Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two tries to be many things. It’s a co-op game. It’s a musical. It’s a platformer with elements of choice and consequence. It’s a lovingly crafted homage to the Disney of yesteryear and its iconic theme parks.
Junction Point Studios has also tried to address many of the complaints directed at the original Epic Mickey. The troublesome camera has been tinkered with, previously mute characters speak, and the game’s RPG elements have been dragged into the foreground. Everything about this game screams of a determination to get Disney Interactive Studio’s great black and white hope right this time.
But the weight of Junction Point’s ambition has resulted in a game that buckles at the knees. While Epic Mickey 2 retains the Disney charm so lovingly injected by designer Warren Spector, its nostalgic heart is its high point. Visually, Epic Mickey 2 is a gift to be savored. Practically, it’s plagued with issues.
Epic Mickey 2 returns us once again to the Wasteland, the sprawling home to rejected or long forgotten toons from Disney’s considerable back-catalogue. Never a place to relax for long, Wasteland is now plagued by earthquakes, returning it to a pile of rubble and sputtering machinery. The newly-reformed Mad Doctor calls for a hero, a magical television is built, and voila! Mickey Mouse is again on a repair mission, armed with his trusty paintbrush that enables him to paint or thin out parts of his environment. This time, he’s got a permanent partner in Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; the more charming of the two by the width of a detachable arm.
The game is again a journey of discovery through a world built from discarded Disney memorabilia and broken down animatronics, a heaving, twitching place that should be a delight to nosy around in for the Disney enthusiast. References to Disney properties are everywhere, from old favorites like Pete’s Dragon to modern classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a particular joy stumbling across a visual nod to a film or dusty old short you forgot the moment you hit puberty
Spector’s peculiar combination of cold mechanics and warm Disney familiarity returns, and when it works, it sings: a door that requires you to pull a wooden Snow White and Prince Charming into an embrace is the sort of touch that lingers, as is a complex mechanical system activated by characters from Disneyland’s Main Street Parade. The aesthetic is most endearing when Mickey and Oswald are traversing across 2D landscapes, which lean heavily towards the abstract. These transitional sections - Frankenstein's Monster versions of classic Disney shorts - are the most visually arresting of Epic Mickey 2’s playable areas.
There’s pleasure to be found in Epic Mickey 2’s cut-scenes, too. Lightening has struck twice for Powerhouse Studio, the outsourced animation team reunited to create Epic Mickey 2’s retro-flavored 2D cut-scenes. These are a stunning visual highlight, Powerhouse capturing a character’s bemusement or glee with just a raise of a squiggle or a slight shift of a black dot. The team has done well to create animations that retain Spector’s mad vision while feeling distinctively old-school.
There are a couple of immediately obvious new additions to the formula. Characters now have voices, adding refreshing personality to fan favorites, and there’s the occasional musical number. Strangely, these songs – all led with goofball gusto by the Mad Doctor - are too sporadic to leave a lasting impression. For all the talk of Epic Mickey 2’s Broadway-style ambitions, they’re a nice but inessential touch.
Like its predecessor, Epic Mickey 2’s score is excellent, a haunting mixture of children’s choruses, sweeping orchestra and throwbacks to tunes of yesteryear. Although it won’t play at the forefront of your consciousness, the music subtly changes based on your decisions throughout the game. At least to the ear, Epic Mickey 2 does a good job at making you feel like you’re playing something much grander than a passable platformer.
Because for all its ambition, Epic Mickey 2 has failed to get some very basic features right. While simplistic minute-to-minute gameplay is forgivable – this is a kid’s game, after all – Mickey’s central objectives eventually grow repetitive and tiresome. The slog of reviving dead machines over the course of 20 hours is exacerbated by audio cues that remind you of your task-at-hand in a never-ending loop (I guarantee you’ll end up wanting to throttle your gremlin compadre.) In a universe as rich as Disney’s, collecting missing pumps and inserting batteries into sockets leaves you yearning for something a little less pedestrian.
The addition of two new types of ink – invisible and indelible – mixes the gameplay up somewhat, but rarely do they prove essential in any given objective. It would have been refreshing to have seen these used more frequently throughout the campaign, or indeed, more creatively; a combination of an indelible Mickey and an invisible Oswald would have made for an interesting dynamic, and sections requiring a slightly more demanding use of stealth would have added some needed tension.
Perhaps most frustrating in the list of the game’s missteps is the return of that wonky camera that so plagued the original. The player can manually manipulate Epic Mickey 2’s camera, but it always wants to return to a position that sits too low. This is chiefly problematic when trying to pull focus in battle, and bosses, who loom over Mickey and Oswald, take a particularly long time to defeat. The problem is worsened when combined with Epic Mickey 2’s slippery surfaces; trying to judge distances in more delicate platforming sections often leads to wild leaps of faith and untimely death. For this reason, motion control is recommended - aiming with a PlayStation Move controller feels more intuitive, and the ability to target accurately will ease a part of the struggle
These issues aren’t offset by the much hyped choice and consequence that forms the backbone of Epic Mickey 2. Sometimes it’s clear why you’re being punished for an action – you deliberately took the easy route, or destroyed too many enemies – but frequently your behavior feels arbitrarily judged. Perhaps you accidentally set an enemy free from a cage, or thinned a piece of machinery that apparently you shouldn’t have. It’s an oddly muddy system, which only makes sense if pointed out.
To the developer’s credit, there are indeed consequences to your actions, although only rarely will these affect you in any palpable way. Perhaps you’ll cast a fleeting glance at a section that’s sealed off, or raise an eyebrow when a character obstinately declares he won’t help you for the rest of your campaign. But, at the 19-hour mark, you won’t bemoan your missed opportunities too much.
And, by game’s end, any repercussions cease to matter. Mickey must prevail, after all. This focus on the journey of Epic Mickey 2 is also a focus on re-playability, but what with Epic Mickey’s epic length and its uninspired gameplay, only the most die-hard Disney fanatics will likely play through again.
If you want to get the most out of Epic Mickey 2, you’d best deviate from the main path altogether, and explore its nooks, crannies and charming side-quests, of which there are many. For this, you need a human co-op partner. As a split-screen game, Epic Mickey 2 is kicked into life, opening itself up to much more intuitive exploration. Oswald is a satisfying character to control, too, his ear-propeller skill versatile in frequently vertical level design
The A.I-controlled Oswald, on the other hand, is infuriatingly inconsistent, occasionally disappearing for entire sections, or yelling out his acknowledgements of your commands - "I got it!" "I know how to do this!" - while remaining stationary. He’s able to fumble his way through the game for the most part, but leaves you wishing for a proper, communicative partner. While Epic Mickey 2’s co-operative battling and platforming is simplistic – Oswald zaps and flies while Mickey paints and jumps – it begs for a little human finesse.
Ultimately, there is a feeling here of missed opportunity. Junction Point Studios tried hard to revolutionize the wheel, but Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two leaves you wishing the developer had refined the mechanics of the original before embarking on its more intrepid endeavors. The game still delivers on the charm and occasionally hits some truly inspired highs, but fundamental issues hold it back from ever getting within sight of its goals.
If you’re a Disney fan, there’s still much joy to be gleaned out of Epic Mickey 2, but those expecting anything outside of its nostalgic heart should, sadly, look elsewhere
Source - IGN