Review: Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion
by Ryan C.
While the home consoles received Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, the 3DS got a 2D platformer developed by DreamRift and was released on the same day as every other version. I remember when word first got out about this game that people became more interested in this one, but once the demo hit the eshop that interest turned to disgust. I was surprised at how much hate the demo got, as I loved it, and as I mentioned in my retro review of Epic Mickey, I had more hopes for this game then the console one. After spending time with the full product I began to understand the hate, but thankfully I was left impressed and wanting more.
The story is unrelated to either console games, but takes place some time after the events of the second game. Mickey is at home when Oswald contacts him through the television and asks him for help. Upon retrieving the magic Paint Brush again and entering the Wasteland, Oswald lays on the exposition by explaining that the evil with Mizrabel and her Castle of Illusion have been forgotten, and as a result is now in Wasteland. Mizrabel does not want to be trapped there and kidnaps a bunch of non-forgotten Toons to drain their Heart Power and eventually escape back into the Cartoon World. I like the set-up and I believe it could have been an intriguing story, but after the introduction, the story is dropped completely, replaced by interactions with popular Disney characters.
Like how the first Epic Mickey celebrated forgotten characters over the years, Power of Illusion features a laundry list of more modern characters such as Aladdin, Donald, Goofy and a ton of others. Throughout the levels, Mickey can rescue these people and they will take refuge in the Fortress, which acts as a safe haven from Mizrabel. In between levels, Mickey can go to the Fortress to talk to them and receive quests. I do recommend doing some quests as the rewards can be useful, like extended life, paint or thinner bars, and E-Tickets, but these do get old quick. While it is amusing doing quests at first to see each character’s room resemble an area out of their movie, the lack of variety eventually makes it chore. Side quests come in three forms: Find something by replaying an old level, talk to someone and get an item, or paint an item on the spot. As a Disney fan, I did laugh and smile as I talked to Donald and Scrooge, or hear Aladdin repeat lines from the film, but the fact they make me needlessly backtrack through certain level for the fourth time makes it hard to care.
The backtracking issue could have been resolved easily by making the redundant quests disappear. For example, Alice will give you separate quests to find the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, and these characters will only appear if you have that particular quest active. What is worse is that they will appear in separate quests, and a character cannot give you multiple quests at one time. Get use to trudging through a level for a character or item, only to then repeat another level (or sometimes the same one) for another mcguffin for the same person. It is beyond redundant, and is only there to artificially lengthen a short game.
Something that may turn off many people is that Power of Illusion only features 11 levels, plus 3 boss stages. While it sounds like you can beat this in a lunch break, it actually takes a few hours, as some quests are mandatory. In order to unlock the next section of the castle, a minimum amount of Heart Power must be obtained. Just to give an idea, I completed everything in around 8 hours, so non-completionists may be left disappointed. Thankfully, these levels are incredibly designed, and I did not mind playing through any of them a second time, minus the water stage. With some tricky jumps, ropes to swing on, and intelligent placement of enemies, the levels offer a fair challenge rather then a cheap difficulty curve with blind jumps or enemies on the edge of platform. Take away the Disney atheistic and the levels would still be fun to power through. These stages can be traversed horizontally and vertically, with some forks in the road to allow for some minor exploration. On a side note, I think the style of Metroidvania would suit this game well. Each section of the castle could be based on a different movie, and since it is all illusions, it would make sense. Characters could be more evenly spread out, and quests could easily be more diverse. Epic Mickey: Castlevania of Illusion, make that for the sequel.
Mickey can walk, jump, attack with paint or thinner, and butt stomp his way through the game. Butt stomping at the correct time will send Mickey soaring higher, allowing for some interesting moments where correct usage of his glutes would be beneficial. Killing enemies with paint will often produce a heart for health, and thinner will usually form money. I mostly played with paint as these enemies can destroy you if you are not careful enough. Even playing through a level for the third or fourth time can be challenging. The physics can be a bit floatly, and Mickey himself is no Sonic, and while I found it worked well for the environments, some speed upgrades would have been a welcomed addition. Sketches can also be used, from summoning Scrooge McDuck to bounce on enemies, to forming a platform to help reach hard to get locations.
