Mickey is called back to Cartoon Wasteland to help out with some issues the place is having. This time around he's got a new companion to help him literally paint the town (yes, I went there). Oswald the Rabbit is included in the adventure this time, and there's more old school/new school fun to be had with Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.
Let's start this review off by talking about one of the best parts of Disney Interactive Studios sequel, the look and feel of the game.
The presentation for Epic Mickey 2 is absolutely where it should be when you think about the Disney family, especially its history of cartoons. Taking a chapter from Disney Universe (a great kids game, by the way), the animation, modeling and voice acting (even the script) is where is spot on with this game. It's adorable, well-written and goes along with pretty much everything that Disney has put together for the video game side of things, good or bad. One thing I was particularly impressed by is how the animation, when left alone, doesn't break the 'Disney' feel. You've got lots of movement, lots of wackiness and it just looks like what a cartoon would look like if you decided to leave it running on television. Kids are absolutely going to eat up the visuals with this one.
The environments that Disney Interactive Studios pieced together continue that same feeling. They have a cartoony look to them that might have been lifted directly from Disney Universe. Distorted buildings, mixed with curving landscapes make for a roller coaster like ride when walking around. All of it is very contained, though. If you give younger gamers too much real estate then they're going to get lost or confused with what they should be doing. Keeping everyone on track is the job of the gaming environment. Therefore, Disney has given smaller environments to explore, but offered up depth to them with multiple levels of exploration. For example, you might be exploring a city that is small in size, but it has sewers and building tops to explore. The depth makes up for the width.
Having said that, older gamers might find these type of environments restrictive and bland. I can't possibly see anyone over the age of 13 really looking at the worlds presented in the game and saying, "Wow, this is expansive and fun". You certainly get bigger and better environments out of other titles out there, like a Mario or maybe even a Scribblenauts. Of course, you must keep in mind that this game isn't geared towards the hardcore gamers. You're not going to drop your Mario game to come play Epic Mickey 2. This game is geared towards kids and the environments are big enough and fun enough for the little ones in the household to be occupied for some time. For example, the first town you run into in the game is called 'Mean Street North'. It's a very small town that requires you to paint the buildings and rebuild them after a devastating earthquake knocked the town around. There are 4-5 buildings in the initial small town square that really keeps you trapped. For older gamers, that's just a super-tiny environment. For younger gamers, that's enough to be satisfied. I could see my son, who is four, enjoying this title far more than I already have enjoyed it.
That's one of the major things to keep in mind when/if you're playing this title; it wasn't built for everyone, or so it seems.
Related to that statement, let's talk about gameplay a bit.
A very big plus for this title is the option of playing two-players. I have multiple kids (four) and one is always feeling left out when another is playing a game. The best thing to happen to our PS3, prior to this game, was EA's Fancy Pants Advenures. My kids have played that game to death, and have competed quite intensely with each other in the game. Making a kid's game that allows for two players to play simultaneously is a huge plus. Although this game certainly has its faults, this option will ensure its longevity amongst younger gamers, especially in my household.
While two-player capabilities might make kids happy, the gameplay mechanics might be a source of frustration for the younger audience. One of the biggest frustrations I had with the PS3 version of this game is the camera wanting to do its own thing. The initial movement of Mickey (or Oswald) in the game is controlled by the left analog stick. In true third-person form, you move your characters from over their shoulder (farther back than say a RE4), which is no big deal. Kids will find this easy to do. The big deal, and something that kids might find incredibly frustrating, is dealing with the right analog stick. This controls the aiming and camera portion of the game. It's easy to move around, but when you get up close and personal with another object, it tends to want to either zoom in with an extreme manner or give you a frustratingly bad angle. I watched my wife play this game over the weekend and she was having issues with it. I naturally wrote that up as my wife really sucking at games, but when I finally got a turn, I had the same issues she was having. I would get close to an object and the camera would send me to an angle that would literally disrupt the gameplay. For example, in the beginning on my way to meet Jamface, I had to go through several collapsed castle pieces to get where I needed to go. Some required me to jump over crevices, while others required me to climb up broken castle pieces. The jumping part was easy, the climbing part made the camera go wonky. Once it went wonky, I had issues trying to get the right angle so that I could successfully get to where I needed to go as I was jumping.
Anyway, if I had issues with this then most certainly kids will get frustrated. I've seen this happen before at home and at relatives houses with games, and the reaction of the kids ain't pretty (I lost a Dualshock 3 due to a frustrating camera angle). This is possibly my biggest complaint of Disney Epic Mickey 2 because I know how kids will react to the frustration of a less-than-perfect camera system. Heck, I know how gamers react to it.
On the plus side, I love the ease of use with the thinner and paint. Having to decide to use one or another is a challenging and engaging part of the game that kids will eat up. They're simple, fun to use and it's better than a gun/sword. Disney is catering this title to a younger audience, so it's nice to see these options. I know they're nothing new or surprising, but they're fun to play with and worth mentioning.
Anyway, rivaling my camera complaint, in a close second place, is the lack of a HUD giving you some sort of visual direction on what you should be doing or where you should be going. The game does a good job with explaining to you what you should be doing on particular quests. Once that is gone, you're on your own. With the attention span of kids being so short these days, there should have been a back up plan in case a kid turns their attention to something else during an explanation. There isn't, regretfully, and if you're not paying attention the first time around then you're going to be out of luck trying to find where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to be doing. How in the world could that have been missed during the design of the game? I can't say, but it's missing and it's a huge piece. With all the improvements in the sequel, this was disappointingly a big miss. Even Disney Universe has arrows pointing in the proper direction when gamers stand still in the same area too long. Guidance is a necessity for a younger audience (and us old farts, too).
What might balance out the frustration of the camera control (and HUD issue), or at least alleviate it a bit, is the amount of content that the kids will get with this game. The game sports small side quests that allow kids to find goodies laying around the levels. For example, finding collectibles, sketches, costumes (TRON rules!) and other items will make the experience last longer. Disney has always done well with this aspect of their games. Even when the games weren't that great, or that long, they make the replay value at least a bit bigger. Disney Universe was a great example of that, as players could quickly go through the small levels, but were encouraged to go back and keep retrying them for more items, secrets and unlocking costumes/maps in the game. It's the same type of deal with Epic Mickey 2. There's plenty of little goodies around that younger gamers will eat up.
So with all this said, is the game any fun? The game is far and way better than the original, but it still needs work. While the camera and HUD can be frustrating, the overall feel to this game still blooms with fun. Kids are going to gobble this title up and enjoy it. Hardcore gamers won't respect it as much, and that's okay. Disney Interactive Studios made Disney Epic Mickey 2 for younger gamers in mind. Kids are going to find a ton of fun with this thanks to a large amount of quests and side-quests. This isn't their Skyrim by any means, but it's going to keep them occupied for a long period of time, especially thanks to two-player capabilities. Honestly speaking, I could sit down and play this with my kids if they asked. It would be fun and they would love it. Ultimately, that's all that matters when it comes to a high-profile game like this.