Games are actually starting to be released again, but the backlog is still alive and kicking. Every week we take a look at a game we've been meaning to play for ages. If you missed Adam's discourse on Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned, check it out right here.
A backlog is a fickle thing. To write about the games that fill it you have to actually play them. This is currently my issue. I’d love to write about something that has recently caught my attention or even something that I’ve simply had time to play. But I haven’t played too terribly much in a while. The most recent thing that captured me would be The Witcher 2, but that belongs more on my “I’m going to be playing this forever” log. (By the way, you should play that. It’s utterly fantastic.) Moving on to something that I have been playing (off and on for about a year no less) is Disney Epic Mickey.
Every time I play Epic Mickey, I am reminded both by why I keep coming back to it and of the reasons that keep me from staying very long when I do. The main premise is that Mickey Mouse is stuck in an alternate version of the Magic Kingdom called the Wasteland where all the scrapped cartoons go to live. One of the things that I love is the attention to detail and history. In the Wasteland, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is essentially Mickey Mouse and Oswald, in reality, was Walt Disney’s first creation. So Oswald could have been Mickey had history been slightly different. Everyone could today be wearing rabbit ears instead of mouse ears. And that’s just fascinating.
Also, the look of the Wasteland is really quite great. Even though the game is on the Wii, it has a very strong look, one that would not been helped all that much by high definition graphics. Sure things would be smoother and there could be more detail but it wouldn’t be much “better.”
Now, those are the reasons I keep coming back to Epic Mickey, but the reason I keep leaving the Wasteland is the gameplay. It’s, in simple terms, uninspired. The inspired part is the way that the game approaches moral decisions. Most games that have a good and evil path like Epic Mickey have a difficult path (good) and an easy path (evil). Also, if you choose to play as a moral character then you can choose to not kill people in addition to the already-increased difficulty. The alternative to killing is usually to knock them out or bypass them. In Epic Mickey, the good path is really no more difficult than the evil and in some ways it’s often easier, but I’ll get to why that is in a second. What’s far more interesting to me is that fact that in most games, whether or not you kill your enemies, you still have to eliminate them somehow. In Epic Mickey, your options are to kill your enemies, bypass your enemies or befriend your enemies. It’s the only game that I know of that you cannot only not-kill but actually befriend your enemies and have them side with you.
That brings me to the “good is the easier path” part. By charming enemies, you can actually make the succeeding fights much easier because either you don’t have to fight anyone or you have help in that fight. And not having to fight bosses is a nice treat because Epic Mickey is not always fun to play. Despite its grandiose ideas and high-level mechanics, the core of the game is not that great. The actual puzzles, platforming (especially when the camera is acting up), and boss fights are simply not interesting to do. It’s not that they’re tedious, too hard or easy, or even that they’re somehow broken, they’re just not fun to solve/traverse/fight and a big part of that is the way the game controls. Most reviews out there for Epic Mickey have mentioned that the camera is unwieldy, but the issue with the game is not simply the camera, it's the way the game controls overall. It’s the way that Mickey moves in conjunction with the camera. It’s the way that jumping always feels like a gamble. It’s the way that levels feel claustrophobic in way that they haven’t since the Nintendo 64.
Which is probably the way I would describe Epic Mickey now that I think about: an N64 era platformer with a current gen coat of paint on top. Because, as much as I love the philosophy of the game, it’s all just paint and it unfortunately doesn't seep down to the core of the game change it. It simply gives the game some different flare. Great flare. But it’s still only flare.
And that's it's for Disney Epic Mickey. Check back next week for another awesome trip into the backlog. Until then, what did you think of Epic Mickey? Are you excite for it's sequel? Let us know in the comments below.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.