We’ve only just got our feet wet with the holiday season but already we have to start looking at the next few weeks as too little time yet to plan for Christmas. Video games, naturally, are going to be high on your list of purchasable items, especially when you’re talking about kids. There’s one game in particular I can see appearing on many a Christmas list, or at the very least peeking out from shelves, beckoning parents to make a safe purchase: Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii.
For those not aware, Epic Mickey is the brainchild of Warren Spector, and by “brainchild,” I mean “twisted experiment.” The project got a lot of press a while back when promotional and concept art pieces surfaced that showed the direction the aesthetic would be taking; namely, the world of Disney never looked so messed up. Things were promising with the only facts known being that the game would star Mickey and it would require him to travel around a version of Disney Land that even Tim Burton would look at and go, “Hmm, maybe a bit on the dark side, ya think?”
Now that the game is out we know what the whole buzz was about. I got to play the title at PAX this year and quickly dismissed it for a few reasons I’ll get into later. What is perfectly clear now is what Epic Mickey’s strength is: The story will be enough to power you through any of the game’s less-favorable aspects.
Oswald the Rabbit, a long-forgotten Disney creation, is the king of a place called “The Wasteland.” Mickey gets pulled into this strange location and encounters a handful of other Disney characters that for one reason or another aren’t really remembered anymore. At its core, the story rests upon the concept of dragging Mickey into an abstract World of Disney and forcing him to come face-to-face with characters he greatly overshadowed. If that concept sounds fascinating to you, congrats, you’re probably already sold on the game as a whole, so don’t even worry about the next part I’ll be discussing.
As a gameplay experience, Epic Mickey is about as innovative as you’d expect a half-2D/half-3D platformer to be. For much of the game you’ll run around quasi-familiar locations with a paintbrush that can shoot either paint or thinner, allowing you to alter the landscape by either adding something that wasn’t previously there or by removing something entirely. This aspect, at the very least, allows for exploration and experimentation to occur. Kids will love this massive helping of free roaming, as will the collectors inside some of the older gamers. But to the rest of us, the gameplay crutch Epic Mickey leans so heavily upon will be repetitive and superficial at best, and downright boring at worst.
In terms of a platformer, the controls aren’t awful. When I played at PAX I opted to play a 2D level and after dying a bunch of times at a really uninteresting and downright boring section of the level, I just set the controller down and walked away. Some people will really love the platforming. Given some time to acclimate myself to it I might be inclined to agree with them. As is stands now, meh, I’ve played better.
Epic Mickey is a tough game to look at and offer a review. As a concept it’s fantastic. Getting to see Disney characters from the long-long ago is a treat and the idea of Mickey having to face these forgotten creatures is a hauntingly creative idea, even more so when you think that Disney greenlighted this project in the first place. But when viewed from a gameplay standpoint it doesn’t match up to the superior Nintendo titles released this year such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, or Donkey Kong Country Returns. Parents looking for a good game to purchase for their kid’s Christmas morning can do a lot worse though, so more power to them if they see Mickey and feel it’s a safe option. In this case they’re entirely correct.
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