Wasted potential: Epic Mickey 2 succeeds in world-building, but falls flat as a game
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
- Wii U
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two‘s story signals Mickey’s triumphant return to the world of Wasteland, where he is hailed as a hero and all adore him. The product itself will elicit none of those reactions, however. There will be no cheering, no adoration or praise heaped upon our heroes, and nothing comes close to what could reasonably be called a triumph. Epic Mickey 2 trips over its own feet, with too many little things holding it back.
Getting up to speed
Story-intensive sequels are always tricky to pull off, and the sequels that go multi-platform are even moreso. Players don’t want to re-tread familiar ground, but newcomers need to be shown who’s who and what’s what. For an example of success, look to Mass Effect 2 on the PlayStation 3. For an example of failure, look to Epic Mickey 2.
In the first Epic Mickey, Walt Disney’s most famous mouse travels to a realm known as Wasteland. Wasteland is a dimension painted into existence by the wizard Yen Sid, intended as a home to all forgotten things. Mickey’s meddling turns what was designed to be a utopia into a twisted shadow of itself and the Disney universe. There, a character known as the Mad Doctor conspired to steal Mickey’s heart, allowing him to escape and enter the “real” world of the Disney universe. To that end, he formed an allegiance with a monster called the Blot, a foe made of both paint and thinner. There’s a lot more, but that’s the short and sweet version. Why tell you this?
Because virtually none of it is explained by the game. “Not long ago, a rather brave but mischievous mouse discovered a world I had created for forgotten toons,” the game’s intro tells players. “The mouse faced many challenges and choices, but in the end, he saved Wasteland from total destruction with the help of a new friend, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With Oswald by his side, good triumphed over evil, and a family was reunited.” And… that’s all there is.
Newcomers to the franchise – and there will be quite a few, since the first game was Wii exclusive – will be lost. What’s worse is that the game seems to throw this in the player’s face, as it constantly reminds you of adventures you haven’t had. Hey! Remember when you fought the Blot? Man that was cool. Hey! Remember how we didn’t like the Mad Doctor, but now we do? There’s no greater context or explanation, just a bunch of “I guess you had to be there” moments strung together along a plot thread you’re supposed to care about because someone told you to. That technique isn’t an absolute no-no, but there has to be something more.
A good game makes you want to push yourself forward, but Epic Mickey 2 pulls you along by the bit, expecting you to understand its convoluted plot and characters even though statistically you’re likely not to recognize any of these faces. Who is Prescott? Who is Ian? What are Blotlings and why are they still here if the Blot was destroyed? Trying to figure these things out is like being an amnesiac. Don’t you remember, Mickey? It’s Gus! You know… Gus!
Nothing is explained here; not the game’s currency, not its controls, not its collectibles, not its characters, not where to go, not where you are, not which actions are good and which are bad, not why you’re here. It’s maddening.
A Whole New World
Epic Mickey 2 returns Mickey to Wasteland, which must be said is a wonderfully macabre, twisted vision of classic Disney characters and worlds. There are animatronic versions of Goofy, Donald, and Daisy, which all stare at Mickey with soulless, robotic eyes. There is a giant, metal, severed head of Bambi looming over a lava pit, made all the more eerie by its unfeeling smile. The environments are really something to behold, particularly now that the game is in HD on the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U.
That being said, while the maps are pleasant to look at, they’re a nightmare to navigate. With no HUD, no mini-map, and no objective marker, the levels turn into mazes with no clear goal. I can’t count the number of times that Gus would tell me to go through a door that the game hadn’t shown me, and refused to point out. “Let’s visit the camera shop!” Okay, where’s the camera shop? “We can’t leave until the train has battery spheres!” Awesome! Where do I place the spheres? “We need to go to Ventureland!” Great! How the hell do I get there?
Controls feel jerky and stiff, particularly jumping. That’s a big problem for a game which is, at its core, a 3D platformer. Can you jump up to that ledge? Could you cross that gap? It looks like you should be able to, but Mickey may disagree. Combat is likewise unsatisfying, as your attacks never feel like they really connect with enemies. Mickey can do a spinning melee attack, spray enemies with thinner to destroy them, or coat them in paint to turn them friendly. Either way, there’s hardly any reaction from foes as you hit them, if you can even hit them in the first place.
Later enemies require Mickey to jump onto specific weak points, which is by no means an easy feat thanks to the aforementioned jerky controls. Although there is a lock-on function to help with ranged attacks, you still need to manually aim to hit your enemies. It’s a bad mix of platformer and third-person shooter controls that feels sloppy, and I often found myself running through gauntlets of enemies, not attacking a single one simply because I couldn’t be bothered with the game’s obtuse combat system.
Ain’t never had a friend like Oswald - and you wouldn’t want to
It doesn’t help that the game throws Oswald into the mix. While the original Epic Mickey was a solo affair, this game offers co-op with either a human player or AI. If you can, I highly suggest the former, because the latter is infuriating. Here’s one example: About two-thirds of the way through the game, there is a boss fight which is most easily beaten when the boss is distracted by Oswald, allowing you to move to its sides. Only Oswald won’t leave Mickey’s side, so the boss continues to attack, if not Mickey directly, the area Mickey occupies, since Oswald is no doubt nearby.
Oswald is as forgettable a companion as they come, only proving useful for the occasional forced puzzle, which usually consists of “shoot electricity at the power supply.” His attacks consist of detaching and hurling a leg as a boomerang, zapping a steady stream of electricity, or creating an AoE electrical field. They’re functional, but not very interesting. Why not allow Mickey to splash paint on Oswald’s leg as he detaches it? Why not have electricity combine with thinner for a more powerful attack? Why not have Oswald go places Mickey can’t? Oswald’s limitations and the addition of insultingly simple co-op puzzles make him feel less like a character and more of a tool for Mickey to exploit in his adventures.
The one kind thing I can say for Oswald is that, should another player wish to join, co-op is extremely easy and lightning fast to initiate. Simply turn on a second controller and press the start button at any time to take control of Oswald, and start again to relinquish control. There’s no wait time, no loading, just true, drop-in, drop-out, couch co-op.
Without another human to direct him, Oswald is a nuisance that must be endured, like much of Epic Mickey 2. From characters that repeat lines ad nauseum to the Mad Doctor’s singing – a gag which gets old fast – the game constantly, consistently gets in the way of itself, turning what could be a nostalgic romp into a tedious chore.
Epic Mickey 2 is the epitome of wasted potential. Cary Elwes, the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, voices Gus, and the world of Wasteland is beautiful in its own, twisted way. The Mad Doctor’s motivations could make him a fascinating character study, but instead he comes across under-developed and annoying. The game’s moral dilemmas could be excellent thematic jumping off points like creator Warren Spector intended, but it feels like they just boil down to reward or no reward. Half the time you won’t even know if you’ve done something good or bad until a character reacts after the fact.
There is a great game hiding somewhere in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, or at least in its concepts. You just won’t care enough to find it.