Epic Mickey 2 (Wii) Review: Tragic Kingdom
2010 was the year of many things. It was the year of the Tiger. It was also, somewhat irritatingly, the year that the UK bailed out Ireland to the tune of £7 billion. But it was also, if the ludicrously overhyped marketing campaign was to be believed, the year of the Mouse.
Not really the sort of boxart you'd expect from Mickey Mouse.
Warren Spector, of Junction Point Studios, embarked on a quest to create a darker, more serious Mickey Mouse. Saddling him with this heavy burden was Disney Interactive, a company known for its less than stellar productions; the project came about as a result of a recent-at-the-time survey that revealed the 'shocking' truth: Mickey Mouse was not a recognisable gaming figure. Why? Probably had something to do with the fact that he isn't a videogame character. Maybe that's just me.
But, at any rate, the bigwigs at the House of Mouse weren't having any of that and so, in their infinite wisdom, commissioned Mr. Spector to churn out Epic Mickey for the Wii, released in the back end of 2010. Despite a poor showing critically, it managed to sell over 1 million copies before the end of the quarter, and so a sequel seemed inevitable.
Ah, bowdlerization. You gotta love it. The difference between the covers is pretty jarring.
Thus, whether anyone actually wanted it or not, in November 2012 we were 'blessed' with Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, this time for all major consoles. Once again, it was doomed to a critical lambasting, except this time it didn't have its sales as a saving grace - it sold barely a quarter of the copies the original did by the end of the year, despite equally heavy advertising and the move onto more advanced consoles. In fact, this stinker flopped so badly that Junction Point has since been shuttered and Warren Spector now has nothing to do but sit in the corner and think about what he's done.
This guy made Deus Ex. Remember that.
But sequels are a chance to right the wrongs of the first, so did this game really deserve the poor reception? Let's take a look. As an aside, this review is based on the Wii version as A: It was cheaper, and I didn't want to line Disney's pockets with more than absolutely necessary, and B: The HD versions are apparently plagued with framerate issues. So that's a good start.
OK, as I'm sure many of you were asking, I'll clarify: I rather enjoyed the original Epic Mickey. This was primarily due to the story, which featured an interesting, dark environment and some enjoyable characters. But nobody can deny that it had many problems. The camera was, bluntly, awful, sending Mickey plummeting to his doom because Disney!Lakitu decided you'd rather see a nice tree rather than the next platform. Another gripe I personally had with the original was that it didn't have any voice-acting, instead forcing you to speedread through endless pages of text that never stopped for a breather. But overall, the sheer love for Disney and epic (ahem) storytelling were the first game's saving grace, and by the end of the adventure, I was left feeling satisfied, as though I had accomplished something. Not so with the Power of Two. Allow me to elaborate.
Actually, that's it. Call off the review. With art this epic, the sequel could never match up.
Firstly, I'll get this off my chest: the camera has not been fixed. At all. Instead, the endlessly proficient developers at Junction Point have simply chosen to send Mickey and Oswald to wide, open areas so that the camera has less of a chance to snag on the scenery, rather than attempt to correct it. But fear not because your old nemesis comes up with even more devilish tricks this time - disappearing beneath platforms before rising up under Mickey, pointing straight at the sky, refusing to centre.... absolutely no effort has been made in this department. That's strike one, in my book.
To illustrate: this may look like a promotional image, but it isn't. This is actual gameplay footage, and that abysmal camera angle is all too real. Just wait until you see it in motion.
Secondly, the story is dull. It absolutely pains me to say it, but... the plot goes something like this: after rebuilding Wasteland, a huge earthquake hits and tears it apart again. The Mad Doctor, secondary villain of the original, surfaces and says (and sings) he knows who's responsible and that he wants to help, but Oswald is the only one who's willing to trust him. So Mickey is called on again to find the truth. That's it. My first problem with this: no new villain. It's just a rehash of the baddie from the original. We do occasionally see a glimmer of hope in the form of the Blotworx and Gremlin Prescott, but they're all but forgotten about towards the end.
