It’s refreshing to see a game like Epic Mickey hit a system like the shovel ware-laden Wii because Warren Spector clearly has a lot of passion for the work of Walt Disney, and it shines through brightly here. Disney’s creations are shown in ways never realized before (at least in an official medium), and EM features a marvelous storyline for Mickey and a slew of characters who haven’t been seen in a long time. The story begins with Mickey dousing the wizard Yen Sid’s tiny (seemingly) model world in paint thinner - doing massive damage to it and trying to fix it only to make things worse. A nasty ink blot monster called the Phantom Blot is unleashed on the world as well. Decades pass, and he’s captured by the Mad Doctor, who tries to steal his heart, but is saved by his long-lost brother Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
As time goes on, you’ll find out that Oswald ran the Wasteland - the nightmare fuel-filled version of Disneyland filled with forgotten characters that Mickey accidentally ruined with his little paint thinner disaster. The plot explores his jealousy towards Mickey, as Mickey’s popularity skyrocketed while he was stuck toiling in obscurity for many years, and ultimately covers the abandonment issues he‘s had as a result. This aspect reminded me a lot of the Toy Story films, which went down that same road, just in a far different way. Here, the story largely unfolds with gorgeous 2D animation with stellar shading that results in some of the slickest-looking cinematics in a long time - and not just by Wii standards either. These are stunning pieces of animation that make me wish a DVD of them was available so I could easily take screenshots of them and bask in their beauty a little more easily.
Much like how its story is a tale of characters torn between two emotions (good and bad), the game itself is split into both 2D and 3D. The 2D stages serve as bridges between parts of the 3D world and, since they’re based on old shorts, instantly remind one of the 16-bit classic Mickey Mania. However, you’re not limited to just Mickey shorts here - you can play through a few Oswald ones as well. These sections are short, but a blast to play through, even with slightly loose controls.
Unfortunately, the rest of Epic Mickey usually fails to deliver the rock-solid gameplay these areas do - let alone the fun. Much of the adventure is an N64-style fetch quest. These things got old even then, and time hasn’t been kind to this method of gameplay. Fans of Rare-style fetch quests will be happy with them, especially since there are a variety of things to unlock, like concept art, music, and best of all - a classic cartoon for both Mickey and Oswald. As someone who largely detests these drawn out quests, Epic Mickey’s reliance on them to get the plot from point A to B is incredibly annoying. However, it’s a testament to the game’s fantastic storyline that I kept soldiering on through them largely to see where the plot was going next and to see more incredible cinematics.
The rest of Mickey’s adventure largely relies on 3D platforming mechanics - you’ll have to carefully time jumps along a series of platforms or risk falling to your doom in a river of thinner after battling enemies to reach said platforms. Unfortunately, while the jumping controls are responsive, the platforming sections are ultimately crippled by a terrible camera. While you can theoretically move it where you need to with the d-pad on the Wii remote, and center it with the C button, things don’t work as smoothly as they seemingly should. The d-pad camera control is too slow, and the C button camera centering simply doesn’t work consistently - sometimes it’ll do what you want, and others, it won’t do a thing. Pretty much the only time you don’t have to worry about the camera is during a boss fight, when it’s pretty much fixed behind you. Only then can you accurately see where you need to go and not have to battle the camera nearly as much as any foes you face.
When the camera cooperates, attacking foes is thankfully, a pretty easy task. Mickey can either spin opponents into a stunned state to either nudge them into painter, or use their dazed state to apply a healthy coating of paint to turn his rivals into allies, or erase them from the world entirely with thinner. The former takes more time, and turns Mickey into a good-natured character, while the latter takes less time, but makes him reviled by the Wasteland’s citizens. The pointer controls used for aiming your fluid of choice aren’t perfectly responsive, but usually get the job done nicely, although Wii Motion Plus support wouldn‘t have hurt.
As a game, Epic Mickey falters. However, its graphical and audio design in is tremendous. While it may not always be fun to play, it’s always a joy to behold. The aforementioned cinematics are stunning, and the in-game graphics are largely fantastic given what the Wii is capable of. The characters and environments are impressively-detailed, and despite that, and the fact that so much of the world is destructible, slowdown is nonexistent. Epic Mickey’s vision revolves around taking the well-known characters and locales of Disney lore and twisting them into something out of a child’s nightmares, and man does it ever succeed there. The much darker, evil incarnations of classic Disney locales and disturbing animatronic versions of classic characters like Donald and Goofy are much creepier than one would ever expect from a Disney game. Warren Spector wanted to do something that hasn’t been done before with Mickey and the gang, and definitely succeeded from a visual standpoint.
Epic Mickey is also a resounding success from an audio perspective. The sound effects for jumping and attacks are exactly what they should be, and while the use of Zelda-style oohs and ahs instead of full voice work has been controversial, I like it because it leaves more things open to the imagination. Because there isn’t voice over work to convey everything, you have to read a lot into facial expressions and those few audio cues to figure things out for yourself. Like the visuals, the music changes things up just enough from what you’re used to from Disney - the music here is like it’s from a dark carnival, and perfectly compliments the creepiness from the graphics.
Epic Mickey is a very-flawed platforming/adventure game. However, it is also greater than the sum of its parts. It achieves greatness through its creation of an incredible in-game world and its atmosphere, but is held back by its problematic camera and controls. Older Disney fans will be in heaven with not only all of the references to Mickey’s past, but all the fan service thrown throughout the world regarding Disney lore, while more mature players will love the dark tone. Unfortunately, they’ll also be more likely to find fault with the gameplay issues. I’d say they’re big enough problems to prevent it from being a full-priced must-have, but it does make for a great rental, and when it drops in price, it’s an easy recommendation for a purchase.