Though everyone is familiar with Mickey Mouse–Walt Disney’s most treasured creation–the Disney universe contains a number of characters that showed up once and promptly disappeared, forever forgotten by the public. In the world of the original Epic Mickey, these creations retire to the Wasteland, a land of lost toons. Legendary developer Warren Spector conceived this world, and the game within it, as a means of introducing more players to the concept of choice and consequence in gaming. The title was not without its faults, and technical issues marred a clever premise. With Epic Mickey 2, Spector and development studio Junction Point took another crack at Mickey’s adventures through Wasteland. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to learn from their first mistakes, and Epic Mickey 2 is even more of a failure the second time around.
This sequel picks up shortly after the original game. The Wasteland is ravaged by earthquakes that threaten to decimate the town of Mean Streets. Following a particularly devastating quake, the antagonist from the first game, the Mad Doctor, appears. After cleaning up the town and claiming to have a change of heart, the Mad Doctor asks Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse to help him stop a new threat.
The game features very similar gameplay to the original title. Mickey wields a magic paint brush (belonging to Yen Sid, the sorcerer from the Fantasia classic “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) capable of hurling both paint and thinner. As he journeys through the Wasteland, Mickey has opportunities to use either paint to create and rebuild the world and turn enemies into friends, or thinner to destroy his surroundings and melt foes. Pivotal choices Mickey makes throughout the story affect the rest of the world and produce consequences down the line, as well as affecting Mickey’s reputation within the world.
I love the fact that Warren Spector is so committed to the concept of player choice; he actually refuses to be involved in any game that doesn’t feature the mechanic. This passion is evident throughout Epic Mickey 2, as something as trivial as thinning a wall to get to another area turns out to be a means for thieves to get to a vault, thus raising prices on goods in Mean Streets. The consequences for actions are not always immediately revealed, and it caused me to stop and think on numerous occasions before I made certain decisions.
This is one hell of a nostalgia trip. It’s nothing short of delightful to travel through the classic “Skeleton Dance” short, or to see environments with architecture modeled after old-school Disney cartoon characters. The side-scrolling interludes based on long-forgotten Mickey Mouse shorts show the game is at its best. The art and sound design are a treat as well. Whimsical music (including the Mad Doctor’s musical numbers) and absolutely gorgeous graphic design round out a package that is, on a creative and artistic level, completely wonderful.
As good as all of that is, Epic Mickey 2 is actually a nightmare to play. Clearly designed for a motion controller, the aiming is consistently imprecise with a dual-joystick setup. While bearable in the demo, it’s difficult to maintain patience through a full game with such a wonky mechanic. Particularly in the horrible boss battles, it becomes frustrating to aim for critical weak points on the enemies’ bodies, as you constantly wrestle with aiming so imprecise. With this aiming system, it’s honestly amazing that the game was allowed to be released.
If you play the game, play it with another person. The AI-controlled partner is incredibly poor. Without human influence, Oswald extends beyond uselessness, becoming an active hindrance to Mickey. Whether he’s getting stuck in an area or stepping in front of Mickey during combat, Oswald is a complete idiot when left for the game to control. Those things might not be major barriers, but when Oswald only performs his task of running to revive a downed Mickey half of the time, he becomes infuriating. Playing the game soon turned into a test of my own temper as I constantly resisted the urge to chuck my controller across the room.
Smaller issues also chip away at the sanity. For instance, you may run into contextual actions that don’t actually execute the first time you press the button. This is more of a problem because the action button is mapped to the jump button, meaning that almost every time I wanted to perform an action like move through a doorway, Mickey would jump instead.
Epic Mickey 2 is a disastrous sequel to an interesting failure, taking multiple steps backward in its refusal to fix the fundamental flaws of the original game. Much like Resident Evil 6, my experience took me from cautious optimism, to general dislike, to active hatred. Pleasant waves of nostalgia are quickly overrun by terrible gameplay mechanics. You’ll get more enjoyment out of this game by simply admiring the concept art. For anything beyond that, it’s not worth the frustration.
Epic Mickey 2 was developed by Blitz Games Studios and Junction Point Studios, and published by Disney Interactive Studios. A PlayStation 3 copy was purchased by the editor for the purposes of review.