This brings me to another problem - the story is utterly disjointed, lacks any meaning and emotion (one of the things the original did right) and towards the end makes no sense, period. Subplots are introduced, such as with Prescott, then dropped and forgotten about. Issues raised in the early stages of the game are never resolved (I'm looking at you, earthquakes) and the minute-long 'revelation' sequence is rushed to the point of being confusing, skipping over several subplots and failing to convey any meaningful answers. And I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the final boss is the Mad Doctor. You read that right, everyone. The developers really are that unimaginative. This is a real stumbling block for the series. After such an incredible, emotional yarn in EM1, how could they foul this up? That's strike two.
Yep, totally trustworthy, this guy. (Note: don't believe people literally called "The Mad Doctor".)
What's more, the game is too short. I was able to run through it in under two hours, without utilising any speedrun tactics or glitches, and for a $30 (almost £20 in the UK) pricetag that's simply unacceptable. Furthermore, the ending is so abrupt and nonsensical (heck, even the credits are just seven images on a constant loop accompanied by songs from the game in different languages. Small World homage or lazy production values? You decide. Hint: it's the latter) that it gives the impression that, along with the unresolved plot points, we've been handed the first half of a good game, meant to prime us to shell out for Epic Mickey 3. Not that that's likely to happen, what with the demise of Junction Point. It would seem the powers-that-be have some mercy.
I don't know what the problem was: budget cuts, time constraints, whatever - it just doesn't feel complete. And that's what I meant when I said this game was unsatisfying. You don't feel like you've accomplished anything. You don't feel like you've vanquished any evil. You just spray some Paint around, a rubbish ending plays, then that's it. No epic finale or anything. It's simply incomplete. Strike three, you're out.
OK, that was my main gripe out of the way. Let's talk about the actual gameplay, shall we? Little has changed since the original here. The controls are pretty standard: A to jump, B to spray Paint, Z to spray Thinner, Control Stick to move. They're actually fairly responsive, although a disproportionately high number of commands are mapped to the A Button, including jumping, talking, entering and exiting doors, pushing/pulling objects, entering projectors; it gets annoying, especially when you try to leave a building, only to inadvertently initiate an unskippable rapport with some needy NPC. I'm looking at the Wii Remote right now. Home button aside, there are a total of 6 buttons, not counting the D-Pad. Could they not have spread those commands out a little?
As Mickey, you can spray Paint at toon objects to restore them, or Thinner to destroy them. This works well for the most part, with buildings glooping satisfactorily into life, and back again. One of the biggest changes, however, is the addition of co-op. A second player can jump in and take control of Oswald, who carries a remote control that essentially functions as a kid-friendly taser. This cannot impact the environment in any way, nor is it ever really any use against bosses (of which, I might add, there are a grand total of three in the entire game) or regular enemies, so Player 2 is definitely going to end up feeling like a sidekick, a second fiddle to Mickey, which is kind of ironically appropriate if you recall the plot of the first game.
He may look cute now, but wait until his AI kicks in.
Both characters have a generic Spin attack, which.... doesn't really do much apart from opening treasure chests. It's useless in combat. Of course, in the original, you could use it to blast enemies off cliffs and the like. But no, here enemies simply respawn if you this-is-Sparta them, leaving you no choice but to paint/thin them.
When Oswald is not being controlled by a player, the computer takes over, and for the most part does an absolutely atrocious job. In my numerous playthroughs, he never did his jobs when I told him to - to add insult to injury, all of his commands are mapped to the minus button regardless of context, meaning he'll frequently perform actions that are the exact polar opposite of what you wanted - and seemed to derive great pleasure from wandering off aimlessly, often off cliffs, most frequently when his assistance was actually required; or, even worse, simply running up against a wall, a hallmark of shoddy AI. Holding down the minus button is purportedly supposed to call him over, but it never works.
He's absolutely useless in combat too, frequently actually seeming to deliberately jump in the way of your paint stream, all whilst complaining you're hurting him. He seems to prefer zapping you with his electricity rather than the enemies, and given that one of the bosses - that is, again, one third of the combat in the game - requires his help, it drags on for an eternity.
