Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
Wii U | Disney Interactive Studios / Junction Point / Heavy Iron Studios | 1-2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad; Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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31st January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Like many others, I was led to believe Disney and Junction Point crafted an illustrious universe, full of potential and life to match its tasteful ideas. All you need to do is read The Art of Epic Mickey to realize the tremendous undertaking the original was, and, now, how much more its sequel would continue its established traditions and more. Despite my better judgment, however, I now realize I've been led astray in my thinking. Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is a game that does indeed bear creative qualities that should be praised on their own. But viewed as a comprehensive whole, these ideas and positive movements are trapped inside a design mold that isn't supervised well, much more impulsively harboring conflict rather than supportive enhancement.
Equipped with the same tools as before, Mickey is invited (more like pleaded) to come back to Wasteland as his presence is desperately needed, this time for different reasons. Teaming up with Oswald in a tag-team affair with Gus as your guide, the trio are made aware of a series of strange occurrences taking place throughout the land and set out to investigate the true cause behind Wasteland's state of instability. The world is wrought with nefarious traps and puzzles, spread out across seven worlds that serve as a skeleton for the entire adventure, adopting such thematic tones as a murky swamp, a dried-up outpost, a run-down carnival of sorts, laboratories and workshops. Continuing with the bone analogy, Mean Street functions as the backbone that branches off to these different venues. From this central plaza, you'll be exposed to but a small portion of the long list of characters that make up the game's cast, as well as shops for purchasing upgrades, trading collectibles, and other purposes. Buildings aren't entered by means of a smooth transition, instead involving that the interact button be held down for a few seconds before you're transported to new scenery of the relevant interior.
A network of projectors is used as a form of navigation to get you to and from destinations, with 2D platforming sections functioning as bridges between two points. It is here that you'll discover vintage remnants of the past -- large record players, tape cassettes, manual gas pumps -- that are now being used as platforming obstacles and flooring. Many of these are either inspired by or entirely based on actual Disney shorts from long ago. Designs involve scaling a giant attic, infiltrating a construction site, exploring a cemetery with skeletons moving about, and so on. Often what happens is, there will be one path for Mickey and one for Oswald. The two eventually will meet in the middle, offering opportunities to band together and access barricaded areas, the contents of which can't be retrieved alone. Occasionally, these sub-areas present puzzles that are by no means demanding (such as rolling a ball into a socket), but either way, they function as valid inclusions that, while not fresh, can be appreciated for the breezy recesses that they are.
All throughout, whether investigating in a 3D or 2D context, you'll observe lively props and engaging set pieces, some of which can be demolished (as indicated by a silver sheen). In addition, references to past Disney tales you may remember from long ago are present in just about every inch of the game, including the especially strong inspiration served by Alice in Wonderland in the Floatyard world, and the more short-lived touches that tie to Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Chip 'n Dale and Snow White, among others. To say the least, settings are pronounced and heavily inscribe novelty, but never having any historical tributes override the magnitude of the base originality seen in these environments. Some sights are truly imaginative, even extravagant, and all of this is apt given that the game is, in fact, representing the Disney brand. With that understanding being made clear, why expect anything less in this regard?
Assuming additional facets of signature Disney magic are the game's periodic non-CG cutscenes, introduced through a textural, comic book art style that unfolds smoothly like that of a storybook. These values are supported with care in the soundtrack, also. It's cheerful and springy as can be rightly expected, and given the game's attempts at whimsy by delivering lines through song and rhyme during cutscenes, the entertainment value is apportioned to a tier resembling that of an actual Disney cartoon. Plus, the game is fully voice acted, whereas the original was not. But in line with the nature of gameplay and the surroundings, Epic Mickey 2 isn't afraid to go down paths where the music serves as a dramatic reflection to accompany notable turns and fearsome sights. Always fitting for gradual developments and the action at hand without drawing too much attention to itself, the feel the soundtrack brings with it is something of great value all on its own.
