Several years ago, Disney had plans to reinvigorate its Mickey Mouse brand, and sought to do so with a video game that anyone could play. Buena Vista Interactive approached legendary developer Warren Spector to spearhead the project, only convincing him to join after telling him he would be able to have complete creative freedom. Spector’s vision, after having gone through a handful of revisions, was a not-quite-fully-realized world, but had enough mood and character to overlook weak gameplay to a certain degree. Even so, the game still felt like a missed opportunity, and many players hoped developer Junction Point would get a second crack at the idea.
Epic Mickey 2 opens with Oswald the Rabbit in his hometown, when suddenly things start to fall apart once again, a revival of the previous game’s chaos. Buildings explode, and people run in panic. The aggressor reveals himself as the Mad Doctor, apparently back from the dead and having realized the error of his ways. He now wants to help save Wasteland, and takes Oswald with him. Oswald’s friends still don’t trust the Doctor, so they summon Mickey Mouse to help them investigate.
Over the course of the demo, Epic Mickey 2 largely retains the same gameplay style as the original game: use paint to fill in areas of the world so that Mickey can traverse them, and use thinner to destroy areas of the world to remove obstacles. In the same way, player choice factors into combat. You’ll use paint to make enemies bright and friendly, or use thinner to destroy them. The difference is that Oswald is now a playable cooperative character, armed with a remote. The Wasteland has specific puzzles for each character, and Mickey and Oswald can each interact with areas of the environment that the other cannot.
One thing the game really has going for it is style. While I did not like the fully CG cutscenes, Junction Point makes up for it with plenty of classically-animated segments, nods to old Disney properties, and, surprisingly, musical numbers. There was only one song in the demo, but it was catchy enough to be engaging and makes me hopeful for the rest of the songs that will be in the finished product. There are areas of the game in which color and lighting are so expertly employed that the game feels very much like riding an attraction at Disneyland. Even if gameplay in the finished product falters again, it will at least be a visually and aurally sumptuous experience.
While control is generally passable, the game definitely seems to have been designed with motion control in mind. I don’t have the PlayStation Move, so I had to use the classic third-person shooter setup. It was functional, but still carried some elements of the motion control structure. For example, the reticule has to be moved halfway across the screen for the character to rotate. I feel like the game would probably handle better with a motion controller, but players that choose to go the traditional controller route shouldn’t worry too much.
There was, however, the occasional instance in which a co-op action would not initiate when it was supposed to. For example, I knew that Oswald would carry Mickey across a gap, but I couldn’t get Mickey to grab his legs. Other times, it worked perfectly. I hope that Junction Point irons out some of these issues before the game gets released.
Puzzles were a bit mixed in their execution. Most of these rely on cooperative actions, but the solution is not immediately clear, leading to instances of wandering aimlessly around the room until a button prompt appears. Worse is the narrator, who in these areas will repeat the same tip roughly every 20 seconds: “Perhaps there is something in here that needs some paint!” and similar tips just vague enough to be unhelpful and irritating.
Most surprising was my reaction upon finishing the demo: I wanted to play more. My cautious interest in the game has turned into legitimate investment. It’s kind of a bummer that it’s so short, but it also seemed to cover most of the bases. It’s surprising that after the number of times I got irritated over the course of the demo I still left satisfied. It speaks to the charm and character of Warren Spector’s world and shows that he still knows how to masterfully construct atmosphere. I think if Junction Point can spend the last hours crunching out some mechanical issues, Epic Mickey 2 will turn out to be significantly better than its predecessor.