PREVIEW: Disney’s Epic Mickey (E3 2010)

DISNEY’S EPIC MICKEY
Platform: Nintendo Wii


“I really like your shirt!”

That’s what Warren Spector, Creative Director of Disney’s Epic Mickey, said of the Mickey Mouse t-shirt I wore on the day of my Epic Mickey demo at E3. And, after a lengthy demo and a chance to play a bit of the game myself, I have to say, Mr. Spector, I really like your game!

Being a lifelong Disney fan, I was ecstatic when I first heard about this game’s development. This is the biggest release of any kind featuring Mickey Mouse since the 1950′s when he appeared in some of the last theatrical Mickey Mouse cartoons. How could I not be excited?  It isn’t like I use my season pass to Disneyland every chance I get.  It’s not as if The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are two of my favorite films.  It certainly isn’t true that I sang “Part of Your World” at the Padinga staff’s karaoke party.  This preview is starting to get a bit too personal; let’s talk about everyone’s favorite mischievous mouse.

“I believe…that games can tell stories as deep and sophisticated as movies.”

Epic Mickey represents a bold departure from what one expects to be associated with the Disney brand.  Mickey, in a move that channels the destructive curiosity of Fantasia, inadvertently corrupts a land known as the Wasteland by pouring paint thinner on it.  Thus, the Wasteland is ruined, throwing its inhabitants into chaos.  These characters aren’t just random creations, however.  They’re old Disney characters that either have been retired or never advanced beyond the conceptual stage.  Oswald the Lucky Rabbit runs this realm, but power has its price.  After the thinner destroyed the land, an enemy called The Blot (who may or may not be related to the Phantom Blot) engaged Oswald in wars that raged for several years.  See what I mean when I say this is a bold departure?

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Eventually Mickey returns to the Wasteland, only to learn that the destruction it has endured was caused by his hands.  In no time, Mickey is captured by the villains so that they can steal his heart.  No character in the Wasteland has one, so to take Mickey’s would allow them to escape, trapping Mickey forever.  Obviously, this would mean a very short game and the entire destruction of a Disney brand, so Mickey escapes, resolved to set things right.

“Phenomenal cosmic power!”

The central gameplay concept in Epic Mickey revolves around the mechanics of paint and thinner.  Mickey comes armed with a paintbrush that allows him to place the two into the world at his command.  Now, paint is a very constructive and powerful tool that can be used to repair thinner damage as well as create portions of the environment that weren’t there before.  An object out of reach can be acquired by finding the missing platform and painting it back in, for example.  Thinner is a much more devastating tool, allowing you to remove objects from the game world by melting them down.  Considering how combative that last power sounds, it is no surprise that the paint and thinner are folded into Mickey’s offensive abilities.  Thinner can be used to satisfyingly, as well as sadistically, melt down your enemies.  Paint is for the more tactical (or gentle hearted) player, in that when it covers your opponent they become allied with you and will help you fight off other non-controlled enemies.  To round out his arsenal, Mickey can also jump on or punch his enemies using similar controls to Super Mario Galaxy.

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What’s more interesting is how the application of these power causes the characters around you to react.  Being destructive might net you more hidden objects, but characters in the world will be distrustful of Mickey, altering the paths you can take with them.  Since most damage appears to be reparable, I’m curious to see what sort of absolute choices the game forces the player to make.  You can also use these powers to create not only physical short cuts in the world, but to cut corners in the story as well.  There was one moment in the demo in which Mickey was required to get three different items before moving on to a new level.  No gamer will be surprised, but these items were held onto by characters who ALSO needed various tasks done for them.  One character, Tiki Sam, wanted Mickey to collect a set of tiki masks located in the immediate area.  Since one mask was readily accessible and had already been collected, I turned it in.  Now, rather than go and find the other two tikis, I was shown that you can actually go around Sam’s store, erase the back wall with thinner, collect the mask given to him, and then turn in the mask again.  Other than seeming slightly confused (as the masks were supposed to be all unique), Sam took the mask, allowing me to collect it once again, thus finishing the task  when I returned it a third time.

 “You don’t hesistate to destroy a spatter, do you?”

In order to break up the gameplay, Epic Mickey tends to break everything up into zones.  In our demo, we were shown one such zone, Adventureland, a hub world that was littered with pirates from Captain Hook’s crew, including his only-hand man, Smee.  This world is reminiscent of a past version of Disneyland park’s Adventureland, and had various quests in it with a focus on exploration; combat didn’t occur once in the area.  After becoming prepared for the next level, Mickey was able to journey to a twisted version of Skull Rock from Peter Pan.  This area was more combat oriented, as it was littered with enemies throughout.

 It is the transition between worlds that is another unique aspect of Epic Mickey.  When leaving the hub areas, Mickey will jump into a cinema screen to go to the next level.  However, these screens actually take him to platforming based levels riddled with goodies and secrets.  Disney fans will be especially pleased with these worlds, as they are set up to pay homage to classic Mickey Mouse adventures.  The one being demoed was a reference to the historical Steamboat Willy, complete with black and white graphics, as well as film strip perforations along the top and bottom of the level.  It’s a unique look, and a wonderful nod for the Disney buffs out there.

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“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

It’s been a long time coming for Mickey Mouse’s return to center stage, and it looks like Epic Mickey has all the makings of a grand debut. Recognizable worldwide for decades by his smiling face and optimistic demure, Mickey will finally get to go on another adventure, and this time we get to join him in a way we never have before.  Plus, there’s concept art of a rotting, industrialized Epcot on the back of Monstro, the whale from Pinocchio.  How awesome is that?

In all seriousness, Epic Mickey looks like it is shaping up to become a solid platformer / adventure game, and the strong ties to the Disney brand are helping propel the game, rather than hold it back.  A few minor concerns aside (like the somewhat quirky camera), Epic Mickey looks like a must have for fans of both the Disney movies and theme parks, as well as a strong third party entry on the Wii.

Epic Mickey launches this holiday exclusively for Nintendo Wii.

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