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Epic Mickey Wii Review

07/02/2011 Thinking Story Gamer Review
Guest author: Chris Jarvis
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Epic Mickey Nintendo Wii

Epic Mickey

Nintendo Wii



Further reading:
Chris Jarvis
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Ren N Stimpy
Kingdom Hearts
Epic Mickey fiction

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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Family Gamer (Wii)
Reporting Gamer (Wii)
Novel Gamer (Wii)

Epic Mickey promised a dark artsy experience. However, while the game takes a fascinating and unique look at the history of one of animation's most iconic studios, it fails to create an enjoyable experience.

I really wanted to like Epic Mickey. As a child my grandma bought me Disney comics every fortnight and (back in those ancient days) the classic cartoons that made Mickey, Pluto and Donald famous were often shown on television between programmes. It's all too clear that in an age where animation technology is as advanced as it now is, the old cartoons have no place in our TV schedules, much like the caption-card silent movies of the same era. Audiences just don't understand them anymore.

This is where Epic Mickey tells a surprisingly compelling story. Based on a world of forgotten characters and history, Epic Mickey took me on a journey which highlighted just how much has been produced and forgotten over the years. There's a poignant trip up Mickeyjunk Mountain, littered with lunch-boxes, badges, fan club memberships and other discarded merchandise. The local inhabitants talk fondly about the films they remember making, before culture moved on and left them to eke out a quiet life on their own. This world is the toontown of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 50 years after any outsider last bothered to visit.

The premise of the story revolves around an accidental spillage of ink and thinner, which with The Sorcerer crafted the world. Thus, the game features an interesting and unique mechanic whereby in-game objects can be filled in or deleted -- allowing progress either through walls or over walkways.

This is where Epic Mickey tells a surprisingly compelling story.

Sadly that is where the thrill ends. If someone is going to make a game about one of the most iconic animation studios of all time, it is beholden upon them to create a game in which the animation is at least average and the in-game camera compares at least favourably to the market standard.

Unfortunately, Epic Mickey has none of these things. The camera in-game was so bad it frequently refused to show me where I was going. Sometimes the manual override and first person view is disallowed for no apparent reason and often the camera will change angles during complex and frustrating jumping puzzles (of which there are many). Most of the time this caused my jump to go awry and I lost direction mid-air.

After a lavish opening movie, which really had me excited for the world in which I was about to be immersed, the movie sequences within Epic Mickey are very poor. They have, perhaps, aimed for a stylised look (not unlike Ren N Stimpy) but the colours and shading are so off it reminded me of the days when games had to attempt movies in 16 colours on old graphics cards.

The controls are no better: The moving and jumping feels clumsy and awkward especially since most of the jumping puzzles are designed to push the very limits of the character's jump. Combined with the erratic cameras some sections are pure irritation ending in cheap falls which forced me to retrace my steps.

This is where Epic Mickey tells a surprisingly compelling story.

The painting/thinning system is dogged by some bad design, in which even though I was aiming accurately, the stream of liquid failed to hit the target. Often there is no choice but to aim elsewhere in an attempt to get fluid to fall onto the desired area. Given that the paint and thinner are both limited resources this is a frustration.

Additionally, the game features a weird system, a bit the good/evil alignment of games like Fable or inFamous. There seems to be an implication in the game that painting is good and thinning is bad. Focus on painting enemies and they will turn friendly; completing the world around makes the place look attractive and makes characters happy. However, using thinner destroys enemies and environments, often revealing secrets. There is a loyalty gauge that tracks use of paint/thinner and Epic Mickey reportedly has different endings.

While this all makes sense on paper, in truth the paint/thinner good/evil device is unsatisfying. Most puzzles require a mixed approach of thinning and painting to complete. There were some decision points, whereby I was asked to choose -- but the choice was without context. In one puzzle I was told that filling a device with paint would fix the carousel. I think most players want a feeling of cause/effect in the choices they make in games -- in this game the choice to (try to) focus on either paint or thinner seems entirely arbitrary.

The design and care that has been taken in the approach to the subject matter is wonderful and very rare

As an animation fan the 2D transitional sections were a real highlight, with much improved controls and design, and based on classic old Disney cartoons. It's a shame there isn't the option to play just these sections but unfortunately Epic Mickey forces you to re-tread some of these too often. I also felt really let down by the extras. The game had given the impression you were collecting film reels of old cartoons for viewing later -- however these collectibles only unlock two cartoons in the extras archive. For this kind of reward I may have actually forced myself through the frustrating gameplay.

All things considered it's a terrible disappointment. The design and care that has been taken in the approach to the subject matter is wonderful and very rare -- although I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd had a better time with Kingdom Hearts. Unfortunately, while re-treading the past Epic Mickey has fallen foul of one of the oldest traps in the book: unforgivable camera, poor controls and no motivation.

[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his Epic Mickey fiction.]

Guest review by Chris Jarvis

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Chris Jarvis wrote this Story Gamer article under the watchful eye of Mark Clapham.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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