It turns out Mickey Mouse is a bit of a klutz. Lured through a magic mirror by mischievous forces unknown, he witnesses Yen Sid (the Sorcerer from classic Disney film Fantasia) creating a model magical world using enchanted paint and thinner (the ‘turps’ we NZGamers might remember from Dad’s shed.) Having created his masterpiece, Yen Sid retires for the night - so of course The Mouse decides he’ll have a bit of play too... and ends up spilling magic paint and magic thinner everywhere.
A nasty big ink blob monster bursts out of the model, but Mickey manages to overpower it long enough to pour most of the remaining thinner down after it - hopefully that’s enough to kill it? He beats a hasty retreat back through the magic mirror, and thinks no more of it. His life continues on and as years pass as he goes on to become Mickey Mouse: Beloved Icon. Of course, that’s not the end of it for the dwellers of the world into which Mickey tipped all that magic and, one night, the big ink blob monster bursts out of the mirror and drags Mickey back through with it!
With Wii-remote and Nunchuk in hand, you set about sorting things out. Having grabbed the magic paintbrush on the way down, Paint and Thinner are your weapons. You can either take things away from the world as you see with the Thinner, or add things back into it - using the Paint. It sounds a bit confusing to explain, but once you get playing, it’s actually very simple and an enjoyable mechanic - reminiscent of the FLUDD from Super Mario Sunshine.
It’s got some nice touches for the kids - you don’t actually have to kill most of the early baddies you encounter within the levels, for example, as you can cover them in paint and turn them into your friends instead (disclaimer: at time of writing we were unable to confirm if spraying hostile bystanders with paint is actually effective at making them your allies outside of the game world. Individual results may vary, do not try this at home!)
On the other side of the coin, there are also some fiendishly tricky things to complete for older kids or grownups - if you want to grab all the achievements (Pins and Film Reels) this will require some serious tenacity from the genuine “completionists” amongst us.
Visually, the game looks pretty good. It uses the capability of the Wii well - let’s face it, as cute, (mostly) family friendly and genre crossing as the Wii is, the games just don’t look as good as Xbox 360 or PS3 games do, because it just doesn’t have the cylinders under the hood that those systems do. To be fair, that’s not what it was designed to be either.
Epic Mickey makes up for lack of console processing power by using the resources it does have well, polishing the game play almost to perfection, with brilliant use of art and style. If you’ve been to any of the Disney theme parks around the world, the earlier levels will be familiar, with spinning teacups and elephant rides. Although the levels are “inspired” by their real-world counterparts, they’re not always named the same - for example the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea is called the Notilus here. It’s an homage, rather than having to stick rigidly to a set formula. You’re certainly not working your way, land by land, through a Disney Resort. This has given the creators of this game lots of room to breathe and it shows - the story and style of this game are really imaginative, and should be commended.
As you complete each area, Mickey must jump through a mirror to get through to the next level and complete a mini-game: these end up being one of the major highlights of the game. Using black and white cell-shading art (with clever use of pops of colour or sepia tones as you progress), the mini levels are side-scrollers set within the earliest Disney cartoons from the 1920-30s, such as Mickey and the Beanstalk, Steamboat Willie, and Clock Cleaners. As well as visually looking very “old” and authentic, they have what sounds like “distorted by age” original music from the old cartoons. These retro touches add lots of extra enjoyment to the game by providing a whole different aspect and aesthetic, which helps keep the main gameplay fresh too.
Once you complete the first few levels, you realise that this game is a lot bigger than you initially thought it was going to be (which is great news, because this is lots of fun once you get into it), as the plot thickens with a good story. The difficulty levels ramps up at a steady rate as the game progresses, and the bad guys get bigger and harder to bump off as you work your way through. Numerous quests from people you meet along the way keep you moving along with things to do, but you can always refer to the pause menu if you’ve lost track of what your current mission is.
So to sum up, this game is a great use of the Wii’s technology, and combined with Disney characters, art and music themes we know and love, this is a charming game, and it’s not too cutesy for the older kids in your family - although your emo teenager will probably turn their pierced nose up at it. Highly recommended.