The boss in question. Not pictured: Oswald running mindlessly into the wall of fire, rendering him inactive for 75% of the fight.
Given that the outcome of the game's ending largely hinges on your choices in combat, Oswald is a severe detriment to your playthrough in this regard; for instance, there was a moment in Blot Alley, Wasteland's version of New Orleans Square, when I inadvertently opened up a pool of Thinner on the ground. In this area, the goal, if you're following the good path, is to make it through without killing any Spatters (enemies), a fact which the game goes to great lengths to make explicitly clear. However, Oswald, in his infinite wisdom, took it upon himself to spin a Spatter into the deadly Thinner, killing it. Could be worse, right? Wrong. Immediately after this: BAM, instant autosave, rendering my 'choice' set in stone for the remainder of the game, as well as having Gus, the Cary Elwes voiced Gremlin (good God, were no celebrities saved? It's bad enough they've already ruined Frank Welker and Bret Iwan with this junk) holler at me with something along the lines of "Jolly ho, wot wot, eh, Mickey? What did you go and do that for? That was entirely your fault, old bean!" (NB: this is actually what most of his dialogue boils down to). It was at this point that I seriously considered snapping the disc. I have subsequently regretted my decision not to.
DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!
So what I'm essentially saying here is that Oswald is a terrible companion who's an active hindrance to your progress, and so, unless you have someone willing to endure this steaming pile right along with you, all the way through - in which case you should suggest they seek immediate medical attention - then there's another reason not to pick this up.
But I've ranted on too much. As difficult as it may be to believe, this game does have some redeeming elements. 'Some' is the operative word there. Emphasis on 'some'.
Unlike the original, the game is fully voice-acted, meaning no more reading - heaven knows today's generation can't read anyway - and some characters, mainly the Mad Doctor - who seems an odd choice, but it does mean the whole thing is one giant villain song, so I ain't complaining - partake in the odd musical number, in true Disney fashion. The cutscenes that these appear in are charming, even more so than the original thanks to the voices, and are well animated in the style of classic Disney artist Mary Blair. These are the highlight of the game, and are worth seeing through to the end just to watch. These are what bumped my score up a little. The sheer Disney love emanating from the stages is joyous to behold, with references tucked into every nook and cranny, sure to satisfy the Disneyphile within you. To emphasise: I found a Black Cauldron reference. Go look it up. If you get that without Wikipedia, score yourself fifty bonus points.
Funnily enough, this flopped too. It would appear Disney is physically incapable of creating something simultaneously dark and of high quality.
Visually, the game's a joy. Even on the Wii, a system often poked fun at for its 480p graphics, textures look realistic. Clouds look like clouds, trees have individual leaves etc. It adds something to the whole experience, and makes you temporarily forget the shortcomings of the story and camera. But, as I always say, you can decorate a turd with as many sprinkles, paints and flowers as you want, but it'll still be a turd.
The audio is riddled with issues too. While the music is pretty decent, and plays pretty nice, it's pretty much all lifted from the first game, save for a few new pretty good tunes - a standout is the insanely catchy Autotopia theme - but I did sometimes notice the music would play a loop, then take about a minute before starting up again, leaving a silent, empty void in the meantime with only Mickey's shrill deathshrieks punctuating the atmosphere. That's just lazy programming. I expected nothing less though.
Additionally, like I said, the HD ports, especially the Wii U version, often drop to below 15 fps, rendering the game pretty much unplayable. Not that it was playable to begin with, but you get the idea.
Unfortunately, these problems always come back to bite Mickey's cheese in the end. When playing, you can almost see Mr. Spector's vision, tantalizingly close, but it never quite reaches it. Thanks to a disjointed story that feels like it's been chainsawed in half and an unfixed camera, the whole experience is dragged down, resulting in a game that is not only not better than the original, but not even as good. Graphics and musical numbers aside, after all the hype Mr. Spector gave this title, this is a truly epic disappointment.
Epic Mickey 3: Tri Again beckons.....?
OH GOD PLEASE NO IT WAS A JOKE TAKE IT AWAY MAKE IT STOP
... that better be fanart.
Performance: Wii: 8/10 HD versions: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10