Getting into gameplay, now, the entire design, from the puzzles to the consequent advantages in battle, is positioned in a co-operative fashion. When in battle, the dynamic often involves temporarily downing enemy defenses while the other exploits an exposed weakness. Numerically on par with but more important than combat (in terms of building the pair's interactions) are the game's puzzles, which involve triggering levers at the same time, or having Mickey drag explosives over to a pile of rubble or a cracked wall for Oswald to detonate. When in close contact, one can provide a boost for the other to reach higher ledges, or the two can pilot themselves across ravines and gaps using Oswald's Helicopter Glide move. And on more general terms (i.e., those that don't require the two to be tethered together), other moments task players with using invisible ink to escape detection or dipping into a pool of gold to embody a thinner-proof shield. I must point out that Floatyard contains exists a section that isn't well-designed, as it is impossible to do as the game suggests with the resource you're given. Most other puzzles function fine, though.
Principally, the roles Mickey and Oswald each play in their duo partnership is unique: Mickey's Paint Brush can reveal hidden platforms and objects or disintegrate sections of an environment, while Oswald's Remote can electrify enemies and breach electronic access ports. Oswald also has a Boomarmerang move, but this isn't nearly as valuable as the others in terms of changing outcomes in your favor. Player 1 will take control of Mickey, and Oswald is controlled either by a second player or the computer. When playing on your own, thought bubbles appear when you need to rely on Oswald for help, which can be addressed with the A Button. While the L-Stick controls movement, aiming Paint or Thinner is done using the R-Stick, with activation of either function being mapped to ZR and ZL. Controlling your stream of ink as per the position of the targeting reticule can be tricky, but it only really becomes annoying later on in the game when there are multiple things taking place at the same time, both in front and off to the sides, and you are expected to remain on top of it all.
Principles of choice and path influence are at the heart of Epic Mickey 2's framework, and this is easily the most praiseworthy aspect to the entire game, in the way that it introduces this concept to young players in such a definitive way that you're given indications on when the path splits into two directions, and when you experience repercussions in the way of damaged relationships with characters. How this all unfolds is exciting to see, with NPCs reassuring you of following the right course after heeding their request, and the opportunity to secretly rendezvous with another potential ally who essentially exclaims "Don't listen to them!" and suggests a different, often more sinister course.
Riding more on suggestions than outright demands, seeing this mutability come about fosters scenarios where you feel in control of your surroundings and the individuals you choose to help or willfully cut off ties with. Being in control of a moral compass also affects what you do with standard enemies, as you do have the ability to subdue them using paint, which will then prompt these converted Toons to help stun remaining enemies. But you can also use thinner to wipe these creatures out of existence. Interestingly enough, paint ammunition comes in limited supply and is slow to recharge, and what this essentially means for the dynamic is this: Being heroic comes to players in a more challenging manner than the temptation of being evil. And so, if there's one thing that Epic Mickey 2 does well, it's this.
Unfortunately, this is also where the praises end, because while all of the above is well and good from a conceptual standpoint, Epic Mickey 2 disappoints time and time again with execution that, frankly, has a strong tendency to diffuse the good and produce what I can only describe as mere ash. I'll start with the control difficulties. I've already made reference to the fact that the aiming mechanism can be problematic. It is for this reason that at certain points in the progression, combat, instead of being a joy, can be messy. But as upsetting as this is, there are other aspects that reflect a measure of incompetence on a repeated basis. For starters, the interact button is confused a lot of the time when trying to determine what you want to do, and this stems from the fact that this is the same button used to jump. So what happens is instead of grabbing onto a lever or opening a door, you end up jumping instead. And to add to the list of clunky maneuvers, it is such a pain to move objects, whether they be fireworks or spheres.
