I really liked Epic Mickey. I enjoyed the mix of classic Disney characters in a slightly skewed and different world. The mechanic of using the magical paintbrush, and paint and thinner, to either build or remove objects from within the world of Wasteland was fresh and interesting, and there was a great deal of care and love put into putting some of your favourite Disney characters into an interesting new scenario, for a fresh look at them.
It is with a sense of deep sadness that I have to report that Epic Mickey 2 can only be described as a shambles. Although the word ‘shambles’ makes it sound a bit jolly and fun, which might be misleading. The story is all over the place and confusing, the gameplay disjointed and clunky. If you had not played the first game, I doubt you would bother progressing past the first couple of chapters, finding them too confusing. And if you had played the first game, you probably would only keep playing on with gritted teeth in the desperate hope that the things you enjoyed about the first game were going to come back at some point.
The story opens with the Mad Doctor from Epic Mickey, swearing black and blue that he’s seen the error of his ways, and is now a bona fide good guy. He tells Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - via song - that a hero is needed again. Oswald, who became Mickey’s new best bud at the end of the last game duly summons Mickey Mouse back through a magic television screen, and the new cartoon dream team set off to save the broken-once-again world of Wasteland from whatever evil forces are at play.
The introduction of co-op play is a key component of EM2. You either play with a friend in splitscreen, or AI Oswald will follow you around. And some parts you need to pair up, for example where he jumps in the air, and you grab onto his feet, so you can glide places together. Or you can throw him up to higher areas, which are otherwise too high to jump to. You use your paint and thinners, he uses his remote control, which can electrify things, or be thrown like a boomerang.
And it's a good thing that the co-op play is drop in drop out. My co-player couldn't stand more than about five minutes at a time before he started ranting like a loon about how bad the game was, and how pointlessly frustrating he found it.
It’s best then, that I played most of the game alone.
However the AI of the Oswald character is flawed at best. He gets stuck with annoying regularity, and inanely chatters away at random intervals. “I’ve got this!”
You can hit him though... that’s a plus. The square button is your friend.
Throughout the game there are just so many thing going on, it’s pretty hard to work out where you’re supposed to be going, or even what’s happening. And sadly, for a game that is likely designed for children, there are very few explanations of what you’re supposed to do.
In the first real puzzle for the pairing of mouse and rabbit, you have to activate a machine with Oswald’s remote by getting Mickey to pull a handle. However there’s no “when you see a handle like this, Mickey can interact with it” type-explanation, and unless you stand on the exact spot that appears to be a square millimeter in diameter, you don’t actually know that you can interact with it.
After spraying the ENTIRE room with paint, and then thinner to no avail, I finally realised that the handle was the way to go. All this while the voiceover of Gus repeated over and over again that ‘you need to activate the machine’.
Another niggle was when Mickey needed to paint in the handle for another puzzle. Gus droned again and again and again that ‘something needed painting’.
‘Yes thank you, I heard you the first hundred times you said that, but in the first game, it was actually obvious what bits needed paint?!?!’
It’s not all bad, however... the art department deserves a huge round of applause. The game does look absolutely beautiful, and retains all the charm from Epic Mickey, using different styles of art used throughout; the cellshading/cartoony look of the cut scenes contrasts with the pop art/junky style of the DEC levels.
The visuals are also backed up with beautiful ambient music and sound effects that fit nicely. It’s just such a crushing shame that you have absolutely no idea what is going on in these beautifully constructed environments.
And there’s layer upon layer of stuff. Magic sketches. Different temporary inks. Projector screens, pins, scrap metal... it’s a jumble out there!
To play on the PS3 you can use either a regular controller, or the Move Motion controller, in conjunction with PS Eye. Using the motion controller is recommended for greater accuracy. And as mentioned before, the co-op play is drop in, drop out, so if Oswald starts blundering around and not helping when he’s supposed to, you can always recruit a friend to step in and assist you for as long as you need them. After which they can drop out again, and start whining about how much they hate the game.
What’s really disappointing is that Epic Mickey 2 could have been so much better. It had a successful title that came before as a foundation, and an established world and premise, and strong, likeable characters. Some of which are characters that you, your Mum and Dad, and probably your grandparents all had a love for at some stage in your lives. So the mishmash of tired ideas, poorly executed gameplay, and confusing missions that made it into the final game are very very unsatisfying.
It’s hard to work out what sort of audience would enjoy this title - it manages to be both babyish and overly complicated at the same time, and so incredibly frustrating, because most of the time, what you are supposed to be doing isn’t actually obvious. Puzzles and challenges in games, and that feeling of exhilaration you get when you finally figure them out, are generally supposed to be rewarding. But in Epic Mickey 2, when you finally figure out what it was you were supposed to be doing, you just want to slap your forehead, because it just feels like another pointless hurdle.