Though 2010’s Epic Mickey was met with mixed critical response, one thing is certain: rarely has one game been such a triumphant love letter to all things Disney. Faults aside, Epic Mickey called upon the dedication of Junction Point Studios, the bottomless archive of long forgotten Disney material, and designer Warren Spector’s genuine passion for the one and only Mickey Mouse, to craft a curious window into Disney’s history. For many, the art, story and themes were a reminder of Disney’s better years, the studio’s older properties, and the origins of Mickey Mouse himself. Targeting the hearts of long time Disney fans, Epic Mickey unsurprisingly sold quite well, enough to warrant a sequel scheduled for later this year. Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two was on demonstration at E3 2012, and we made sure to go hands-on to see how it’s shaping up.
Epic Mickey was originally released only on the Nintendo Wii. This time around Epic Mickey 2 will appear on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well. The version we played was for the latter platform, with added PlayStation Move support, and naturally the first thing that jumped out at us was the improved visuals. Though Epic Mickey looked quite nice on the Wii, Epic Mickey 2 looks much sharper on stronger hardware. This was especially noticeable on characters like Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Rabbit, who have been given extra attention to the detail in their animations, making them appear much more lively and expressive than in the last game.
Our demo began with Gremlin Gus summoning Mickey back to the Wasteland. Searching Yen Sid’s workshop, in a scene reminiscent of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Fantasia (animated mops and all!), Mickey dug up the magical brush from the first game and teleported back to the land he’d left behind. As expected, Wasteland was under threat from a new enemy. Not from Oswald this time, but The Mad Doctor. Luckily, Mickey would not have to face this threat alone. Gamers might remember the end of Epic Mickey, where Oswald and Mickey came to terms with one another. This plays into Epic Mickey 2, where Oswald acts as an ally to Mickey, either as an AI controlled companion, or a player controlled assistant during co-op play. During our play session, a 2D side scrolling sequence showed off Oswald’s unique ability to glide using his ears, allowing him to bypass certain obstacles.
Side scrolling sections aside, the meat of Epic Mickey 2 plays just as the original did: open 3D environments with platforming, combat, and plenty of painting and erasing. Mickey is once again able to use the magical paint brush to pain objects into existence, or use thinner to erase them. Playing with the PlayStation Move, we were able to aim our paintbrush around the screen, not unlike using the Wii Remote pointer in Epic Mickey. However, one massive improvement Junction Point has added to Epic Mickey 2 is camera control. Using an invisible bounding box, pointing the Move to the sides of the screen pivoted the camera around Mickey. Given camera control issues was an almost unanimous complaint from fans of the first game, proper camera control in Epic Mickey 2 is a very welcome addition.
After a little bit of jumping and beating up bad dudes, we came across one of what is sure to be many boss fights: a huge steel dragon. The mechanised beast was being operated by several splotch-like enemies, as seen from the first game, and it was up to us to defeat them. The battle was a reminder of the kind of choices present in Epic Mickey, tethered to the use of paint versus thinner. Battling the dragon, we chose to defeat it with paint, though thinner was always an option. Once defeated, we were presented with a creation/destruction reward. Using thinner for destruction, the reward would be tickets, which we assume are used to buy goodies. Using paint we are given a creation award. What is that? We’re not sure, but creation rewards apparently have longer reaching benefits that wont become evident until later in the adventure.
In all, our experience with Epick Mickey 2 was a positive one. It looks to right quite a few wrongs of the original Epic Mickey, particularly in the areas of control and navigation of environments. PlayStation Move support for using the paint brush is a welcome addition, and coupled with the PlayStation 3 hardware, could make this particular version the definitive one, though the experience should be just as enjoyable on the Wii, Xbox 360 and PC/Mac as well.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is aiming for a November release this year. We’ll have more on the game as it becomes available.