Like many I was surprised and excited to hear that 2010’s Epic Mickey was getting a sequel. Plundering the Disney vaults for inspiration the team at Junction Point managed to create a flawed but ambitious game packed with ideas that didn’t quite reach the lofty design goals it set for itself but nevertheless was still a charming and entertaining game in its own right.
The sequel opens with a recently reformed Mad Doctor warning the inhabitants of Wasteland via song that there is a great evil approaching and that a hero that is pure of heart is needed to save it. Cue the return of Mickey Mouse brought back to the Wasteland via a magical TV set constructed by Gus the Gremlin.
However this time Mickey is not alone in his journey to save the world. Accompanying him is Oswald the Rabbit, the no longer disgruntled former Disney star and mascot.
Together Mickey and Oswald must embark on a quest to stop the earthquakes that are tearing the wasteland apart and thwart whatever sinister force is behind them. In order to do this the duo must work together and each has their own particular skill set in order to achieve this.
Mickey once again wields his magic paint brush and has the power to either paint in or destroy parts of environment, or dissolve or convert the enemies you face to your cause. Oswald on the other hand can hover in the air by spinning his ears and uses a remote control to stun enemies and hack devices found around the wasteland as well as detonate piles of explosives.
Of the two Mickey remains the better character to play with. His move set has a much more palpable effect on the environment and are used in more varied and interesting ways than Oswald’s limited but fairly useful abilities. This makes Oswald feel like a sidekick even when controlled by a human and makes co op play unbalanced at times.
However, in single player mode there is no way to switch between them. This would be perfectly fine if Oswald’s AI wasn’t incredibly inconsistent. At his best he’s a handy companion; opening doors, reviving you when you’re downed and helping to weaken the games roster of colourful minions. At his worse he’s getting in the way of your attacks, ignoring enemies, letting you die, wandering around in circles or straight into the scenery and refusing to acknowledge your requests to perform a cooperative action.
All of this is moot if you can find someone else to play the game with. The simple co op mechanics between Oswald and Mickey make a lot more sense and the game really comes into its own. Puzzles that were tricky to pull off suddenly become a lot easier and you’ll find yourself using joint abilities such as Oswald’s hover and chucking each other about when you don’t necessarily need to.
But it is limited to local split screen only, so if no one else in the house fancies playing you are once again left at the mercy of Oswald’s dunderheaded AI. Once you’ve played the game with a human you’ll come to loathe it further. I know I did.
Aside from Oswald’s foibles there’s been few steps taken to properly address the problems that held back the first game. The camera although more stable and easier to adjust still has trouble keeping up with the action on screen at times and attempts to create static angles rather than simply following Mickey. This can make gauging distances difficult making combat feel fiddly and platforming problematic.
The camera’s troubles are further exacerbated during the games lengthy boss fights as the camera will often swing wildly while trying to focus on the games huge bosses and frame the action on screen. This would be all well and good if control of the camera wasn’t vital to accurately aim and defeat the enemies onscreen. It’s tough enough figuring out a successful plan of attack, even more so when you have to fight the camera at the same time.
Also there have been few changes made to the games platforming and aside from the addition of Oswald’s co op tricks it has not been refined in any way. Mickey still has no real sense of momentum and jumping often feels floaty and imprecise; even more so when playing as Oswald who inexplicably floats back down to earth even when not using his hover ability. Characters can also slip off ledges if they aren’t perfectly flat and sometimes stumble off the edge of platforms if they get too close. This can become incredibly frustrating at times making simple sections much more of a slog than they need to be.
In spite of the games flaws I still found it very hard not to enjoy my time with Epic Mickey 2. The world Warren Spectre and his team at Junction point have created is one that begs to be explored and rewards you all the more for doing so. Throughout the world there are various collectable to be found including new costumes, concept art and pins as optional quest lines to explore outside of the games main narrative. In every town that Mickey and Oswald visit they will find various residents in need of assistance. Requests range from simply retrieving various items, to taking pictures of landmarks and hidden symbols as well as rescuing trapped Gremlins.
Completing these optional quests will net Oswald and Mickey various rewards including park tickets, cloth and scrap metal which have various uses including unlocking secret areas and buying additional health and ammo upgrades as well as any pins, costume pieces or concept art you may have missed.
The moral choices of the original game also make a return as most missions can be undertaken in several different ways. Although this mostly boils down to either being destructive and taking the easy way out or finding a peaceful solution that requires a little more effort. In the grand scheme of things though this has very little impact on the overall course of the narrative apart from cosmetic changes at the games end and certain characters refusing to give you assistance or closing off certain side quests to you.
Epic Mickey 2’s strongest elements though are its setting and presentation. The Wasteland is a beautiful mess, a literal dumping ground of ideas; a landfill of Disney’s discarded history. Every nook and cranny is chock full of old memorabilia, busted animatronics and references to early and obscure Disney characters and films. For Disney fans though it definitely is a case of one man’s trash being another’s treasure. The care and attention to detail that Warren Spectre and his team have poured into the setting is admirable. It’s like they have taken the Disney vaults and brought them to life. It really is the place that aging toons go to die.
The sound design of the game is also astounding. The sweeping orchestral score is as dynamic as it is stirring, subtly adjusting itself to match your on screen actions and evolving to match your moral choices. This is coupled with solid performances from the games voice actors. Watching once mute characters given a voice after decades of being mute was a joy to behold. Personal favourites included Horace the Horse and the Mad Doctor who spends most of the game singing goofy songs during the games fantastic 2D cut scenes.
Using a limited colour palette and simple style of animation, the videos that bookend each of the games chapters have an aged quality befitting the setting and do a fantastic job of pushing the narrative forward. As such I found myself compelled to push on despite the gameplay falling flat at times because of how enjoyable the cut scenes were.
So where does that leave Epic Mickey 2; pretty much in the same steam boat as its predecessor. It’s an ambitious title with bags of charm, a marvellous setting and fantastic aesthetic design. Its macro elements are potentially brilliant and it is a setting with endearing characters and infinite depth that I would love to visit again in a sequel.
On the other hand there needs to be serious steps taken to do more than paint over the cracks in the core minute to minute gameplay. The meat of the game needs an overhaul. The camera needs to be completely revamped and the platforming problems need to be addressed.
But is it worth playing? Yes and no. If you are a Disney fan then you’ll get a kick out of the setting and meeting some of the more interesting characters from the early days of the house of mouse. Likewise if you have fond memories of the collectathon platformers of the N64 I’d say it would be worth a look although don’t go into it expecting Mario 64.
Everyone else, if the post credits teaser is to be believed. Wait for the sequel. Hopefully third time will be the charm for the guys at Junction Point.