Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Hands-on
At Disney’s Epic Mickey 2 Launch Event held at Corus Quay, Victoria Liu-Anderson and I got a chance to watch the game’s Lead Lighting Designer, Scott Reyes, and Senior Designer Matt Rhodes, with commentary from Warren Spector, play through a brief section of Rainbow Caverns level of Epic Mickey 2.
For those who have played the first game, you’ll notice one major change in Epic Mickey 2: the inclusion of voice-acting which adds a whole new depth to both puzzles and player experience. Once again, Mickey is aided by Gus the Gremlin (voiced by Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride), whose ability to point you in the right direction and explain gameplay mechanics came across as incredibly helpful.
One of the new mechanics that required explanation was the new inkwells that are scattered across the world of Wasteland. These inkwells can be filled with either indelible or invisible ink, and can make Mickey armour-plated or invisible and stealthy respectively. Each status has its own animation set for both Mickey and his trusty sidekick Oswald: when covered in indelible ink, the characters look gold-plated and become tougher and almost indestructible, whereas with the invisible ink they act sneakier as they creep slowly towards their goal – but be careful, whilst invisible you must ensure you move slowly, as the ink will dissipate if you move too quickly or jump. These two states only add to the choice and consequence mantra already in evidence in the series.
Further highlighting player choice is the option to take one of three doors through the level, which open up onto different paths, but with the same ultimate goal. Each path offers different challenges and rewards to the other, and each is catered to a particular playstyle. At this point Warren Spector explained that it will take players two or three playthroughs to see everything that Epic Mickey 2 has to offer, as you’ll be hard-pressed to find two players that have the exact same game experience.
Another gameplay facet that voice-acting brings to Epic Mickey 2 is the fact that consequences of player actions are much more clearly outlined than in the first game. In the level showcased at the event, Mickey and Oswald needed to fix a generator to power their path to the next area. Depending on which route players decide to take, Small Pete will either commend or criticise your actions, and it’s always clear which he’s doing. This area highlighted the expansion of the first game’s use of paint and thinner, in that you can change up the route you take through the game depending on which of the two you use more of.
If you decide to use thinner in this particular section, Mickey and Oswald get taken to a D.E.C., a 2D platforming style section in the same guise as the historical animations from the first game (don’t worry, they are returning too). In this section, unlike the first game, both characters can use all of their abilities, and each D.E.C. will have hidden areas and multiple routes to traverse.
Following the show, Vicky and I got a chance to try the game ourselves, and we had a blast playing through the level in co-op, even if my dastardly antics did send her character to its death on more than one occasion. Perhaps the most glaring difference from the first game was just how much work has gone into improving the camera for Epic Mickey 2. The camera in the first game was frankly appalling, but this time Junction Point seems to have got it right.
We had a chance to chat with Scott Reyes as he guided us through the level, and considering that Vicky and I took a different route than the one shown by Scott and Matt, his tips came in incredibly handy. I mean, if you’re going to get anyone to help you through a game, who better than one of the game’s lead designers?
In the section that we saw Scott and Matt play, they took a route that led them to ignore Small Pete’s cries, and instead of fixing the machine, they broke it. This led them into a maze where lava streamed down from movable pillars, and Mickey and Oswald had to work together to rotate the pillars and clear a path for each other by turning a series of levels spread throughout the maze. As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, the maze was populated by automatons (which return from the first game), which can, in a first for the series, be turned to the players’ side. In Epic Mickey, you had to destroy these enemies regardless of your moral standings, whereas almost every other enemy in the game could become a temporary ally. This time around, with the help of Oswald’s remote, the metallic shell can be popped open, allowing Mickey access to the creature inside. At this point Mickey can still destroy the automaton with thinner, or he could take the moral highground and befriend it by dousing it in paint. Warren Spector outlined at this point that gamers on the Wii U will actually have a small advantage in sections like this, due to the fact that the second screen on the controller will display a top-down map throughout the game, which will prove useful during similar maze-like environments.
When Vicky and I got the chance to play, we decided to take a different route, and fixed the machine instead of destroying it. Whilst this didn’t give us the chance to play the D.E.C. section, it did allow us a chance to take a different, and somewhat less formidable, path through to the end of the area. It’s unclear if being helpful rather than harmful has this effect throughout the entirety of the game, but our path was nowhere near as ominous as a maze made of lava. The main obstacle that we had to overcome was a chasm surrounded by thinner-throwing Splatters. Thanks to Scott’s advice, we were able to discover that to cross the chasm we needed to raise a sword to serve as a bridge. Using Mickey’s thinner, we quickly dispatched the Splatters, and thanks to Oswald’s (and Vicky’s) patience, the bridge was eventually raised and cross by Mickey, who was then required to depress a platform to keep the sword raised. The action that followed both Mickey and Oswald’s safe traversal of the bridge will be familiar to anyone who played the first game. A TV rests at the top of a pile of boulders, and both our protagonists need to jump inside to begin a 2D-platforming interlude before the next level begins.
Unfortunately, this was where our all-too-brief playable section ended, and though both of us were clamouring to play more, we had spent enough time with Epic Mickey 2 to appreciate how much of an improvement it is over the first game. The inclusion of co-op throws the series on its head, and I was particularly impressed with the fact that even playing the game single-player, Oswald will still be there, helping Mickey out.
Although Oswald doesn’t have access to the same paint-related powers as Mickey, he has managed to get his hands on a remote, which allows him to interact with various electrical devices in ways that Mickey cannot. Oswald is also able to use his ears as a propeller in order to jump higher and hover, and Mickey is can grab on so that Oswald can take him to otherwise inaccessible areas. If the AI is managed well, and from what we saw, this is the case, Oswald could be as helpful to Mickey as, say, Alyx Vance was to Gordon Freeman throughout the Half Life 2 games, although I imagine the target market for Epic Mickey 2 might not get that reference.
From the time we spent with the game, both Vicky and I are eager to get our hands on the finished product, one which seems to stand head and shoulders above the original Epic Mickey, which was a great game in its own right. It certainly appears that Warren Spector’s choice-and-consequence philosophy has carried through from his Deus Ex days, and though Mickey and Oswald won’t be out to save the world and uncover age-old conspiracies in the same way as J.C. Denton, it’s safe to say that players will have just as much fun with the animated pair as they did with the augmented agent.Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is released on November 18, 2012.
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