It's unfortunate that the process and meaning behind painting elements of the environment is so stoic, in the sense that you're not really beautifying the environment, and there is furthermore nothing creative about its usage -- in large part because any element of surprise is stripped away. Another matter in relation to mechanics has to do with the role of Guardians. Guardians are small beings that encircle your character, but the problem is there's only one area where you can find a valid use for them. Everywhere else, they seem to float aimlessly without much definition in the way of purpose. Having no purpose whatsoever is the presence -- or for a better word choice, the suggestion -- of aftershocks. Randomly, Mickey or someone else in the area will yell out a warning to accompany rumble of the controller, but nothing ever happens at these moments. In the first real level, a path gets blocked by a falling partition, and that's the only effect that ever unfolds as a result of these alleged instabilities.
Despite what some indications might suggest, the methodology of traversing the vast world is quite linear, and this, while not a bother initially, becomes a nuisance in cases when you don't have enough funds to pay for a key item. Players must consequently travel backwards at a rather tedious pace rather than being allocated sufficient resources to reach to those conditions within the area. It seems as though the team was aware of this, seeing as the Cinema can act as a quick warp to destinations. But it's not a proper resolution, given the conditions surrounding this provision. The only positive I can say in relation to all this is that as far as direction goes, there are relatively few times where you'll be a loss on what to do, because along with the tools provided on the GamePad, Gus provides a helping hand by residing near the spot you need to go next.
Notwithstanding earlier praises, the biggest travesty here is absolutely the presentation because of how deeply it affects gameplay. Epic Mickey 2 is majorly impaired by some drastic framerate issues that make for a lethargic pace in the way of character control, and reach to horrendous extents in the final boss, especially. I can't tell you how fed up I was over how big of a disruption it was to the experience.
Adding further insult is the camera, which demands constant readjustment and often frustrates over how it acts up at terribly inconvenient moments. As you can imagine, between this and the aiming troubles, it's not a fun combination. Glitches also pop up with surprising frequency, with enemies and even Oswald getting stuck in front of pieces of the environment or while in motion. Then again, the AI in general tends to be rather incompetent when you need to rely on it most (i.e., to complete puzzles). Worse yet, some of the glitches that plague this game are death-dealing, even game-freezing on very rare occasions. It's aggravating how the execution in this regard wavers with such propensity, and for all of this to detract greatly from the experience itself is a serious issue that should've been properly addressed prior to release.
In spite of everything, it is certainly possible to make the best of the situation and get to the end with your sanity intact. It is then that a wide door opens, offering you the freedom to explore on your own to reveal hidden paths using Thinner, completing Challenges and side-quests, and things of this nature. For all of its problems and the degradation of the linear setup against the impressive set pieces, the element of discovery is something Epic Mickey 2 harnesses, and it harnesses it rather well. While it is a shame that the game ends far too quickly for the scope suggested by its environments and influences, the prospect of further secrets being unearthed is a redeeming quality.
Coming to terms with Epic Mickey 2 is bound to instigate mixed feelings. I know in my own case that while there are some attributes I love, there's an overpowering number of things I don't. The truth is, the game doesn't meet to a steady ascension in the way of growth, nor does it mobilize to a standard that is well-rooted and pervasively inspiring. There are certainly some good systems at the helm; it's just that they have seen to execution that leaves players uncertain over how to react. With refinement being in sore deficit and nothing in its translated ideas being especially concrete, it is through the wide assortment of design and presentation flaws that Epic Mickey 2 ventures so irredeemably off course that interested parties who mistake intrinsic passion for a palpable draw will only find themselves feeling disturbed, even betrayed by the grave outcome.
15/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Some good systems at work, design flaws, sluggish pacing, problematic controls, AI troubles, some areas lack definition
Presentation 4/10 - Environments are pleasing in scope, fun art style, camera issues, severe framerate concerns, altogether very faulty with big impacts
Enjoyment 2/5 - Technical execution proves greatly disrupting to the experience and the fun, nuisances overshadow what may be appreciated
Extra Content 4/5 - A wide variety of quests to undertake and secrets to uncover, multiple pathways and possibilities allow for replay value
Equivalent to a score of 50% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System