Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Epic Mickey, released in November 2010 on the Nintendo Wii, seemed to fly under most gamers’ radars, despite fairly positive reviews and a far from shambolic showing commercially. It’s more than likely that this was due to the title’s exclusivity on a console that wasn’t exactly known for its audiences’ high game-purchasing rates, and also the fact that Mickey Mouse isn’t the coolest guy to be seen running around a game-world with, particularly when compared to Marcus Fenix and Nathan Drake. In an attempt to combat at least the first point, developer Junction Point has opted to release Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two across a much wider range of platforms, including the HD-enabled Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U. Thanks to a brief yet fairly comprehensive recap of the first game’s narrative at the start of the game, newcomers to the series don’t have to worry about entering the world of Wasteland entirely unsure of what’s they’re getting themselves into.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the series, it quickly becomes apparent that Mickey Mouse is going to have his work cut out for him if Wasteland is to return to normal. The main premise of Epic Mickey 2 is that Wasteland (essentially an alternate Disneyland for forgotten Disney characters) is being wracked by earthquakes, and that only by working together can Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit save the day once again. With the aid of the ever helpful Gus and his team of fellow Gremlins, and a suspiciously helpful returning Mad Doctor, our duo set out to rebuild Wasteland as best as they can.
The biggest aesthetic change in Epic Mickey 2, aside from the visuals (which have obviously received a pretty hefty upgrade), is the addition of voice acting, although it doesn’t always work as well as intended. Several NPCs, particularly those who you pick up side-quests from or are merely wandering Mean Street, have repetitive and monotonous voices and largely come across as uninterested and uninteresting. Even the Mad Doctor, who has a penchant for singing every one of his lines, isn’t represented to his fullest potential, as most of his songs feel poorly written and don’t flow very well, coming off as less than poor imitations of the famed Disney songs that many of us are so familiar with.
When related to progressing through the main narrative of the game, though, voice acting has more of an effect than you’d think, not least in terms of the flow of the gameplay, as you no longer have to stop and read lines of text, all whilst pressing buttons to pass onto the next outburst. Instead, you can still explore levels whilst being audibly nudged in the right direction, be it by Gus or another NPC. Depending on whether you take the Paint or Thinner route through a level, these voices will either praise or condemn your actions, but the majority of the time they’ll be helpful in terms of telling you where you’re supposed to go next.
In terms of Paint and Thinner, the core component of the Epic Mickey series, not much has changed by way of mechanics since the first game. Obviously using the standard PlayStation or Xbox controller instead of the Wiimote changes up the player’s input slightly, but the PlayStation version is also compatible with PlayStation Move, bringing the experience closer to the original’s Wii-based control style. In actual fact, even with the standard controllers, there doesn’t seem to be any real impact on precision aiming with Mickey’s brush, as it still operates largely on a ‘spray and pray’ mentality. This imprecision is compounded by issues with the camera which, whilst a definite improvement over the first game, still has its flaws, such as being awkward and clunky to control, and getting snagged on pieces of scenery.
Mechanically, Epic Mickey 2’s biggest difference from the original is the fact that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is an ever-present partner to Mickey, whether he is AI- or player-controlled. Whilst it’s nice to see a game that is designed from the ground-up as a co-operative experience, in reality Oswald frustrates more than he delights, whether he’s being controlled by the game or by a friend. When the AI takes the controls, Oswald often ignores the fact that you require his help, whether with an enemy or with a switch, and a lot of the time you need to be positioned perfectly for him to realise that you want to jump to a certain ledge or glide across a gap. There is a button prompt to give him a quick nudge when you want him to perform a particular task, but even this requires precision placement to trigger Oswald becoming attentive to your wishes.
When a second player decides to take the reins, the frustration continues, but in a different manner to the single-player experience. Oswald doesn’t have access to Mickey’s brush, but instead has a remote that he picked up at the end of the original Epic Mickey. Oswald can use this to stun enemies or decode locked doors, and it’s this locked-door mechanic that provides a lot of the frustration. To decode the door whilst a second player is present, the left analogue stick has to be rotated in certain ways to match the particular frequency being emitted by the door. However, there is no clear indication on screen of how well you’re doing, or how close you are, aside from relatively subtle changes in the hue of the green signal coming from the remote’s antenna. Considering that there’s a time limit on opening each door, it’s strange that working out how to do so is so difficult.
In a similar manner to the above problem, there are a number of levers that require both players to grab hold of and rotate in a certain direction. However, the lever will not rotate unless both players have their analogue sticks pointing in exactly the right direction, and again, there’s no on-screen indicator to let you know which player has it wrong (or right), meaning you have to blindly rotate the stick around until you start moving. A little more information, even in terms of the character’s body language in this particular case, would have worked wonders in making the co-op less frustrating.
Once you look past the mechanical frustrations, there’s a great deal of content within Epic Mickey 2, even if the main narrative is surprisingly short. The ending sneaks up on you before you know it, and in terms of narrative pacing, it’s almost like a slap in the face when you see the end credits roll. In my personal experience the ending came upon me so surprisingly abruptly that I actually thought I had found a hidden shortcut through to the end of the game. Alas, that wasn’t the case, and instead you have a game that feels almost as if it’s missing the final third of its story. There is, of course, the option to play through the game again, making different moral choices as you go, but this only really has one particular impact of any importance on the end-game, with the rest of the changes being fairly cosmetic.
Aside from the main narrative, Mickey and Oswald are presented with a number of opportunities to prove their worth to the residents of Wasteland, including taking photos, fetching particular items, or rescuing trapped Gremlins. These quests offer various rewards, including money, cloth or scrap metal, each of which have various uses, such as buying health upgrades or new costumes which confer a variety of different bonuses upon our heroes. Although you can find most of the secrets within the game such as the aforementioned costumes, concept art or pins, you are also able to buy almost anything that you can’t find in shops, which is useful for gamers who don’t have the time to hunt high and low for every item, but also takes away from the wonder and pride of finding a hidden secret in the first place.
Despite the brevity of the narrative, Mickey and Oswald venture through a number of different environments, including the pirate-themed Frontierland, the car-filled Autotopia and the New Orleans-inspired Bog Easy. Unfortunately, almost all of these areas are lacking in any form of Disney magic, and it’s left to the 2D levels, based off of already existing Mickey Mouse animations, to bring any form of character to the game. Based on such cartoons as A Night on Bald Mountain and The Skeleton Dance, these two-dimensional levels, whilst short, are perhaps the main lasting memory that gamers will bring away from Epic Mickey 2, as they are handled with care and respect for the source material and thus prove the most interesting part of the entire game.
If Epic Mickey 2 were to be placed amongst Disney’s animated history, it would probably fall somewhere around the level of the straight-to-video sequels that many of Disney’s famed movies have spawned, such as The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride or Aladdin: Return of Jafar. Like these movies, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two isn’t bad in and of itself, but is just lacking that ‘magic’ that true Disney classics so often bring to the table. Epic Mickey 2 is a solid but uninspiring platformer that just happens to star Disney’s most famous character, and for those desperate to play a game as Mickey Mouse, the problems shouldn’t really be enough to ruin your experience. For everyone else, Epic Mickey 2 never really comes close to reaching the stellar heights of the Super Mario series (64, Sunshine, Galaxy), and instead offers up an experience that won’t always have you on the edge of your seat, but may provide you with some light, child-friendly entertainment. It’s unfortunate that Epic Mickey 2 doesn’t really live up to the ‘Epic’ portion of its name, but with a definite sequel teaser hanging around as a post-credits scene, there’s always hope for the future.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two scores a not-so-powerful 3.75 out of 5
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