values around 15 fps. This isn’t just disappointing; it’s unacceptable in 2012—unplayably bad at times. About the only saving grace is the fact that most indoor areas are run smoothly—but much of the game takes place outdoors.
What this all adds up to is a game whose appeal lies solely in its subject matter and universe—but when playing through that universe isn’t any fun, it’s difficult to recommend even to the biggest Disney fanatics. If you must experience it, do yourself a favor and heed this warning.