To preface this review- let me state that I was a child of the Disney channel. And while I liked the modern era films in the 80’s, my love for the characters was mostly geared towards the “classic” cartoons of our parents/grandparents generations. My favorite times of the year were when the Halloween and Xmas collections of the old timer toons came onto the schedule. Old school Donald with his nephews, Goofy riding the mountains in his RV, or Mickey jumping through the looking glass.
I also have many memories of heading to Disney World in winter. Riding Space Mountain, Epcot’s future tour, and the original Pirates of the Carribean rides were among my favorites. If you enjoyed this type of Disney lineage, as opposed to the shitty “3’s & 4’s” animations from the 70’s, or the craptastic Princess fairytale whirlpool they fell into the last couple decades- then Epic Mickey is for you.
Where EM differs from Kingdom Hearts, is this: KH brought your mysterious (non disney, japanese RPG) character into very specific worlds, based on their films. You were allowed to observe and sometimes interact with some of the scenes from these films. And while at first glance, it had fans like me excited to roam free in Alice’s Wonderland- I soon was disappointed to find out it was only a familiar background, scattered with Heartless villains dressing the part of each world’s theme.
Kingdom Hearts sparked interest in us by giving the illusion we could re-tap into these childhood memories, and play along…when really, we were just playing with something that looked like it. It lacked empathy, emotion, and any real sense of immersion. We were just visitors in familiar surroundings, grinding out enemies like any old action RPG. It was a gimmick.
One of Epic Mickey’s greatest achievement is that the Wasteland world we’re in- is actually a twisted version of Mickey’s life. It mirrors the Magic Kingdom, and several of his cartoons- but everything feels…wrong. Its a broken world, depressing, and dark- and Mickey is to blame. I have to give credit to Disney for allowing their star icon to be viewed in a not-so-nice light. He is the cause for all of the pain and suffering in this world (which suffered for several decades after the Mouse knowingly chose to run away from his mistake). Not only is Mickey to blame, he has the option of NOT fixing it. You can still be an asshole to the survivors if you want to, and this changes the story dramatically. The empathy is real, and I cant remember another game that had me filled with actual regret for making “decisions”. I quickly learned that once you decide to try making a bad (aka more fun) decision, it autosaves the game and you’re stuck with what you’ve done. I finished the game without saving a handful of characters. I left Donald, Daisy, and Goofy to suffer eternally. Thats fucked up…but kind of awesome that Disney let it fly.
But I digress- what I loved MOST about this game, is that they chose NOT TO focus on the already successful franchises like Aladdin, but rather payed tribute to what I see as the BEST of the real childhood experiences I loved. They also dont make it as segregated as KingdomHearts where you clearly enter one world and are solely submersed in everything JungleBook for the next few hours. Epic Mickey blurs the lines between these films, cartoons, and amusement rides. You can start off in a world that seems like Tomorrowland, and end up fighting Pete in a Tron battle on top of Space Mountain. Or maybe you’ll find yourself in a swamp infested with the OLD green ghosts from a classic cartoon, and the level finishes in the Haunted Mansion ride, complete with floating heads, candelabras, and talking grave stones. Or maybe you’ve wandered into a level that is nondescript at first- only to realize youre in the heart of the (pre-Depp) Pirates ride. I loved working through one level to hear a snippet of a twisted “Its a Small World” jingle, but sounding in a dark minor key.
Without a doubt the 2D “travel” levels connecting the 3D realms are my favorites as you literally have to run through some of the best classic animations from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. I wish this was a standalone game (albeit an easy one) just because I love the art direction and level design that somehow recaptured the essence of the originals. Another note on the art direction, is that they chose not to use 3D rendered cut scenes (although they could have easily..I still am delighted every time I see the 3D mouse running around with his vintage design. THANK YOU FOR NOT USING MODERN MICKEY, WARREN :)- but instead use an animated storyboard approach. At first glance this decision seems like a cheap time saver, but I think it allowed them to give more of the classic “cartoon” feel by sticking to a 2D medium.
Which brings me back to the meat of this review. Epic Mickey dominates KH in the artistic direction, and emotional connection factors..by a LOT. For these two things alone, I will gladly replay the game again- and probably watch a friend play it his own way (you’d be surprised how much of the game you will miss based on your decisions). For old school Disney fans like me, this is what Ive been looking for and it was one of the most satisfying games Ive played in years. Back when we first previewed this title, Steve mentioned that (like other games) the concept art getting people riled with excitement was going to set folks up for disappointment. I think most of us know that concept art rarely translates into an actual game, and he was right that this was the case- technically…but in terms of making a dark, sometimes disturbing, thought evoking, emotion reacting, beautiful game that reeks of old school Mickey magic- they succeed. This is what I wanted from it, and they delivered.
Now on to the bad stuff:
The controls are totally fine, but the camera system IS broken. It works great 85% of the time, but that 15% remaining really fucking sucks. They are brief moments of frustration, so nothing worth skipping the game for- but it is a disappointment. Most of the reviews on Metacritic give this game great marks, but the common complaint is that of the camera and it brought down many scores- deservedly so. After playing Mario Galaxy, its a really tough pill to swallow.
And on that note..the main 3D action is kind of forgettable. As awesome as the story is, and the character animations etc…the game is simply “kill/friend the bad guys in this area. Find the magic chest. Move onto the next level.” Now I need to clarify that HOW you play the game is really cool..like being good and doing some quests yields a better ending or new level, but the level grinding itself is on par with Kindgom Hearts in that respect. Enter room, kill, exit room, repeat.
Speaking of forgettable- the game itself is REALLY slow and dry for the first couple hours as you painfully move through the tutorial introductory stages. In all honesty, it doesnt get good until you’ve put in this time..so just bare with it. Trust me, it gets better..and then it gets great.
Despite these few downfalls, I highly recommend this game to Classic Disney fans like me (and thats the key thing)…if you can put aside your disdain for the last few decades of corporate Disney bullshit, and give this a try, I think you’ll like what it has to offer. A little from our fragmented childhood memories, and a little bit from our dark adult imaginations. Well done, Spector.