Our dear Jereme has already previewed Epic Mickey but when Nintendo invited us to go and play lots of cool stuff with them, we were able to get our hands on the game itself for a much longer time period. After a mammoth talk and introduction from a designer on the game (whom was a rather nice chap), we managed to get Mickey under our control.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Platformers are not easy to demo at any event, especially one where you have to stand to play. They usually have intricate designs and bizarre objective placement to encourage exploration, but that takes time. Time events don’t have. Epic Mickey was a keen demonstration of this.
The demo focused on three levels from the full game. In the first, Mickey has to retrieve some bits and pieces for Smee in order to get Steamboat Willy up and running. This involves running around and helping other Peter Pan pirates and a shop owner out with their problems. One pirate wants to get off with a woman so wants something to woo her, one wants his missing treasure and the shop owner wants three masks. To get them, we had to do a bit of exploring.
This is where the game’s paint and thinner mechanic came in useful. We could thin out the back of a shop and have a nose about, and find some hidden game currency in a rock. The paint mechanic mainly came into play when we had to fix roofs and other broken things. A subtle shadow envelopes the area you can paint, which we believe is a nice addition for younger players whom might not have the gaming experiences of their older counterparts. However, acting like a kid and spraying thinner in all conceivable directions is a fun distraction, just like the age-old pastime of pissing about with paint in real life.
The gameplay seemed to be a bit too simplistic, with some artificial difficulty chucked in through hiding some objectives in pointlessly weird places. It seems the game wants to mainly trade on its design and looks. The animated cutscenes were solid (albeit without voice acting, and when quizzed about this, our host dodged a question about this being because of the Wii’s limited technical ability), as were the character designs. The environment in the first level was a bit cramped, but it was a solid introduction to the game. When we moved on to the Steamboat Willy level, though, our eyes did a double take.
It just looked amazing, completely like the old black and white Mickey cartoon. It was very short but served its purpose as a smile-raising distraction before the next level. The design, animation and music really came together here to offer something truly unique. Even something inconsequential like the random cow platforms brought a reminiscent tear to our old, world weary eyes. We hope the other intermediate “travel” levels in the game are this good.
The next level was interesting in that you get to decide the fate of the aforementioned pirates. You could either let them continue to be made into robots, shut down the machine (and let the pirates be turned back into normal pirate gits) or blow it up (and keep the pirates as robots). We liked that the game didn’t pressure us into doing anything here and being pressed for time, we pushed on for the main objective of getting out of dodge. That meant releasing the anchors of a ship, which had become stranded on the island.
A brief bit of exploration led to the discovery of the anchors and getting rid of them required a bit of thinner. There were some interesting uses of the thinner in other places too: using it on lookout towers at the top of a ship’s mast allowed them to become handy platforms. It’s worth noting that the sea in this part of the game was polluted with thinner, which can hurt Mickey and enemies.
Talking of which, this was the first environment to contain enemies. We were told that as with everything else throughout the game, Mickey would come up against enemies from all different Disney properties. The ones in this level mainly consisted of those tall gits from Fantasia, and some short stocky things from something we have no idea about. What’s interesting about the fight mechanics in this game though are how you can deal with your combatants. You can use thinner on them to destroy them, or use paint on them to make them become allies. If you do that latter, they stay in their small area and fight for you. There’s also a Mario-esque spinning move, activated through waggle.
To conclude then, Epic Mickey is shaping up fine. There needs to be a bit more challenge in the gameplay to make it rewarding for adults, but kids should love it. The Warren Spector factor is apparent with some of the choices you can make in-game and with the overall presentation, but it seems Disney are restraining his vision. Hopefully the full game will have more epic segments and set-pieces.