Review: ’Epic Mickey’ romps through Disney archive
Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 9:18 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 9:18 a.m.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has the most ironic name in animation history. His co-creator, Walt Disney, lost the rights to Oswald in the 1920s, so he started over with a new character: Mickey Mouse.
Oswald stumbled through the ’30s and eventually faded into oblivion. Mickey became the most famous ’toon in the world. You can hardly blame the rabbit for developing a severe case of sibling rivalry.
In “Disney Epic Mickey” (for the Wii, $49.99), Oswald has become ruler of the Wasteland, home to all the neglected characters from the studio’s early days. When Mickey gets sucked into the Wasteland, he discovers he has inadvertently unleashed an inky monster called the Shadow Blot. So it’s up to the mouse to stop the Blot, restore the Wasteland and find his way back to his own magic kingdom.
His main weapon is a brush filled with two liquids: paint, which can be used to rebuild decrepit areas on the Wasteland, and thinner, which dissolves obstacles. Mickey can use either fluid to defeat the Blot’s minions: thinner melts them, while paint makes them turn friendly.
The highlight of “Epic Mickey” is the exploration. In the Wasteland, lead designer Warren Spector and his Junction Point Studios have created an alternate-world Disneyland that adds an undercurrent of menace to The Happiest Place on Earth. Main Street is now Mean Street. Tomorrowland is now the decaying Tomorrow City. The Matterhorn is now Mickeyjunk Mountain, a dumping ground for 80 years worth of discarded Mickey merchandise.
The portals between these worlds are a series of brief, two-dimensional games based on classic cartoons like “Steamboat Willie” and “Jungle Rhythm.” But the bulk of “Epic Mickey” takes place in the 3-D Wasteland, where the hero helps out old friends like Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow and fights bad guys like Pete, the villainous cat from dozens of Disney shorts.
Spector was given extensive access to the Disney archives, and his geeky enthusiasm for the studio’s history shows in every level of “Epic Mickey.” Even with some of the liberties Spector has been granted — Goofy, for example, first appears as a disembodied animatronic head — animation buffs will eat it up. Indeed, anyone who grew up with the mouse will have plenty of memories reawakened.
However, “Epic Mickey” suffers from technical issues that prevent it from being one of the year’s top games. Camera placement — that is, the perspective from which you view Mickey — is awful; more than a few times I sent Mickey to his demise because the camera wouldn’t let me see where he was heading.
Combat would be improved immeasurably with the ability to lock onto an enemy, something I’d thought would be standard in 3-D action games by now. And the controls are somewhat sluggish. Such drawbacks are tolerable early on, when things are fairly easy, but by the time you reach the endgame, they’re a major source of frustration.
Still, Disney deserves a great deal of credit for putting its franchise character in the hands of Spector, a designer best known for brooding mysteries like “Thief” and “Deus Ex.” And if “Epic Mickey” leads to a career revival for Oswald, well, he’s one lucky rabbit. Three stars out of four.
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