The sight of mouse ears usually ripples happiness around the world, but the symbolism of Mickey belies the depth of consequence in his latest foray in videogame land, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.
This sequel, under the direction of Warren Spector, delivers more or less the same as its predecessor, but makes a point of polishing off its rougher edges and adding even more layers to an already extensive game.
Epic Mickey 2 is not only an in-depth platformer, but a portal into the days of Disney’s past. Much like the first game, this iteration relies on a retro art style to immerse the player in a universe of classic characters that have been pulled from their black and white beginnings and thrown into modern light. It also maintains much of the same control mechanisms, with obvious tweaks to aspects like the camera in order to improve navigation and action sequences.
But the most striking differences that I noticed were the addition of an expansive co-op mode and a new-found permanence to my in-game actions. The first Epic Mickey was a solo adventure that allowed for some lenience in the lasting effects of their actions; rooms would reset after you left them, resetting all changes, both good and bad. All that is thrown out the window, forcing me to live with the consequences of my actions whether I liked it or not. And oftentimes, due to poor planning on my part, I wasn’t altogether happy with my choices.
In Epic Mickey 2 the player takes control of Mickey once again, but this time also enlisting the aid of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who has his own unique set of abilities. Traversing environments and locales that look like they were taken straight off a Disney cartoon canvas, you work to solve the mysteries that have brought Mickey back to Wasteland. Each area has its own history and significance in relation to Disney, building on the world’s introduction in the previous game and creating even more space to explore. There are even costumes which pay tribute to the history of Mickey and Oswald, such as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit and the Knight Armor, both of which grant them handy power-ups and abilities.
As stylistic and expressive as the art may be, the crux of my enjoyment lies in the gameplay. It’s a place where the game shines, but also leaves ink blots that make it feel unfinished. Compared to the previous game, the camera has undergone some significant improvements, which in turn make navigating the world of Epic Mickey much less of hassle. This is good because it left me time to actually appreciate the setting of Wasteland. Battles also became significantly easier since I didn’t constantly have to re-position my point of view in order to see my opponents. The aiming reticule of my magic brush did all of that for me, and then some.
Jumping mechanics are virtually unchanged, and while they were reliable for the most part, there were inconsistencies that left me feeling frustrated. Mickey’s ability to grab onto ledges doesn’t hold true for all ledges, but the game gives no indication as to which ones those are. I found myself trying to make a long jump and landing just on the edge of the ledge, but instead of grabbing on, Mickey would hover there for a second before plummeting to certain death. It’s a minor annoyance in the broad scheme of things, but nonetheless something that will cause a lot of frustration, especially in a platforming game.
Co-op mode is a new addition, and a great one at that. Near instantaneous drop-in gameplay allows anyone to start playing with you at the drop of a hat. Better yet, there are definite benefits and strategies for those who play with a friend especially since the AI for Oswald can feel pretty lacking in some areas. For example, teaming up with a friend to defeat the Blotlings, one of the enemies in Epic Mickey, felt fluid and fun to execute. Combining Mickey’s paint and Oswald’s electricity made quick work of even the toughest of enemies. However, leaving these combinations in the hands of Oswald’s AI often left me feeling alone and vulnerable. Oftentimes I would be facing a tough enemy, and Oswald would either have his attention elsewhere or he wouldn’t attack the enemy for almost a minute.
Oswald’s AI does have its benefits, as sequences that require cooperation are scripted and can be executed simply by calling him over. This relieved much of the stress of those co-op segments, but I felt disappointed that I could never personally control Oswald instead of Mickey.
The true meat of the game comes in the form of player morality, where the choices of the player have lasting and significant consequences. While the game may rely on beloved children’s characters to tell its story, it also delves into why we make certain decisions, which in turn transforms a open-ended platform adventure into an analysis of our ethics. Choices such as whether or not to pull a prank on an unsuspecting Gremlin or who to give the deed to a new home to litter every area of the game. What’s important to note is that once I made my decision, there was no going back. I had to live with that choice, even if I felt disappointed in the choice that I made after all was said and done. This gives the game weight at every turn, making even the most mundane choices feel important. As a result, I couldn’t afford to be lazy and breeze through the game without regard for other characters, as both my actions and inaction created ripples that spread to each corner of the game.
The game is also touted as being a musical, of sorts. As enjoyable as the Mad Doctor’s songs are, they seem to lack any meaning beyond having the Mad Doctor sing for singing’s sake. I would have much preferred it if more than one character would sing. This would make musical numbers that played off several different characters at once, adding variety to the repertoire. All of the songs were done in a very similar style, making them all bleed together without any single song standing out from the rest.
The game’s central plot is fairly short, with a direct playthough netting somewhere in the range of 8-10 hours. However, it’s the side-quests and the massive amount of replayability that makes this game last much longer. With my moral capacity pulled and stretched in every direction, I could find hundreds of ways to play, each with a completely different feel from the last.
Epic Mickey 2: Power of Two has shown me that games don’t have to simply funnel you down a certain path to the goal and overload you with bonus material in order to be compelling. Rather, it’s giving me the option to make a meaningful choice that makes me keep coming back for more.