Epic Mickey was a great success for Disney and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two feels like an evolution of the main concept, for better or worse.
Warren Spector’s Junction Point brought Epic Mickey to Wii audiences two years ago to some pretty good critical reception and eventual uptake by the console’s ownership. By taking a risk with the Disney property by going back through the back catalogue, we were treated to Mickey’s grandest adventure yet. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was officially taken out of a long and tough retirement and actually seems more endearing as a misunderstood outcast who is envious of Mickey’s lustrous career. With the hatchet well and truly buried though, the pair team up in Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, which marks the series debut on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Is this pairing good company, or does this duo have some serious issues?
As we travel back to Wasteland, Oswald and his fellow forgotten toons have been experiencing earthquakes. Time this with the sudden reappearance of a ‘reformed’ Mad Doctor and Oswald’s unfortunate knack for being gullible, and you have one sufficiently irked Ortensia. She decides to bring back the hero who saved the Wasteland back from the cartoon world to uncover just what the Mad Doctor is up to. A narrative written for kids is one thing, but the sole plot twist is painfully easy to suss out from the off. This makes the tale of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two more on par with Black Cauldron than The Lion King in terms of quality, which is a shame as the world it embodies is such a treat.
The warped, nostalgia filled sites of Wasteland are filled to the brim with detail. It’s colourful, yet disturbing. It’s bright, yet gloomy. However, the majority of the game re-treads where Epic Mickey went, meaning that you’ll see very little that is genuinely new. Characters have voice acting for the first time, which is hit or miss at best, but an appreciated detail considering the grunts that came beforehand. The instrumental soundtrack is simply amazing and well worth a listen to, as it plays on the strengths of composition at its finest, conveying setting and emotion with each melody. What sadly really doesn’t work are the musical numbers that were boasted about during the game’s press releases; ironic really as the music in Disney films is part of the appeal that has made the studio thrive for many years.
So the presentation is a little patchy, but generally it is all forgiveable because of the unique setting, beguiling looks and stunning orchestral score; however, playing the game itself is like being swindled by a confidence trickster. I can’t say for sure if it feels more natural on the Wii, given that the original appeared on that platform, but the controls suffer from one key flaw in the HD console version: the camera is mapped to the aiming stick in a platformer. This means loose aiming is added on top of a twitchy camera that even on a more native console would have similar viewing issues. Attacking also feels very imprecise with very little feedback if attacks are working. It doesn’t help that Mickey or Oswald slide all over the place, occasionally not being able to land jumps properly, even if you are not controlling them.
Here lies the biggest problem with the game when playing solo – your partner. Oswald is a great character to in action, but to be forced to play alongside him is as frustrating as getting popcorn stuck in between your teeth. Nothing you do will ever make the AI controlling him behave like you want him to. Want him to activate his electric remote to open a door? He’ll just be hovering in mid-air like the smug bunny he is. Want him to carry you across a large ravine? No, he’ll just be dealing with some bad guys in the area nearby. Want help fighting enemies? He’ll be unlocking a pointless door that leads to nowheresville. It’s as if he’s trying to get a rise out of you, which is something a child should never experience – be mocked at by a cartoon rabbit. When someone else is controlling Oswald, this problem is replaced by vertical split-screen with no hope for horizontal/online alternatives. To its merit, it is drop-in/drop-out, but the lack of online coop sums up a half-baked idea full of holes.
Aside from the main story arch, which will consist of many frustrations with Oswald for around ten hours of play, there are a host of side-quests you can partake in with the option to complete them as you wish. You are given morale choices that do change rewards somewhat, but have little consequence. Side quests do immerse you into the universe a little more and there are plenty of collectables to scavenge along the way, but these artificially extend the length of a game in dire need of originality with its side content.
Epic Mickey was a great success for Disney and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two feels like an evolution of the main concept, for better or worse. Things have most definitely improved, but other blemishes on the quality render this game inferior to its own kind. You are lured in by the generally pleasing presentation, before being slapped in the face by controls that make Mickey and Oswald glide across floors as if they’re on ice. Warren Spector promised that this would revolutionary, but has come up with a disappointing sequel to the game that made Mickey Mouse cool again. Is it time to go back to the drawing board? Probably not, but there are definitely lessons to be learned.