Epic Mickey, or Epic Fail?

I beat Epic Mickey last night and so I finally feel qualified to speak out on the subject. I purchased it back when it was Amazon’s deal of the day for $17.99; and at that price, it is well worth it. The game features fantastic settings, wonderful known (and not so known) Disney characters, and terrific music. The game is not without is flaws and quirks; however, such as a notoriously bad camera and a lack of verbal voice acting.

The game starts out with the only character with a verbal voice over, the wizard from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, talking about the day he created a world for all the forgotten Disney characters, called Wasteland. Mickey stumbles in while the Wizard is out, and in true Sorcerer’s Apprentice style makes a mess of things, unwittingly unleashing an inkblot monster into the creation. At the end of the scene, Mickey returns safely to his home, while the trouble he caused is largely forgotten.

Fast forward to present day, when Mickey suddenly gets sucked into Wasteland, held captive by the Mad Doctor attempting to remove Mickey’s heart with a Swiss-army knife robotic contraption. A Gremlin named Gus comes along to thwart the Mad Doctor’s plans and free Mickey.

Gus acts as your basic tour guide, explaining where you are, the game’s straightforward controls, and what your next main objective is. The control explanations and cut-scenes are done via drawn still images with subtitles. The only voice acting (although well-done) is non-verbal sounds, which is an odd design choice. You find out that you are in Wasteland, a parody version of “Disneyland that might have been” had not characters been forgotten. The main such forgotten character is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney’s first animated star (the reason he was forgotten in reality was due to Disney losing the license to the character). So Oswald is the Mickey counterpart in this mirror world, and understandably he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder towards Mickey. A couple other “forgotten” characters that I remember fondly are Henrietta and Clarabelle the Cow. Everything is like some sort of parallel to the real Disneyland or Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, so you have Mean Street instead of Main Street, Ventureland instead of Adventureland, Tomorrow City instead of Tomorrowland, and so on. You meet Oswald on Mickeyjunk Mountain, a mountain made up of discarded Mickey relics that have been carelessly discarded (including some vintage relics along with some Nintendo and SNES cartridges). Instead of the traditional loading screen, the interstitials between worlds are playable Mickey cartoons, done as 3D renderings of traditional 2D style platfomers as sort of mini-levels, containing their own challenges and bonuses, complete with original musical scores from the animated movies. Anyone who has been to Disneyland or Disney World (and likes it) will have an instant yearning to visit either place after paying this game. I really geeked out over the boss of Tomorrow City, his battle taking place on the roof of this world’s version of Space Mountain.

Your main arsenal consists of paint and thinner, and how you use them affects the story line. Basically, using the Thinner destroys enemies and scenery, and using Paint make enemies your friends, and restores scenery and objects. A lot of the game revolves around fetch quests, but there are lot that aren’t necessary to complete the game so you can choose to do them or not as you prefer. I liked the idea of collecting the pins as that parallels real world Disney pin collecting.

Now, regarding the camera, there has been much gnashing of teeth on the subject and so has been my main reason for wanting to write this review. The fact is, this camera is not *broken*. There were no times at all when I played through the game where the camera would not point where I needed it to in order to prevent me from dying, or where the camera got stuck in a wall or some other absurd mode. That being said, I found it very difficult to point the camera where I wanted on the fly. The Wii has only the one analog stick on the nun-chuck attachment, which controls the movement, and the D-pad controls the camera, awkwardly. While I strongly agree with Joystiq that:

“We tried to do something that was crazy hard and it didn’t work” is not a suitable excuse

I also feel after playing the game that Warren Spector was in fact right when he said that reviewers misunderstood Epic Mickey’s camera. I believe that the camera in the game is what the team intended it to be, though still imperfect. I suppose I wasn’t sure until near the end of the game, but I realized that there were several points in the game that were actually intentionally designed so that you didn’t need to move the camera, and that trying to manually control the camera and fight with the game was actually the cause of the frustration and perception that it was “broken”. Someone used to being able to look around freely as in other games would immediately hate on the camera, rather than realizing his mistake. To be sure there are a few points where the camera design and controls do hinder the experience, and I’ll touch on the good and bad points now.

The camera controls are on the D-pad, and not inverted (you press up to look up and down to look down). I’m so used to it being the other way that, for me, that was the one true broken aspect of the camera. I know what a big deal this is for me (I refuse to purchase Beyond Good and Evil HD on that reason alone) and how other people equally prefer it non-inverted, so why not make the controls customizable? Actually, that one factor contributed so much to the camera’s awkwardness for me that any other camera control issues were nearly unobservable, and could be why I was eventually able to see the camera control through the designer’s eyes. The camera moves very slowly, and gave me a slight case of motion sickness (possibly due to the inverted for me nature), like that which I got from Spyro (something better left to another post), only very mild instead of very strong. That also contributed to my not wanting to fiddle with the camera, and probably allowed me to finally get how the camera was intended to work. You’re not *supposed* to have to control the camera, as in other games; the camera is supposed to automatically point to show you what you *need* to see, and for the most part, it does just that. It’s those few points where it fails to point properly automatically, and when you’re trying to scout that you need to control the camera. Unfortunately, this makes scouting a pain due to the aforementioned control issues. There were also times when I found it difficult (not impossible) to have Mickey spray Paint/Thinner where I wanted him to; he wouldn’t turn around if the place to which I was pointing was on the other side of him. Again, flawed, but not broken. I found the best way to deal with that would be to switch to first person mode and then it was much easier to aim. Fighting the Slobbers in an enclosed area such as in the castle towards the end of the game is one area where the control and camera issues are really apparent. Fortunately the game is never so hard that it becomes a game breaking issue. Fighting the mini Shadow Blot illustrates one of the areas where the camera control was designed so that you don’t need to control the camera yourself, and another frustrating Wii control quirk. He floats around a floating island you are on; and if you pay attention, you’ll notice that he always floats around to a position in front of you before attacking, and that the camera moves to a top-down position where needed at certain parts in the battle. That said, this is the hardest battle in the game, and when the camera switches back to a more horizontal plane, it doesn’t aim towards the villain automatically, which is a huge pain because this is the point at which he is most vulnerable. Add to that a Wii control quirk where you must waggle the nun-chuck and controller to release your Guardian Sprites’ special move, which can only be done while aiming at the enemy (but you can’t very well aim your Wii mote and shake it at the same time), and the lack of a lock-on feature is painfully evident. Saving is oddly automatic, so there’s no way to redo a section without starting over. The game did lock up on me on 2 or 3 occasions, as well. Other than the lock-ups, none of this is actually broken so much as flawed. Working hard on something does not remove flaws, only doing it right does.

To sum up, this game is good, but not great. It has a superb musical score, very good voice acting (though little actual verbal acting), fantastic wonderful imagery; and suffers mainly from camera (and a few other technical issues) wherein the camera is not broken, but doesn’t work ideally. Any Disney (or fetch quest) aficionado would be doing himself a dis-service in NOT picking up this game. Though achieving neither, it is much closer to Epic Mickey than Epic Fail. Without the technical flaws, this game could have easily scored an A, 5 out of 5 stars, or 9 out of 10; but in the end I have to give it a B+, 4 out of 5 stars, or 7 out of 10.

I’ll need to get more reviews up here before any overall comparisons to other games will have much value, so I’ll hold off on those comparisons I’d like to make with other games (Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Uncharted, and Metroid Other M; for which I may have unusual ratings), for now.

[UPDATE 12/3/2011] I’ve played several games since like Ocarina of Time 3D and Mario Galaxy that have much more annoying camera issues, yet my score still stands as that doesn’t change how I felt about the game]

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