There certainly is a lot going for Epic Mickey 2. It’s got the pedigree of Warren Spector (of Deus Ex and System Shock fame), the money of Disney, the foundation of a genuinely interesting first title in the series, and the same development team already in place from the first game.
So, what went wrong?
I initially had much higher impressions of this game. Loading it up, one is treated to a fantastic, definitely Disney-worthy display of colour and song as the Mad Doctor returns from the original Epic Mickey (no need to have played the first one – things are pretty self-explanatory) in a glorious animated intro movie.
Oswald, the new creation for the Disney universe added by the developers, decides to trust the Mad Doctor’s insistence that he’s a changed man and only wishes to help the toons of Wasteland rebuild and prosper after a devastating earthquake. Cue Mickey arriving with a magical paintbrush in hand and teaming up with Oswald, who sports a radio control device) to go on a co-op adventure to find out who’s behind the quake and what can be done to help now.
Whether you choose to play two player or alongside an AI, you’ll run into countless issues with figuring out what the game wants you to do.
Mickey can either paint objects to life or dissolve them with paint thinner. Oswald, meanwhile, can hover and give Mickey rides, shock enemies with his remote or hack into enemies to make them friendly.
You’re exploring vibrant and gleefully-designed worlds, pairing up with one-two punches left right and centre. There are countless opportunities to work together to solve puzzles and take down enemies – the name doesn’t disappoint.
At first glance, nothing’s wrong. The story is delightfully childish, actually does have some cool songs in there, and transitions from 3D animated cut scene to some classic 2D Disney cartoons which are sure to either bring back your childhood or entertain your young ones.
Indeed, the gameplay also switches between short, sharp LittleBigPlanet-esque 2D platforming (when moving between core levels) and 3D co-op fun. Or, perhaps fun is too nice a word to be using here.
You see, whether you choose to play two player or alongside an AI, you’ll run into countless issues with figuring out what the game wants you to do. With a friend, missing a simple audio cue because you were busy shooting at junk can leave both of you completely unaware as to what course of action to take next. The mechanics for taking down enemies work perfectly with an AI partner (you punch off their armour, the AI will shock them into staying still, you jump on the big red button to expose the driver of the machine then you can clock him with some paint thinner for the win). It’s actually quite delightful to accomplish a good enemy takedown. But play with a partner and it can be frustrating to know how to take each enemy down.
In fact, considering the age group the story suggests the game aims for, its maddeningly difficult to receive information correctly. Knowing kids, however, their persistence and inability to recognise that a game is poorly designed (rather than failure to progress being their fault) should see them able to keep pushing through, but then why would gameplay which feels like a chore be something you’d explicitly want to purchase for your kids?
The erroneous pieces of design don’t stop there. After attacking the boss at the end of chapter two (a stationary gun turret in the middle of a circular room above a pit) for some twenty minutes with a co-op partner, I eventually had to get the AI in just so I could hear him shout out what part of the battle it was meant to be doing. It turns out he was meant to cause a distraction. Rather than stay on the opposite side of the room from me to draw its fire, the AI then ran loops around the room, so every few seconds the machine would be shooting at me regardless.
It also didn’t help that, even when I did have a second player taking control and attempting to cause a distraction properly, the key was a return-fire mechanic for the boss’ primary weapon, instructions for which were delivered by a muffled audio cue which none of us in the room could make out over the background noise, in spite of it being said every few seconds for half an hour.
The production values are all there (bar some incredible repetitive sound bites from characters), there’s heaps to do in the 10 hour game and plenty of extras to go back for and unlock, but the experience is so hampered by confusing directions, unclear objectives and some disastrously old-school roadblocks to navigating the world that it becomes hard to recommend.