Today I came to a crossroads. I could either start paying $1.56 a day in late fees to Blockbuster to keep playing my rental copy of Epic Mickey or return it and forget about it until the day I find it for ten bucks in a bargain bin. And I suspect I will find it in such a place, for such a price.
Things start off promising, thanks to a gorgeous CGI cutscene that provides the inciting incident and tosses the titular mouse into Wasteland, but once you start actually playing the game, it's a bit of a let down.
The game ain't all bad. It's refreshing to be in a world that is recognizably Disney, but dark and twisted - but I've gotta' say, overall I'm disappointed by the art direction. Character design is excellent, and the levels taken as a whole, from a zoomed-out perspective, are fine - but not once did I find myself struck by the visuals of this game. It's strange to be climbing a mountain of forgotten Mickey memorabilia (ooh! An old NES Mickey Mousecapade cart!) and feel that everything looks rather dull. Throughout my time with the title, I kept on asking myself why it was I'd seen art direction and world-building that was so much better in similar titles back on the PS2.
At least one can say it's got heart.
There's a lot more emotion in Epic Mickey than most games directed at the youth market, and I love that. Mickey himself and most (certainly not all) of the characters he meets in Wasteland don't feel like entirely two-dimensional archetypes. You get a sense of longing from the cheeriest of forgotten toons, and a hint of vulnerability at center of antagonists. Delicious.
Too bad it doesn't play well.
This game is the antithesis of my position on Kirby's Epic Yarn, which had gameplay and mechanics polished to a mirror shine, but lacked an emotional center or any real depth. Epic Mickey has a real intelligence to it, and a patience to its storytelling - but a bit too slow to actually get interesting, in terms of narrative and character - and by that time I found I was well and truly fed up with the way the title handles, in terms of gameplay. The platforming is sketchy, the combat is an absolute hassle and the central mechanic - directing jets of thinner or paint at your environment to alter it - is constantly hampered by a remarkably troublesome camera.
Let me clarify: this isn't a challenging game. It's a game that's hard to play.
What Epic Mickey does well is absolutely refreshing - it's a kids' game with heart, and real emotional intelligence - but as a game that you play, it's too troublesome to find yourself purely enjoying. Far too many missed jumps, far too much frustrating combat (didn't we solve the issue of combat in three dimensions back in 1998?), and a central mechanic that is constantly encumbered by input lag and a terrible camera.
Mickey, you are going back to Blockbuster. Damnit, Spector. I was expecting big things from you.
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Oh! The music is bloody incredible. Seriously fantastic.