In 2010, legendary developer Warren Spector’s Junction Point studio released Disney Epic Mickey, an ambitious Mickey Mouse adventure exclusive for the Nintendo Wii. Met with mixed reviews, it was coupled with a fair share of design and technical issues, but it was a charming adventure nonetheless. Regrettably, this multi-platform co-op centered sequel fails to live up to the promises of improvements and turns out to be one of the most disappointing releases I’ve played this year.
With Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, Mickey returns to the Wasteland, a world occupied by long forgotten characters from Disney’s history. A series of earthquakes have wreaked havoc across the land, leaving behind dilapidated structures and faltering machinery. Coaxed by Gus the Gremlin, Mickey and Oswald join forces to solve the mystery behind this disturbance and repair the damage that has been done. The villainous Mad Doctor returns and has traded in his mischievous ways in an effort to assist the troubled toons, but his motives are unclear since his new friendlier tone leads him to sing his dialogue. It’s during these moments that Warren Spector’s touted “musical” side of Power of Two shines, but it’s a shame that more characters don’t participate in this style of dialogue. The storyline gives off a sense of ‘deja vu’ and feels as more of an excuse to slightly alter the plot from the original.
The gameplay for this sequel is very similar to the first game’s mechanics. Mickey is once again equipped with Yen Sid’s magical paintbrush and has the opportunity to either use thinner or paint to influence the landscape and foes unleashed in Wasteland. Using thinner reveals hidden items and the option to take down enemies, while the paint can be used to recreate select objects and turn your foes into your allies. This mechanic breakdowns to painting as good and thinning as bad, with the way you interact with the environment and toons determining how the story progresses. Oswald will use his remote control to activate certain switches and re-program machines when commanded by Mickey. He’ll also stun enemies with electric attacks, uses a boomerang to activate hard to reach levers, and use his propeller-like spinning ears to glide across long gaps while Mickey grasp his feet.
The addition of Oswald as your partner seems like a great way to freshen up the gameplay, but his problematic A.I. will make you wish his presence was not needed. While playing through Epic Mickey 2 alone, you have the ability to direct Oswald to perform certain actions with the click of a button, but when you are not providing him with direction he will wonder around aimlessly and repetitively ignore activation switches. During some of the intense boss battles, he will tailgate Mickey instead of acting as a distraction or fail to perform one of his moves needed to proceed. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience. Luckily, a friend is able to take control of Oswald through the local drop-in/drop-out co-op, but it’s questionable whether or not someone will want to play as him, given that his moves are incredibly dull compared to Mickey. When I was unavailable to find anyone to take control of Oswald, I was forced to juggle between both controllers in order to benefit from instantly reviving once defeated. The omission of online co-op is surely a missed opportunity.
Gameplay is more meticulous than anything, as Mickey and Oswald’s adventure is split into 3D exploration sections and 2D side scrolling platforming sections set in classic Mickey Mouse cartoons. Outside of a clear bump in resolution (besides the Wii version), environments utilize a variety of resources from the Disney universe, whether it’s movie related, merchandise, or attractions from the theme parks. Seeing long forgotten characters like Smee from Peter Pan and the 3 Little Pigs brought back fond memories and the re-imagined dark and twisted tone of some of the locations are just as exciting as they were in the original. It’s easy to argue that The Power of Two looks visually unimpressive compared to other big titles out this year, but it’s really the game’s character and attention to the detail that makes traveling through Wasteland somewhat enjoyable. This time around each main character is fully voiced and the fantastic animated cut-scenes truly feel as though they were taken straight out of a big Disney feature.
Aside from the duo’s main objective, Mickey and Oswald will come across a variety of NPCs that will offer them various side missions to complete. Without the inclusion of a strong in-game map or navigation tools you’ll often be subjected to talking to every toon in order to find out which one has a mission for you to complete. The multitude of side quests and optional missions include rescuing lost goblins, taking photographs, and collecting pins, but the idea of going off the beaten path (and, usually, getting lost) might be enough to prevent you from hunting any of them down. While at first collecting various pins and costume pieces seems like fun, it soon becomes more of a distraction than a welcomed addition. Aside from the optional side missions, collecting E-tickets will allow you to make purchases at select shops like new outfits and upgrades. Video game collectibles hoarders like myself will easily get distracted.
The camera angles and control issues that marred the original are slightly tweaked, hampering the flow from your movement and leaving you battling against the game. The camera’s troubles are further exacerbated during the games lengthy boss fights as the camera will often swing wildly while trying to focus on the games huge bosses and frame the action on screen. Even with a tweaked camera, the platforming is still a little unwieldy as it is difficult to set the camera properly to jump between platforms. Distorted perspectives make lining up long-distance leaps troublesome, so you’re left guessing how far away you actually are, and often plummet unceremoniously to your death. Oswald does have a much easier time navigating the occasionally onerous platforming sections that seem unfairly balanced against Mickey as he continues to struggle with slipping off of platforms.
Warren Spector and his team obviously have a love and respect for the the universe created by Walt. Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two posses enough charm and appeal to satisfy fans of the Disney universe, but it’s disappointing that it still nowhere near the “epic” description called out in the title. Overall, it’s simply not worth suffering through hours of monotonous gameplay with a block-headed AI controlled partner to discover a minimalistic moment of nostalgic joy.
Editor’s Note: Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two was reviewed using the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version. The controls felt more fluid and responsive when played on the PlayStation 3 when using the Move controller for the paint brush mechanic. The Wii U version was also tested by a separate reviewer and it was brought to our attention that slowdown and frame rate issues were present but the game was enjoyable when used with a Wii Remote + Nunchuk as well.