Field Report: Epic Mickey

By Brian Leahy, Dec 03, 2010 1:00pm PST Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.

You should know, right up front, that I've only played a few hours of Epic Mickey, the new Disney platformer from Junction Point helmed by Warren Spector (Deus Ex). Unfortunately, that's enough for me. So this is not a review, but rather one of our Field Reports so I can offer my thoughts based on my limited time with the game. It could get better a few more hours in, but based on some of the reports from my peers, I don't think it will ever turn into something I'll enjoy.

From what I've seen of the story thus far, it seems like the game's strong point. It's a tale about early and forgotten Disney characters, living in a world based upon Disneyworld, Disneyland, and a few Disney cartoons. In classic style, Mickey's curiosity results in calamity when he unwittingly unleashes a tsunami of paint thinner, turning the cartoon world into a wasteland. Eventually, Mickey is pulled into the world he has damaged and the game begins.

That's where any connection with Epic Mickey ended for me.. As a third-person platformer, the quality of the game's camera should have been the primary concern for the developers. Instead, the game's camera feels like a regression to an N64-era game and effectively ruins every other aspect of the gameplay, though it is not the sole culprit of the game's poor gameplay experience.

The mechanic at the center of the game is the idea of painting or thinning things in the Wasteland. On paper, it's a great idea. It ties directly into the story and should allow players to approach situations with a bit of an open-ended slant. In practice, however, you can only paint or thin specific objects that the designers have deemed worthy. This leads to situations where the same problem (ex: a bunch of rocks blocking your path) must be solved in two completely different ways depending on which solution the developers want you to use at that time.

Combat is also unsatisfying and could easily be removed from the game. Enemies can be stunned by jumping on their heads or hitting them with a spin attack. By painting them, enemies can be converted into allies that then turn on the others to bully them. But destroying them either with a spray of thinner or a push into the ubiquitous pits of thinner around the levels becomes the easiest way to dispatch them. Well, actually, the easiest way to deal with enemies is to simply run by them. The one boss fight I did was decent enough, but that was only due to the locked camera, which actually made the game playable for the short battle.

The game also holds your hand constantly. It is not uncommon to go a few seconds between interruptions by the well-meaning NPC that follows Mickey around. He constantly chimes in with chatter, even if only to establish the obvious such as the changes to a room after hitting a switch. I wish the game I wish the game had an "adult" mode that would turn off these constant hints, which kill any sense of pacing and flow.

The choices that I've run into so far amount to little more than deciding to use paint or thinner to solve a problem or help or hurt a character. Both are immediately rewarded, either with the completion of a level or an item reward. I'm sure this is the one area that continues to evolve as the game progresses, but I've read that all of the gameplay mechanics are introduced in the first 30 minutes and do not grow throughout the entire game.

It seems to me that there is a good story buried under a game that I consider to be unplayable in 2010. At no point was I having fun actually playing the game. Furthermore, the levels I've experienced so far are based upon Disney parks and not cartoons--save the 2D transitional levels--and will seem arbitrary and confusing if you aren't readily familiar with one of the theme parks. I've been to Disneyland three times and it apparently wasn't enough to recognize more than a few things in the game thus far.

If you're an absolute Disney fanatic, you might find enough nostalgia to get over the gameplay, but I won't be going back to Epic Mickey. If you're looking for a better Wii platformer, check out Donkey Kong Country Returns or even Super Mario Galaxy 2. For more on Epic Mickey, be sure to listen to this week's Weekend Confirmed podcast where myself and Jeff Cannata talk about the game.

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  • Welp.

    Thanks for the writeup, it goes into the mix with some other impressions that seem to be pointing in the same direction for anyone who isn't a real Disneyphile. Too bad.

    Someone commented in a recent chatty that Spector wasn't hands-on with the design for this one... that basically he's too high up the company ladder for that sort of thing now. So I'm curious, can anyone point me at the credits for Epic Mickey? Doesn't seem to be on Mobygames yet.

    I know that Spector doesn't have a "magic touch" or anything, but I'd (selfishly) like to see him really take the wheel on another design... if Sid Meier can still get his hands dirty occasionally then Spector should be able to also. :-)