London MCM Expo 2010: Disney Epic Mickey
It may be a sobering thought, but Disney Epic Mickey is likely the first relevant Disney game since the Nineties. Apart from the Kingdom Hearts series, the golden age of Disney’s videogame relevance has long passed, replaced with lifeless film tie-ins and a criminal underuse of the company’s most imaginative ideas. But it is not the present that Epic Mickey is concerned with; it is Disney’s rich and complex history that fuels Mickey’s latest adventure. Its unusual aesthetic (which is rooted in Disney’s more obscure and abandoned ideas), interesting paint mechanic, and of course the addition of Deus Ex creator Warren Spector, all seem to suggest a newfound enthusiasm and care for the Mickey Mouse license. Epic Mickey’s name alone seems to exude the ambition and creativity so lacking in recent Disney games.
Yet it’s hard to get a real sense of Epic Mickey from what we got to play. Going just by the demo available to us at London’s MCM Expo, impressions were, frankly, mixed at best. Utilising a tutorial stage to show off a game is never a good idea, especially not with a game like Epic Mickey. On the one hand that may be because Epic Mickey’s mechanics feel intuitive and second nature; but it may also be a result of the sheer simplicity of what we played. Epic Mickey opens with a large boss in the form of a mutated swiss-army knife; but it’s a boss in the loosest sense of the word. Pelted by a multitude of annoying text boxes courtesy of your floating gremlin guide Gus, it’s a thinly veiled tutorial that feels lifeless and uninspired. You are tasked with destroying two control panels using Mickey’s spin attack, and, well, that’s it. The boss ends suddenly, and we are reminded in no subtle manner of the game’s target audience.
This isn’t the dark and serious Disney game some thought it would be, and it was perhaps naïve to assume it could ever have been. Epic Mickeymay be an adventure into Disney’s past, but it’s one that has its priorities strictly aligned with a young audience, regardless of its somewhat murky aesthetic. We can only hope that this somewhat hollow opening was shortened in our demo in order to facilitate a quicker introduction to the game’s main attraction. By this, of course, we mean the paint and thinner mechanic. Serving as Mickey’s primary way of altering his surroundings and solving puzzles, this system of environmental addition and subtraction is similar to Super Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD, only in reverse. Mickey has a separate reserve of paint or thinner which can be sprayed at will using his magic paintbrush, which will either paint in or remove sections of the level, and can also be used in combat to either befriend enemies or erase them from existence altogether.
In our tutorial level we got to try out the mechanic’s most basic functions, as the restrictions were made readily apparent. The practical side to the muted, darkened palette of the game suddenly becomes clear as only the brightest, most colourful features of the levels can be erased, likewise only the colourless areas can be painted in. Our first puzzle tasked us with painting a missing gear into a mechanism to open a door, followed by another door which had to be opened by using thinner on its colourful frame. Meanwhile the corridors were lined with suits of armour which could be erased and reconstituted at will through use of the mechanic. It’s a satisfying and visually attractive way of interacting with the world, but our time with the game only showed off its most basic functions. Things became marginally more complex as we were tasked with using thinner to remove an impassable section of the floor covered in large boulders, causing them to fall to the ground below. We then had to use paint to restore the missing floor section so we could pass. It wasn’t exactly taxing, but it hinted at potentially far more complex and engaging uses of the mechanic.
But if the paint mechanic showed promise, the platforming left us entirely cold. Mickey’s spin attack is straight out of Mario Galaxy, so it’s clear where the game’s aspirations lie. But this is the same quality of platforming you would find in any identikit children’s game from the past ten years. It was when we were asked to run through the far too familiar motions of double-jumping across simple gaps and pools of green goop (in this instance thinner) that this felt closest to the recent Disney games we’re more familiar with. Things didn’t improve in the 2D side scrolling interval level, which just left us pining for the excellent Castle of Illusion from 1990.
Yet we suspect, or at least hope, that this demo was a misstep; a somewhat poorly chosen segment designed to introduce the game to kids rather than sell it to the hardcore. Warren Spector speaks of Epic Mickey with an encouraging enthusiasm and passion that makes us inclined to give his game the benefit of the doubt. There are elements that only the full product can demonstrate properly, such as the slightly odd concept of the morality system, or the sketch abilities. But what we have seen is very much Disney’s Epic Mickey and not Warren Spector’s Epic Mickey. Whether this holds true for the final product may be a deciding factor in its quality, as it’s the latter, and not the former, who has proven himself relevant in the world of videogames.