Mickey Mouse, while a clearly beloved animated childhood character, has never been a staple character of gaming. His presence in the entertainment industry has always been limited to interactions with children, sometimes even participating in the development of toddlers. But a full fledged video game, with thoughtful platforming elements? It's safe to say that Mickey has been out of that spotlight for a decent amount of time. Which is ironic, since Epic Mickey is a game about a character that has survived the trials of time, going back to visit some animated characters that time has truly forgotten. The premise is certainly solid, but storytelling and character development has always been a bit of a strong point for Disney (and their associates). So, what about the gameplay?
As soon as you get control of Mickey and experience the controls and the technical mechanics of this game you'll see that they're not the game's strong point. But on the same page, if one was to define exactly what makes Epic Mickey such a delightful treat 'combat and platforming' wouldn't even make the list regardless. Players control Mickey using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and jumping, running, aiming are all handled in some very typical means. What's not so typical would be Mickey's method of combat, which features a spin attack (used to also knock back/away enemies) and his trusty paintbrush, which can be used to either erase enemies with paint thinner or to recolor them into helpful allies.
It's cute, but that's about where the move list ends. Adding to the dull combat is a camera that almost seems to have a mind of its own, constantly throwing your vision around into walls, under objects, around corners, and generally into places that are counter-productive. In fact, combined with the relatively mediocre combat controls one would imagine that Epic Mickey would be an instant write-off for any serious gamer. It's hard to stand up for a game that doesn't seem to expand very far in design, but taking a deeper look into Epic Mickey it's not hard to see where all the love and care was poured into.
As mentioned before Disney has always been a staple for visually compelling and memorable storytelling techniques, and the art direction in Epic Mickey is absolutely astounding. For a child, it's a means of looking at Disney from a completely different (and almost saddening) light. As an adult, it's a bittersweet reminder of the older animation era that has long gone by. Emotional heartstrings are pulled even harder as you begin to explore the world itself, using the very same combat mechanics that proved to be boring and unrewarding (the paint thinner and color) in a very insightful and inspiring way.
Much like enemies can be erased or turned, almost every part of this darker Disney realm is subject to the same rules. Buildings can be worn down, or redone. Platforms can be erased, or colored in. Players never quite get the ability to create anything from scratch, but instead have the ability to bring life and color to a forgotten part of Disney lore.
Characters that Mickey interacts with follow this trend too, from Oswald the Rabbit to the crafty Gremlins, Epic Mickey's story is one filled with the lesser-known individuals that have made up the Disney universe for years. Even if you don't know their names by heart, you recognize them immediately for what they are. It's impossible not to, and finding out exactly why they got left behind is one of the most compelling parts of the game. Discovering who else is amongst the forgotten is just as addictive.
So it should be no surprise to discover that Epic Mickey, while not the flashiest game on the Wii marketplace, is one of the most beautiful experiences on the console. 3D cutscenes capture all the fluidity and energy of a modern day animated production, and the 2D segments, stylized in a more classic art form, are truly a joy to reach. Sound wise the game also shines, with a score that's quite enjoyable to listen to. Not a single stone was left unturned here, and the results really do shine into every other aspect of the game; driving the storyline and storytelling mechanics better than any platforming sequence in game.
It's following this storyline and finding out exactly how it all ends that's the reward for the poor platforming and so-so combat, something that is completely weighed by the individual; and its in this value that Epic Mickey lends a justification to any purchase. This is a game for either children or adults, but only so long as you're a Disney fan.
The amount of nostalgia that fills Epic Mickey, intentionally, is really something that should be commended. What other games try to do with a cameo or quick cutscene, Epic Mickey accomplishes throughout an entire game from start to finish, and it succeeds in motivating the player to get to the end. Anyone looking for a seriously engaging platformer may best stick to another series, but for a good mix of storytelling, humor, heartwarming art and style, Epic Mickey shines through and through.