Review: Epic Mickey: The Power of Two
by Ryan C.
If you have been on any major gaming publication recently, you have undoubtedly heard that Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two has been a disappointment. Well, that is putting it lightly; this game has received an overwhelming amount of negativity and harsh reviews, making me quite upset before I managed to snag my own copy. However, it came to my attention that all the reviews were of the Xbox 360 version, as that was the copy that Disney sent out for reviewing.
It is also worth mentioning that three different development teams have handled Epic Mickey 2: Junction Point (Wii), Blitz (360/PS3), and Heavy Iron (Wii U). Blitz is known for such games as Bad Boys: Miami Takedown and the line of Burger King games, while Heavy Iron is most well known for their work on movie-licensed games such as Puss In Boots and Spongebob Squarepants (I will let those titles speak for themselves). Since Warren Spector and his team spent their time on the Wii, (which he said was the leading platform), is this version safe from the mediocrity, or is Epic Mickey 2 rotten to the core?
The story picks up not too long after the first game, as the people of Wasteland are in the process of rebuilding their world from the events of Epic Mickey. Everything seems to be going well until an earthquake hits, and the Mad Doctor returns to warn everyone of the impending Blotworx army. On top of that, he announces that he learned from his past deeds and is now a nice guy, offering to help repair the town and asks forgiveness from Oswald. Oswald decides to leave with him, which upsets his girlfriend/wife Ortensia. With the help of Gus the Gremlin, they build a television to summon Mickey Mouse to help straighten out the mess and determine if the Mad Doctor is telling the truth or not.
The story has an intriguing premise, but the overall narrative is pretty weak. Some of it is predictable, and I found it hard to care about the situation. It was not until the very end until I started feeling the emotions that the game wanted to evoke, but by this point the game was practically over. Most of the story is told by the animated cutscenes in the style of the first game, and the Mad Doctor is always singing. I do not mind music, but the fact he sings everything, even brief lines of dialogue to tell an objective, gets annoying fast. Only a few songs actually feel necessary, whereas everything else is just for the sake of it.
My biggest problem with the story is how unsubtle it is. This could be considered a nitpick, but the first game dealt with some themes that is not explored to often in video games: sibling rivalry, jealously, guilt, and the power to be hated by the people. The main story at hand involved monsters unleashed by Mickey and how to deal with them while eventually winning the trust of Oswald. Dig deeper and you can find subtle themes that truly engage the player and carry emotional weight. In Epic Mickey 2, Mickey is the hero no matter what, and Oswald is happy to be with him, removing most of the subtle moments that made the previous game so memorable and charming. The main theme of Power of Two is cooperation can conquer all and that everyone deserves a second chance. Without the emotional undertones, we are left with a typical story that I am positive Disney covered in multiple films.
I am aware of that not everyone cares about emotions or feelings, so let’s get to the actual gameplay. It follows the blueprint of the first game, with the twist of co-op. Mickey and Oswald explore self-contained areas, getting quests, solving puzzles and jumping from platforms. I am surprised at how little the game has been polished up from the first, as Mickey has the same jumping issues, and the camera still has trouble in certain spots. Personally, I did not have trouble with precision jumping in the first game; instead I had an issue with the collision of some platforms. Instead of bouncing off or simply drop, Mickey feels like he will almost make the jump, but instead just slide down the wall like a cat clawing the curtains. It is not a deal breaker at all, but it does interrupt the flow somewhat. Making the return is the paintbrush, which can fire paint of thinner to befriend or destroy enemies, as well as create or erase certain parts of the world. It still works, but sometimes lining up the IR cursor is made difficult. On more then one occasion I aimed at an enemy that was close to the screen, only to fire paint behind or in front of it. Firing from a distance is always spot on, and I only found the issues in tight areas. On the camera side of things, I notice that it is good at setting up angles on its own for platforming, but in narrow corridors it is easy to get caught up in the environment, making for some blind jumps or awkward moments trying to wrestle it.
I felt like I had a bit more trouble with the camera this time around due to the level design being more linear. Areas in the first game were not claustrophobic and I remember spending around an hour in each location just making sure I found everything. Levels in this game feel more restrictive, not offering much in the way of exploration and went by rather quickly. The scattered time the game opened up were definite highlights, it is just too bad the game breezes by at break-neck speed. Within the 8 hours it took for me to beat the game, there were moments that were amazing, like the diorama-esque amusement park that recreated the boss battles from the first game, or the final 2D level that is a perfect example of story and gameplay merging together. Speaking of the 2D levels, they are blander in the sequel. Coming from someone who loved them in the first game, these sections are unchallenging and basic in design. Strip away the aesthetic of the cartoon they are trying to represent and you are left with unimaginative levels. Surprisingly, the best ones are not based on a cartoon, and actually offer exploration and puzzles, but the one that steals the show is the previously mentioned final level, and in my opinion acts as the most memorable, emotional and heartfelt moment of the entire game. I want to spoil it, but all I will say is that if the whole game has been handled as delicately, then Power of Two would everything I wanted from the sequel.
