Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Apple Mac, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii-U and PC
If you like the idea of an adventure platformer full of nostalgic Disney charm, well, don't play Epic Mickey 2, because it'll probably ruin whatever idea you've got in your head. This, it turns out, is a game for masochists, and not because of the darker side of Disney it represents with its world of forgotten 'toons – a fairly niche but intriguing premise for a game – but because it deals out unrelenting punishment every step of the way. Epic Mickey 2 is challenging, but it's not the motivational kind of challenge. In fact, all it's likely to motivate you to do is bang your head against a radiator in the hope that you'll bring on the necessary memory loss needed to make you carry on playing it.
Those who haven't played Epic Mickey will likely be fairly lost here, too. Apart from an introductory voice-over from Yen Sid, the sorcerer (from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) who created the wasteland for the forgotten 'toons, not much explanation of the previous game is given. You're expected, for example, to know what “guardians” are without having it explicitly stated, which you'd think a game in which those who give you quests act like you have short-term memory loss would take the time to do. What you are given is an opening scene in which the villain from the first game claims to have changed his ways and beseeches the innocent citizens of the wasteland to forgive him all his past wrongs, all of which he does in song. Naturally, Oswald, the lucky rabbit who appeared in the first game (and is a character who has actually been around since 1927, even longer than Mickey Mouse), agrees to help the Mad Doctor redeem himself by fighting a new evil, and Mickey jumps in to lend a hand; thus begins the adventure for rabbit and mouse. This musical number is a surprisingly unique opener, but it is unfortunately likely only to raise the player's hopes before the actual playing of the game brings them crashing down.
That said, there is plenty in this game to occupy the player who is willing to overlook serious flaws in the pursuit of that kind of cute quirk. The very nature of the wasteland means that there are ancient relics from various Disney franchises littered within it: a Donald Duck tin lunch box here, a statue of the Queen of Hearts there. These touches are usually little more than scenery – save for occasional delights like a wooden door that is opened by bringing together carvings of Snow White and her Prince – but their charm makes up for the fact that the core of the game doesn't look particularly high-definition, even on PS3. In fact, the best-looking sections (in terms of artistic value rather than definition) are the cutscenes, which are simply but cleverly animated, and the short 2D levels through which you have to travel each time you want to move to a different part of the wasteland. Sadly enough, expanding on and using only those 2D levels might have made for a more successful game since they retain all of the Disney charm without having the issues found in the main game.
The problems begin with the controls. In a pleasant twist, this is a game in which the Move functionality actually works so well that it's easier to play with Move than without, presumably because this is a series that was originally designed for the Wii. Mickey's weapon against foes and puzzles found through the wasteland is his magical paintbrush, and aiming it with a standard controller is a headache to say the least, while the Move controller makes the whole thing feel quite natural. Aim the cursor, pull the trigger to shoot paint, or use the navigation controller to shoot destructive thinner instead. It's actually quite enjoyable using the motion controllers to either create or destroy in this way, until you have to stop what you’re doing to move the cursor to the edge of the screen to nudge the camera back into an appropriate position, which – unfortunately – you'll have to do ridiculously often. This camera might be a slight improvement on that in Epic Mickey, but it still likes to drift so that you end up looking up at the sky rather than at the platforms you need to reach or the attacker you're trying to dissuade. In a game that expects you to jump from platform to platform in a 3D space, a lousy camera is a particularly unforgivable handicap.
Then, there's Oswald. Epic Mickey 2 is designed with co-op in mind (though only local), and that's the best way to play it, but not because it's necessarily fun. The issues with the camera are still there, after all, and the second player gets the short straw with Oswald's fairly unimaginative electrical zapper when compared with Mickey's brush. No, you'll want to drag a second player along for the ride purely so that you don't have to deal with an Oswald controlled by AI. When he is left automated, you end up with a travelling partner who is bizarrely fickle. One moment he'll follow you incessantly, to the extent that he draws the attention of bosses when you'd ideally use a divide-and-conquer approach, or gets in between you and an enemy, or tries to pull the lever Mickey is pulling when he should be pulling the other one. The next, he'll disappear completely, refusing to come to your side even when you press the button that's supposed to beckon him over, or wandering off the button he's supposed to be holding down so that the thing Mickey is standing on disappears and sends him plummeting to the deathly sea of thinner below. And yet sometimes, he'll solve puzzles all on his own, before you've even had a chance to realise what the pair have been asked to do, though that's more a case of the game taking control out of your hands than helping you along. His most useful skill is that he can revive you with his electrical zapper to prevent you from having to start your objective over, but he'll only do it if he can be bothered.
It might not be such an issue to have to repeat puzzles every time Oswald fails to save you were they not quite so tedious. The main story is disjointed enough as it is, without the fact that progress through it is whittled down to playing handyman. Time and time again, you'll be plonked in a room with a bunch of enemies and broken things, with the task of avoiding or neutralising the former and repairing the latter. You can dispose of enemies by dousing them with magic paint until they become friendly or using thinner to destroy them, or at least parts of them. But it takes a while for either effect to kick in, and you have to juggle aiming the controller, keeping the camera in the right place, and avoiding the damage these quick-moving enemies can so easily dish out. Once you are able to move around the level without being attacked, you can get started on the repair, which is always simple (indeed, boring) in practice, the only difficulty provided by actually working out what it is you're supposed to be doing. Despite the attempts of the citizens of the wasteland to be helpful, all they're often able to offer is a vague command, which you'll end up hearing repeated at least a dozen times before you've worked out what they're actually talking about, often just by wandering about pulling levers until something arbitrarily clicks.
This lack of direction also interferes with the lesson the game is trying to teach on choice and consequence. For example, we're taught that it's much nicer to paint an enemy into a friendlier existence than it is to dissolve them with acid-like thinner, and the same applies for rebuilding versus destroying objects in the environment. With most of the puzzles there are actually two solutions. Generally, you'll have the option to take your time dragging parts around and painting things in until everything is good as new or take the shortcut of blowing up anything that's malfunctioning, and (good) characters are naturally happier if you choose the former. But when you can't work out what the hell you're being asked to do in the first place, the whole karma thing goes out the window, as you just opt for the only action you actually understand how to undertake.
The developers have to be admired for their ambition, however. The wasteland might be a nightmare to traverse, but it's nice to look at, with plenty of nods to Disney's past that older fans will appreciate. And they've really tried to make it into a cohesive world, so it's a shame that it ends up feeling just as disjointed as the tale being told within it. There are plenty of characters to talk to, for example, and the side quests they give are a nice distraction from the main story, but they're not developed nearly as fully as they could have been. And your choices do have consequences, if on quite a basic level. The most delightful moment of Epic Mickey 2 might well be the end scene, if you ever get that far, in which you'll see different things dependent on those decisions you made, including the outcomes of side quests you took on because of exasperation at the main path through the game.
Finally, after that scene come the credits, in which you'll be treated to the Mad Doctor's song in a variety of different languages, reminding you of the hope that his opening number represented. It's a shame, then, given that the development team had enough to spend on translating lyrics, that they didn't spend a bit more money and effort on fixing the major issues that make Epic Mickey 2 so unplayable.