Levels are based on three Disney films: Peter Pan, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. I was disappointed when I learned this, because at the beginning when you meet Mizrabel, she shape shifts into many villains such as Hades, Scar, Gaston, and more. I figured each of these villains would have their own world, but no, just the three movies. The developers did admit that some content had to be cut to make the deadline; it would be interesting to see what they had planned out before that decision was made.
What separates this game apart is the use of the touchscreen for painting and thinning out objects and works well, but is not integrated perfectly. Fans of DreamRifts’ Henry Hatsworth should be right at home as focus is constantly shifted to the bottom screen for a mini-game regarding objects in the environment. Need to jump a large gap? Chances are there is a highlighted bridge on the bottom screen. Simply touch it and trace out the design with the stylus. There is also a ranking system on how well you trace, but I found it imprecise as I swear sometimes I was perfect and it simply gave me an “okay” rating, and other times I rushed through it like a drunk, and got a “perfect”. When the system just decides to give random ratings, I stopped caring for perfection. Also, I did not notice much difference in the outcomes, sure an “okay” canon will disappear after you use it three times, but you never need to use a canon multiple times unless you mess up a lot.
Since I rushed through the tracing, I did not personally find it disrupted flow too much, and I find it better then Henry Hatsworth truth be told. What I did find ruined flow was thinning out obstacles. Instead of tracing the object, you must erase the entire area of it. Trying to get every speck of an object can be tedious, especially with some weird designs such as an octopus or axes. While not a bad system, making it flow better into gameplay would have gone a long way into enjoying the levels that much more.
The presentation of this game is fantastic, from the character sprites to the music. The game has the look of the 16-bit era, but brought it up to snuff for a modern time, and it simply works. Top that with the scrolling multi-layered backgrounds and you have one looker of a game. The 3D effect is put to good use on some levels, but in others it seems like the developers forgot there is a 3D option. Being in the thick jungle in Never Land looks breath taking, with the lush forest and Captian Hook’s ship being buried behind it, but then under the sea barely has the effect, even when it was cranked up to the maximum level. Regardless, it always pleases the eyes and seeing the streets of Agrabah straight out of the Capcom original made me remember the times when I use to play that game every weekend for a good portion of my childhood.
In my Paper Mario review I mentioned how it has been awhile since I was that impressed with a soundtrack, but Power of Illusion almost makes me want to say it again. The soundtrack is absolutely incredible, with tunes lifted from the first Epic Mickey, and orchestral remakes of old musical numbers from the films and even the original Castle of Illusion. The most memorable tracks in my opinion are when they fuse the style of Epic Mickey with an old Disney classic. Listening to the music in the Streets of Agrabah level gave me shivers as I recognized it from the film but was given new life to fit the style of Epic Mickey.
Lastly, DreamRift just nails the characters personality. Scrooge McDuck is pulled off flawlessly, and reading his text just made his voice ring in my head. He is always talking about his money pit, and if someone does him a favour he will give them a “huge” discount at his store (one half of a penny). Donald is also another memorable character, quickly switching between nice and angry, with his classic voice clips sprinkled in. Other Toons like Beast, Alice, Peter Pan and Goofy are all done perfectly, but the hardest I laughed was when I rescued Abu for Aladdin and he says “Abu! Perfect timing, as usual”. It may not be humorous, but it is the first line of dialogue Aladdin says to Abu in the film, drowning me in a wave of nostalgia. Simply put, DreamRift did their homework, and I love them for it.
While not the game I was hoping for, Power of Illusion was still a fun ride while it lasted. The good far outweighs the bad, but with more levels, fewer redundant side quests, smoother use of the touchscreen, and more themed worlds from the films, Power of Illusion could have been the best Mickey Mouse game ever. As is however, it is a good game that will be appreciated more so by hardcore Disney fans. The levels are still well designed and challenging enough that I can still easily recommend for any lover of 2D platformers, but with only 11 levels, the full price may seem a bit steep.