The reaction to Mickey Mouse's latest outing as big cheese in his very own video game, has been great to see. Exclusive to the Wii, Epic Mickey sees players control the planet's most famous rodent as he strives to right a world known as the Wasteland. After Mickey accidentally spills paint and paint thinner onto a model, creating a malevolent force in Wasteland, he is sucked in through a magic mirror (why the hell not?) and gets to work trying to fix the mess. Of course, evil forces have created an army of bad guys to try and stop him from achieving his goal.
I was lucky enough to be shown through the game by Raul Rameirez, a production assistant at Disney. And, following comments about the game you good people had made on NZGamer.com, I knew it was essential to get hands on time.
The core element in the gameworld – if you want to call it an element – is Toon. Almost everything, including Mickey, is made of Toon. Toon can be manipulated using Mickey's Tint and Turp – blue paint, or green paint thinner. One creates, while the other destroys. The question was put to me as I stepped up to the controls: what sort of player are you?
It's good to see the Wii get a real cause and effect game with far reaching consequences completely dependent on the choices you make as you play. Key to this is your paint brush, whether you're painting objects in, or thinning them out. Parts of the game world not vulnerable to thinning or painting are darker than the rest of the landscape, but some of these can still be interacted with. Mickey has a spin move, as well as his brush, and this can be used to break barrels or open chests to get pickups and collectibles.
Enemies can be attacked in two primary ways, as can puzzles. Yeah, you guessed it: both of these come back to paint and thinner. You can use paint to befriend an enemy, who will then become an ally and help you in your quests. If you use paint to solve a puzzle, you might be doing something like painting in part of the roof of a house to bridge a gap into a new area. Or let's say you want to just melt all your enemies down using thinner; that's cool too. And if said house is in the way of where you want to get to, why not just melt that as well?
As I played, I found myself mixing it up quite a bit. Erring on one side or the other will start to shape your character, eventually making Mickey known widely as a hero and creator, or villain and destroyer. This morality system is well known now – many games have taken this route and apart from perhaps evolving control systems, dynamic choice is arguably the biggest hook on which developers are hanging their titles. The thing to remember is that the landscape stays the same when you leave it behind, fundamentally changing other areas, including Ventureland, the game's hubworld.
Mickey's spin move can also be used to attack enemies, and a single button tap on the Z button will fire a blast of thinner that its more powerful that the longer range stream, but uses more of the meter – both paint and thinner are limited until you start to favour one over the other, when one will increase and one will decrease. Both charge back up after use.
Honestly, my hands on time was quite short – it was right at the end of the show and I was sharing my time with a chap from Nintendo Power. I did manage to spend some time in Ventureland, painting in objects, as well as “puddling” some others. The graphics are cartoony, of course, but highly stylised and look fresh and vibrant where appropriate, as well as dark and sinister when called for. Because of the hubbub of the show, I wasn't able to hear how the game sounds, but we're told that the music and effects bestow a classic Disney feel. There is no licensed music carried over from Disney films although several areas are inspired by them, but the original composition, we're assured, is excellent.
I also got to sample a transition world – the Steamboat Willie travel zone seen at the Nintendo press confrence – which is presented in 2D. Collecting gems and exploring new areas and treasures in charming B&W was excellent fun.
Once I had figured out the controls (all very easy and intuitive, although after using the Move controller the Wii Remote felt a bit sluggish!) and had some fun talking to a few of the familiar Disney characters that populate the world, I handed back to Raul to be shown a few more features.
Raul played through a mission requested by Hook's shipmate Smee, who needed his half sunken ship raised out of a bay filled with thinner. Remember, Mickey is Toon too, so he can puddle if he is hit by wayward thinner or stumbles into it. This section also showed off the evil Beetleworx monsters – robotic mashups that protect their sensitive areas with teacups. Using thinner will break them down so you can attack them.
A host of other abilities and secrets, an involved story and a unique platforming premise all make Epic Mickey a good candidate for “must have” status. Time will tell of course – it's easy to get wrapped up among the magic of E3 – but when it hits North America this holiday season, we can only hope that the NZ release won't be far behind.
The Good: Great premise; something really new and interesting here.
The Bad: Would possibly rather have seen this for PS Move.
The Ugly: SMEEEEEE!