By far the biggest issue is that Epic Mickey had to go the way of Resident Evil and introduce a dumb A.I. controlled partner just for the sake of having the feature. He barely helps out in combat and cannot navigate the environment properly, which are big problems when the game requires cooperation to bypass a puzzle. I was impressed at how well he knew when it was time to solve a puzzle such as reprogramming machines or pulling switches, but that is only when he does not get stuck in a wall. There are some enemies in the game that are easily taken care of with Oswald’s remote control, and the best strategy is to use it to stun them so Mickey can attack/spray with paint or thinner, but Oswald just does not attack unless the planets align a certain way. It made combat needlessly frustrating and dragged out what should have been routine encounters. For this review I have not tried co-op with a friend, probably because they are all playing manly games and have no time for the nostalgic bubble that is my life, but I am sure it would have made the experience better. That said, why should a person who wants to play by themselves be crippled? I can understand that playing with a friend is a ton of fun, so why not just have the option rather then the necessity? The game could have been tweaked a few simple ways to avoid co-op such as only pull one lever instead of two, or adding a few extra platforms so Oswald’s hovering ability is not needed. But instead we get a tacked on partner that bogs down the entire experience.
The other support character that accompanies you is Gus, and while I like him as a character in the story, as a support character he ranks up there with Fi from Skyward Sword as the most annoying. He will float by the main puzzle of interest, and endlessly repeat the same line of dialogue until you solve it. Even worse is during boss battles, especially when you demonstrate that you know how to do it. One particular encounter involved standing on panels, and having the monster throw debris at you so it can destroy the panels. There are six of these, and even after destroying five of them he will still say “Ah, so that’s how we have to destroy the panels”. I recommend playing on mute sometimes.
Another annoying aspect of the game I found was the quest system. In Epic Mickey, if you talk to someone who wants something, it was a quest and would be logged. You can easily find the quest you are interested in, and it will give you a brief synopsis of how to tackle it. Never once did I find a quest confusing to solve, and every choice I made I knew what the general outcome would be. In Power of Two, some of the things I figured would be quests are now challenges (achievements or trophies on the other systems). Worse yet, some tasks that should have been straightforward made me feel dumb. Going through the quest log only gives you the name of it, and you have to click on different nodes to read about it. While not a deal breaker by any means, it is more tedious this time around. After a few hours, Goofy asks you to find parts of the Oswald statue that are under OsTown, so I go back in the area underneath and I cannot find a single one. Pulling up the map will show you the icon of what quest is in the current room, and not once did the “statue” icon show up.
Other quests that I was working on were either boring (take pictures of shapes that look like Oswald or Mickey so a guy can make a garden) or glitched out on me. Throughout the levels are signposts that show off popular tourist attractions, and as I was about to snap a photo for someone, I was pushed off the ledge and could not take the photo again even when I made my way back; a game long quest now made impossible. Another game long quest screwed up because of confusion regarding the train stations. Each main area of the game involves fixing up the train station to make a fast travel system. In Bog Easy, there was a machine that spawned enemies until you destroyed or reprogrammed it. I was not sure how to reprogram them at first, so I destroyed it, but unknowingly to me at the time, destroying the machine meant I could not fix the train station because I needed to have the nice machines do it for me. In the very next room was a wall I needed to pass. I could either blow it up with fireworks, or reprogram the machines to deal with it for me. This time I learned how to make them friendly, but upon doing so, the game glitched out and trapped one of the blotworx in the wall, meaning I had to use the fireworks regardless. I know the variety in the first game was not its strong point, but at least they functioned and were easy to understand.
The visuals in Power of Two are more or less on par with the original. Nothing really blew me away like the first game, but that is not to say it is hard on the eyes. There were some moments where the art style really shone, like the dump filled with discarded floats from Disney world, or the fantastic final 2D level (last time I mention it I swear), but nothing really stuck out like Captain Hook’s ship or Mickey Junk Mountain. Shockingly, for graphics that remain the same and levels that feel smaller, the frame rate can go horrible at times for no reason. Simply walking around town can lower it, but for some reason I found most of the dips occurred in the first chapter, and as the game went on they become less frequent for some strange reason, unless part of the level was loading.
Music was phenomenal in the first game, and some tracks make their outstanding return, but the new tunes were forgettable. They were not awful, but they did not leave an impact and I immediately forgot them after they stopped playing. The biggest addition to the audio department is voice acting, and it is a mixed bag. Some major characters like Gus, Oswald, Mad Doctor and Mickey were all fine, but Ortensia was terrible. Some side characters were also done well, like the Gremlins and pirates, but others felt out of place. I know a lot of people demand voice acting in this day and age, but most of these forgotten characters come from the silent era of film; I actually found it fitting that they were silent in the first game, but that is just a personal opinion.
Regardless of what people say, I consider the first Epic Mickey a good game. It had its issues, but it ultimately worked in both the gameplay and story department. Epic Mickey 2 is unfortunately not the sequel it deserved and is almost inferior in every way. The more restrictive level design, basic plot, and pathetic A.I. partner all bog down what could have been a great sequel. They focused their time on working in the wrong areas, instead of polishing up the issues of the first game, then building upon it. It reminds me of the PC expansion packs from the 90’s, where publishers would give outside parties the tools to make the expansion, but almost always ended up inferior. There is a good game in here somewhere, which makes me more upset then it ought to, but at the same time, I am glad I experienced it, if not for the ending alone. Moments of brilliance outweighed by poor design choices and lack of polish makes Power of Two one of the bigger disappointments I have encounter in awhile.