Nov 062012

Released exclusively for the Wii in 2010, Disney Epic Mickey was an ambitious platformer starring Mickey Mouse. The game was developed by Junction Point Studios under the direction of Warren Spector, who most know as the creator of the original Deus Ex. The game had some interesting elements, but was ultimately held back by the constraints of the Wii’s control scheme, mainly in regards to the camera control. Epic Mickey 2 is taking the series multiplatform, and I recently took a look at the demo released on Xbox Live.

The demo opens with a CG cutscene of wasteland (the world of forgotten toons that Mickey saved in the first game) suffering from earthquakes. The villain of the first game arrives and offers his assistance to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to help save their world. The supporting cast from the first game summons Mickey, and he enters wasteland once again.

The core mechanic of Epic Mickey remains from the first game, which is the paint/thinner dichotomy. Mickey uses his magic paintbrush in conjunction with thinner to erase parts of the world, and with paint to re-create parts. The big new feature of this game is the addition of drop in, drop out co-op throughout the entire game, but I found it’s implementation to be detrimental to the single player experience. Player 2 controls Oswald, but whether you have a second player or not, it seems Oswald is always present. Unfortunately, much of the game is built around having two players, and things just get weird if you’re playing alone. Oswald has different moves and his own unique ways to affect the game world apart from Mickey’s paint and thinner. The problem is that much of the level design is built around having puzzles that are specifically for one character or the other. This is fine with two players, and keeps both players engaged in the gameplay, but with only one player, many of the puzzles involve simply watching the AI controlled second character solve them. I think allowing the player to switch between characters when no second player was present would have alleviated a lot of my issues with the co-op implementation.

As far as actually playing the game, there is a lot about Epic Mickey 2 on Xbox that really reminds you of the game’s Wii origins. I’d like to point out that even though Epic Mickey 2 is available on many platforms, it was still developed as a Wii game first and then ported to the other systems, which is extremely apparent. The element of gameplay that really stands out as being very Wii-like is the way the aiming cursor for paint and thinner behaves. Even when you aren’t actively using your paint brush, the aiming cursor is always on the screen, on top of mickey instead of in front of him, almost like it were being pointed at the screen. It also doesn’t behave like you’d expect it to. The right stick controls the camera and the cursor, but not always both at the same time. It’s hard to explain exactly what is off about the aiming and camera control, only that it feels like not a lot of time was spent trying to get the conversion of Wii remote based aiming to right stick based aiming to feel right. The developers have tried to address the core complaint of the first game by fixing the camera control, even on the Wii version, but even with a right stick on the 360 I don’t think it is good enough. I found myself constantly having to readjust the camera, and I can’t imagine how it will handle with the Wii’s control scheme.

The main gameplay is mostly unchanged from the original, meaning it involves mostly platforming which revolves around the paint mechanics. Based solely on the demo, it seems the game will consist of a lot using paint to recreate platforms and then jumping along. There wasn’t any real challenging platforming, but this was just a demo that took place very early in the game, so more challenge could certainly makes its way into the game further along.

Visually, it is very clear Epic Mickey 2 is a Wii game running on the 360, but it still manages to look quite good. The texture and character detail is very much that of a Wii game, but the cartoon art style and the HD resolution make the game look much better than I was expecting. It’s a perfect example of style and art direction trumping technical power.

The demo for Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is pretty short, but I feel it gives a decent idea of what the game is going to be like. You can clearly see some of the improvements made over the original, but there are still some rough edges with regards to the camera control, even on a system with a more traditional control scheme. There aren’t a lot of options these days for fans of 3D platformers, so Epic Mickey 2 is still worth giving a shot when it hits stores November 18 for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and as a launch title for Wii U.

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