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Epic Mickey's story runs very deep but needs expert hands to progress. The AWOL with camera and fiddly mechanics are all worth it though, for the genuinely new and unique way to experience a story.
Epic Mickey is a fresh look at the Mickey Mouse franchise and an effort to reinvigorate it for a new generation of gamers. Much the same as when Mickey's Castle of Illusions arrived on the Megadrive, it's immediately impressive when Disney flexes their creative muscle - and everyone starts paying attention.
Epic Mickey is a platform game that adopts elements of both Mario Galaxy and Mario Sunshine. 3D platforming, spin attacks and double jumps are joined by a painting mechanic much like the water jet in Sunshine's under appreciate Mario outing.
The Nun-chuck is used to run around the 3D world whilst the Wii-mote's pointing can direct a spray of paint or thinner to change the environment. It's a clever move that sets up all sorts of platforming puzzles where elements of the world need to be coloured-in with paint or erased with thinner.
Whereas in other games, the novelty of these controls would be the centrepiece, in Epic Mickey they take a back seat to the confident storytelling. Mickey is joined by a characterful antagonist Oswald and gradually discovers the dark truths about the game's Wasteland location.
It's a place where forgotten and discarded characters from Disney's lore have ended up. Oswald the Rabbit leads these abandoned icons in a sad revolution. But rather than the usual caricature that usually stand in for these things in videogames, here we get to know individuals with a real sense of history - both weighty and developed. Finding this sort of character evolution in a videogame is unexpected, and easily puts the experience alongside the humanity found in most Pixar movies.
The gameplay itself is a little less inspirational though, and gets hard pretty early on. The much touted paint and thinner tool is limited to certain parts of the world and becomes more of a puzzle device than something that really engages your imagination.
What is more engaging is the way the game keeps track of the choices you make through the game.
What is more engaging is the way the game keeps track of the choices you make through the game. Little things, like whether you go after the money or save people have consequences in how the game eventually plays out. More general aspects of your play - like whether you use thinner to dispatch end level bosses, or take the harder (more worthy) route of using paint - are all noted.
It's a shame that these things don't effect the game quicker though. They are largely reflected in the cut scenes that follow each level and the end cinematic. This, along with the reappearance of enemies you have previously killed when you revisit an area, reflect the limitations of working with a lower powered console like the Wii.
More annoying though are the cumbersome controls. Shooting the paint and thinner can be a real fiddle at times as you struggle to get the fluid where you want it. As the levels get more complicated it can also be hard to see where you need to go, the camera is often at the wrong angle and slow to move manually.
A few teary moments from the kids would suggest that they agreed.
In place of the snappy pixel perfection of Mario, Mickey's movement feels slippery and awkward. The challenge of completing a section is often as much about working with the vague controls as it is with identifying the solution.
This means that rather than a game my kids could play and enjoy, Epic Mickey became one that I played while they watched. Having accepted this approach though, there was plenty to enjoy. In fact the presentation and genuine engagement the game generates with the main characters is simple awe inspiring.
Interspersing the player controlled sections are original, hand-drawn looking, scenes that move the story forward. But as mentioned above, these do much more than simply highlight or remind players about plot points. Unvoiced and brief, they communicate as much emotion and humanity as anything I've encountered in Uncharted 2 or Fable III. A few teary moments from the kids would suggest that they agreed.
it does as much to blur the distinction between games and films as art games like Flower or Limbo.
Played in the right way - an expert at the controls and other family members watching and offering advice - Epic Mickey is an experience to be cherished by most families. On these terms it does as much to blur the distinction between games and films as art games like Flower or Limbo, and does so with the same deft touch that made Jungle Book, Snow White and the Lion King such timeless stories.
As a videogame it is not without problems, but as a fresh way to experience Disney's storytelling it is masterful.
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