With his squeaky voice and goody-goody demeanor, Mickey Mouse has always been the lamest of ’toons. He’s never had the comic sophistication of a Bugs Bunny or the anarchic spirit of a Rocky or Bullwinkle. As the first cartoon superstar, Mickey has history on his side, sure. But also a richly deserved reputation as a hopeless square.
With the 2010 title “Epic Mickey,” Disney set out to rehabilitate Mickey’s image for a new generation of cartoon fans and gamers. Set in a wasteland of abandoned Disney concepts, the game frames Mickey as a brave but mischievous hero, wielding the power to create or destroy with his magic paintbrush.
Mickey is back this holiday season with “Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two” (multiple platforms; $49.99; rated E) a sequel that largely preserves both the charms and frustrations of the original title. The game is designed to work mostly as a platformer, with some puzzler elements thrown in, and features plenty of musical numbers and Disney-fied cutscenes.
This time around, Mickey has an ally in Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who began the previous game as a jealous antagonist. (Oswald was a real-world cartoon star in the 1920s and ’30s before his star was eclipsed by the rise of the Mouse House.) “Epic Mickey 2” is structured to be played in two-player cooperative mode, although you can play solo as well, with Oswald reduced to a computer-controlled companion.
The set-up is simple: The return of the Mad Doctor – also a classic 1930s Disney character – prompts Mickey and Oswald to once again venture into the Wasteland. As with open-world RPG games, Mickey can choose to wander around and pick up side quests, follow the main story quest or alternate between the two.
Mickey uses his magic paintbrush for both overcoming platform obstacles and defeating enemies. Using paint and thinner, Mickey can dissolve or create objects, which can then be further manipulated to solve puzzles or platform dilemmas. For instance, you might need to dissolve a spherical object, then repaint it with a flat surface that you can leap onto.
In combat, you can use the thinner to wipe out enemies entirely or use the paint to restore them to ’toony righteousness and switch their allegiance. The paintbrush system is central to the entire concept of the game. It successfully introduces a gameplay aspect unique to the franchise while also being thematically consistent with the game’s hand-drawn animation style.
It’s all good in theory; less terrific in practice. As with the previous game, “Epic Disney 2” suffers from some clumsy jumping mechanics – rather important in a platformer – and restrictive camera controls. If I could suggest one new year resolution for game developers, it would be this: Dedicate 2013 to eliminating dodgy camera controls in platform games.
That pesky rabbit
Combat can be frustrating too, especially if you play solo and rely on the game’s AI to control that dumb rabbit, Oswald. He’s supposed to be helping, but apparently didn’t get that version of the script. Instead, he likes to position himself between you and the bad guys, then complain as he gets caught in the crossfire. Rabbits! They’re the worst.
The game is at its best in the calmer moments, when you can wander the world and enjoy the gorgeous, painterly art design. “Epic Mickey” has a truly unique look and feel, one clearly designed to evoke the rich history of Disney’s animation empire. Environments have a texture and depth unlike anything else out there. Play this game for a while and you’ll become aware just how hard and glossy your other games look.
I’m still not sold on Mickey as a cartoon hero, but I have an admitted bias. Because of my kids, I’ve had to endure years of the Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” an impossibly boring show. If I can get the kids to migrate to these “Epic Disney” games, we’ll all be a lot happier.
Also New This Week: Arcade dungeon crawling with “Labyrinth Legends” (PS3), new racing sim options with “Forza Horizon: Rally Expansion Pack” (X360) and retro 2D brawling with “Street Fighter X Mega Man” (PC).