Epic Mickey was supposed to be Mickey Mouse’s glorious return to the mainstream gaming world – and by all means it should have been. Its foundation was solid: enter the world of classic Disney, based on a combination of famous Disneyland attractions and cherished vintage cartoons, and manipulate the world using magical paint and thinner in order to achieve your goals. In large part it succeeded in its mission, as its recreations (and steampunk retweaking) of Disney properties were honestly really cool, with a slew of fun references and game world concepts.
But if you follow the gaming media at all, you’ve probably seen Epic Mickey‘s dismal Metascore rating. While I personally enjoyed the game, I have to admit, I’m surprised the score is even as high as it is. The main issues that plagued the game didn’t come from a lack of conceptual prowess – otherwise no one would have been excited in the first place. They came from a disappointingly lackluster execution that wound up feeling anything but epic. Where did the game go wrong, exactly?
Living in sunny southern California means I’m only about an hour away from the Disneyland Resort, and since it’s my wife’s second home of sorts, I find myself strolling along Main Street fairly frequently. One of the things that originally drew me to Epic Mickey was its world – I could finally explore Disneyland with a complete and total imaginative freedom that just isn’t possible in a real-life theme park. I could leap from the rooftops of Main Street, jump into the fires of Pirates of the Caribbean, and fight my way through the world of Tomorrow. Every kid’s dream right? (Yeah, I still consider myself a kid.)
But when I finally played Epic Mickey, I didn’t really get that feeling. Early levels seemed to do a decent job at emulating the feel of the original attractions – the recreation of It’s a Small World comes to mind – but even then the areas felt incomplete. No, it wasn’t just because Wasteland needed saving and it was my job to fill in the gaps. The game felt too fragmented. Rather than flowing organically from one area to the next, Epic Mickey had me leaping back and forth between action zones through side-scrolling passages based on classic Disney cartoons – but these sections of the game were out-of-place and unwanted. The result was a hodgepodge of unmemorable stages and a game that, all things considered, felt way too small and undeserving of the Epic name.
The worst part of this whole situation is that there’s about a decade and a half of 3D platforming history that Epic Mickey could have drawn from. Games like Super Mario, Banjo-Kazooie, and others established a popular formula for 3D platforming which featured a number of large course maps inside of which were several smaller stages, each with its own set of objectives to complete. Epic Mickey borrows from this tradition to an extent, but there’s no central unifying factor that makes you feel as though you’re progressing through the game. While Mario has Stars and Banjo-Kazooie has Jiggies, Epic Mickey‘s Power Sparks don’t really compare. They weren’t rewards for completing interesting gameplay tasks and overcoming obstacles, but instead gifts for fulfilling fetch quests or hidden in random places in the overworld like common items. You could even buy them in shops. They simply didn’t have the same effect – and given that they don’t particularly scream “Disney,” they were a weak feature overall.
And that brings us to the heart of the matter: the core gameplay just isn’t impactful whatsoever. The vast majority of tasks have you simply filling in or thinning out objects in order to progress along a linear path, or else finding a certain object or set of objects and talking to someone. There aren’t really any platforming gauntlets, large worlds to explore, or interesting objectives to complete. And there were only ten or so real “levels” overall – way too few for a modern platformer. Though the emulation of Disneyland attractions was generally to good effect, even those could have been fleshed out more.
In the end, the game leaves me scratching my head. The concept and mechanics have the potential to be great, and there are a few moments such as boss battles where we really see them shine, but the rest of the game lacks the charm and intrigue that 3D platformers usually bring. Had Epic Mickey more closely followed this established formula, it might have (ironically though it may be) actually turned out much better.