(Today’s Jentasmic! column is co-authored with my son, The Watchamacallit.)
After many months of waiting, this Tuesday night we rushed to GameStop to pick up our copy of Epic Mickey. As vintage Disney animation fans, and in particular Oswald the Lucky Rabbit devotees, we’d both anxiously awaited this game’s debut. So, after chatting a bit with the store’s staff, discussing the appearance of a Peggy Lee song on Disney’s Dance Dance Revolution, and deciding to pick up a used copy of Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix while we were there, we rushed home to delve into Wasteland with our cartoon hero, Mickey Mouse.
But, well, much like in Wasteland, all was not shiny and glad. The game has some serious drawbacks, in both of our opinions. Bear in mind, of course, that being a school-aged teenager and a full-time working mom, we aren’t anywhere near beating the game, and so have only experienced a small subset of the levels. Nonetheless, we present to you here Epic Mickey: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Epic Mickey is like a scavenger hunt for fans of Disney animation, especially of the vintage variety. Even in the early levels we’ve worked through, there are worlds themed on Steamboat Wilie, Clock Cleaners, and other vintage Mickey hits. We can only hope that our Oswald favorites such as Trolley Troubles will be included in later worlds, or perhaps an Alice comedy. In our wildest dreams, perhaps we’d see a little of a controversial reference, and let Mickey fight Adolf Hitler in a variation on Der Fuhrer’s Face.
The controls are relatively simple, which will appeal to people like Mom: Old-school video gamers who misspent their youths beating the early Mario games, which required the use of only a few controller buttons. Modern video games frequently have far too many controls for this group’s liking, as they have a hard time remembering such a wide variety of combinations (“what does it do again when I hit A and Z and + all at the same time?).
Many of the aspects of game design seem to suggest that Disney is trying to appeal to novice, middle-aged, and very young videogamers. Unfortunately, as we’ll see below, this may interfere with their appeal to teenaged boys, which the marketing would suggest Disney’s trying to reach as well (and is notably unsuccessful with, generally speaking).
Epic Mickey doesn’t trust you to remember what it already told you. Like many modern video games, Epic Mickey assumes that you haven’t read the manual, and uses the early levels as a tutorial, giving a set of basic obstacles that the player will need to pass through in order to demonstrate they have learned certain skills. But four or five levels into the game, the tutorial character was still telling us how to do a very basic move, which the player clearly would have already demonstrated in order to reach that level. Throughout the stages of the game that we’ve reached so far, the tutorial character not only tells you the objective at the beginning of the level (when you really do need to be told), but also at the end, and frequently pesters you about it throughout the middle. This level of repetition shouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but unfortunately you cannot continue in the game while the tutorial character is talking. This slows you down a great deal, making the game feel unplayable to the teenaged boy in our family.
We can only hope that this tutorial character eases up on you in the more advanced levels. Mom thinks that the constant pestering may in fact be helpful to novice videogamers, perhaps an attempt to keep the middle-aged folks playing the game, while unfortunately irritating the heck out of their teenaged kids.
(And while we’re on the topic of families playing together . . . wouldn’t it have been nice if Epic Mickey had included a two-player mode? But, no.)
The teenaged boy in this family has to wonder, was Epic Mickey inspired by someone in Disney Marketing saying, “Hey, Kingdom Hearts sells, what if we colored Disney characters dark purple? It would make mad bank!” The controls are unintuitive, unresponsive, and imprecise. It’s not always clear where you need to go, or how you need to act. This is exacerbated by the fact that Mickey moves just slightly more quickly than Jabba the Hut, meaning that a simple mis-step can easily result in falling down, and spending the next 5 minutes just running back to where you started.
The teenaged boy must also ask, why choose the Wii for development of Epic Mickey? Each video game console system has its own strength. The Wii is good with innovative gameplay, the X-Box has good networking, and the Playstation 3 looks beautiful. The gameplay in Epic Mickey falls far short of innovative, so it doesn’t play to the Wii’s strong suit. There is no multi-player in Epic Mickey (alas!), so we’re not likely to see an edition released for the X-Box. It seems that Epic Mickey exists for the art, so it should be on the ultimate console for graphics, the Playstation 3. But would this have been economically viable? No, given that sometimes it seems that more families have Wiis than have ovens -- the Wii user base is just too appealing a target, especially for a family game..
The ultimate verdict? Mom still intends to keep playing Epic Mickey, and hopes to eventually beat the game, so that she can uncover more gems of vintage Disney toons, and hopefully find some of the stunning landscapes and character art that were released to the internet well before the game itself was on shelves. Teenaged boy has essentially lost interest. But on the other hand, we’re more than halfway through Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, which may have been a bigger bang for our entertainment buck.