Note: click all Flickr-hosted illustrations for the big/legible versions.
A few years ago, the Disney fandom was blown away by some really strange concept art that appeared online with very little explanation and looked like this. Some people freaked. Some people loved it.
And a very small, very specific portion of the fandom, myself included, completely lost their sh*t especially after more plot details surfaced. The game, which we now knew to be titled "Epic Mickey", involved Mickey Mouse being trapped in a weird, twisted version of Disneyland populated entirely with forgotten and lost Disney characters.
(Well, not in this sense, but that would have been amazing.)
Furthermore, Mickey would take on different characteristics depending on how the player approached different parts of the game. And Mickey would be able to manipulate the very game environment with pencils, erasers, ink, paint, thinner, brushes and so on. Hate dealing with enemies? Erase them! Or melt the floor out from under them! Or paint a big box around them, trapping them!
Now, as the game made it's way to the market, some... compromises were made. The game's overseer, Warren Spector, later explained that he learned where Disney draws the line by initially going way the heck over it. Focus groups (if we could ever point the finger at any one entity, then focus groups are essentially the one reason why we can't have nice things) were not one bit happy with the weirder initial aspects of the game, leading to whole swathes of ideas being scrapped.
So "Epic Mickey" in it's current form is... not what I was initially led to expect. Now, it is a pretty good game, but there were times when it almost stopped being fun and became more of a chore. You know what, let's start the review proper with all the things I disliked in "Epic Mickey". First off, this (go here for big):
Let me level with you. I am terrible, terrible I tell you, at both targeting and platforming in video games. "Epic Mickey" has quite a few enemies that require rather accurate aiming to dispatch; the fact that the Wiimote isn't always intuitive doesn't help here. And there is a lot of jumping from platform to platform over roaming monsters, bottomless pits, and rivers of what is essentially The Dip in all but name. And so help me, if the title of this post didn't alert you, there are so many levels where the floor is Dip as far as the eye can see.
So Goddamn many...
And I wouldn't even complain about this much -- if it weren't for the real Big Bad in the game...
(Thun-dun dun-dun thun-dun dun-dun, thun-dun dun-dun thun-dun dun-dun)
MICKEY: "There's paint thinner / all over the floor.
Rea-CHIN into the distance / to the other shore.
Tiny platforms for me to jump across.
I CA-nnot see them though / I'm at a total loss.
One slip in / and I will meet my end.
Too BAD the camera is, like, just nobody's friend.
There's paint thinner / all over the floor.
Rea-CHIN into the distance / to the other shore.
"This crazy camera I can't see 'round the bend!
Just one missed jump 'round here an' I will meet my end!
This Goddamn camera it makes me motion sick!
Whoever programmed it is just a total --"
CHORUS: "Mickey's gone 'round the bend!
Will the madness ever end?
It only takes a little slip
to go rollin' in the Dip!
"Mickey is gettin' sick!
The camera is such a dick!
It's like a bad acid trip!
Rollin' in the Dip!"
MICKEY: "There's a gear puzzle that I must resolve. (Wo-O-oah!)
Must thin them crystal clear so they do not revolve. (WO-o-ah!)
Turn my body / into paint black and white
If I screw up / and don't solve this puzzle right.
I will slowly / dissolve in that goo.
Killin' me horribly just like that Squeaky Shoe."
(Repeat CHORUS and ad lib to end.)
Honest and no kidding, whoever programmed the virtual camera in this game needs to just sit in the corner and think about what they have done.
If the camera in "Kingdom Hearts" was annoying at times, here it almost feels like the camera is actively working against you. It changes angles randomly as you're making a string of difficult jumps (ie, Mickey had to move forward a second ago, suddenly he has to move to the right). It gets right in Mickey's face during battles with roaming monsters (good God, the confrontation with the giant blobby brute in the castle's tapestry room!) And while you do have some minimal control over it, that ability craps out at the most inopportune times (usually when you are anywhere near anything that can be affected by Mickey's paintbrush). The camera is the real villain of "Epic Mickey". Try to argue it.
And as far as the Gear Puzzles... They kind of reminded me of the three elemental monkeys in "Pokemon: Black and White". Whoever came up with the idea must have REALLY loved it, so they just keep showing up everywhere and getting in the way. Only difference is the monkeys were pushovers and the gears ended up killing my Mickey over and over.
It's worth noting that I am an obsessive-compulsive Save-er.
Normal Person: "Neat, I beat the lead boss! Save!"
Me: "I just read a new line of dialogue from that NPC - SAVE!!!"
"Epic Mickey" has a rather infamous "autosave" option. As in, you cannot control where the game saves and there's a very real chance that the only time the game does save isn't until after you've beaten a level. The idea was to force the player into not backtracking once she had crossed some turning point or other. The reality is oh, so much fun... (I'm just glad I finished this game prior to Season Premier, er, season so the TV wasn't compromised by not-videogame-understanding-people.)
So with all that said, there is an awful lot to love in "Epic Mickey". Let's go on to the good.
The paintbrush gimmick is clever as hell and results in some genuinely cool moments. There's something inherently satisfying about filling the local Goomba equivalent's maw with paint, converting him to Team Mickey, and watching him run off to headbutt his former fellows while you go do something that's actually important. I love how the rescued Gremlins often help you in return during difficult boss fights. And speaking of the Gremlins, I love, love, love how "Epic Mickey" showcases characters Disney barely acknowledges.
(OK, not all of them, but still.)
Honestly, since I am a total geek for Weird Disney Things and I own a Wii, it sometimes felt like the game was made just for me. There are tons of obscure Disney references packed in every level (many are listed here) and each new level is preceded by a mini-level based directly on a classic cartoon and not necessarily one most people would be able to name off the top of their head. People, there is a mini-level based on "Plutopia" for goodness sake!
And as with the original "Kingdom Hearts", the story of the game is downright heartfelt and moving. I hope that ultimately this prompts many, many unexpected "starring roles" for Mickey and friends outside of the game world.
Plus there's something deeply cathartic about a game that lets you trash the dolls from "It's A Small World" for prizes.