Saturday, December 11, 2010

Epic Mickey

It pains me to say this, but Epic Mickey is the most disappointing game of this year.

I spent the past week trying to convince myself that this wasn’t so but I simply couldn’t in good conscience say otherwise.

Epic Mickey is one of the most hyped games of this year. Helmed by famed game designer, Warren Spector, gamers were first introduced to Epic Mickey when some initial concept imagery was leaked. This imagery, which portrayed Disney iconography with a more mature aesthetic whetted everyone’s appetite.

Sadly, the game never lived up to that artistic aspiration. The first screenshots were disappointing, but that disappointment was tempered by the idea of what the Wii system could and couldn’t do. Slowly, details about the game’s mechanics and general story line started to slip out, and the hype train took off. All of these ideas were fantastic, but they just simply weren’t fully realized.

It’s difficult to say where exactly Epic Mickey went wrong. I think what illustrates it best is the morality system. When mechanics of the game were first being discussed, Spector said that choice would play a part in how Mickey looked. If you made morally wrong choices, Mickey’s color palette and expression would alter to the more mischievous “Scrapper Mickey.” However, a focus group didn’t respond to this idea and it was scrapped. Instead, Mickey earns floating wisps of paint or thinner depending on how he acts. It’s a much less satisfying measure of moral standing than altering the character themselves.

There is a lot of that in Epic Mickey; great ideas that are realized in such a way as they fall flat. I imagine that those basic ideas, while good on paper, proved too much for the Wii and Junction Point to pull off. The paint and thinner mechanic is relegated to select objects. Which I suppose makes sense given the fact that a gaming experience must be constructed. However, the impact of the paint and thinner mechanic is lessened by the fact that when you leave an area it resets. You can spend an hour painting or thinning an entire area, and in the end your work means nothing.

Throughout Epic Mickey, I felt like something was fundamentally wrong and clunky. The 3D platforming is imprecise, and some questionable design decisions towards the end of the game make progressing more frustrating than fun. It’s not a challenge thing; it’s a bad art thing. It’s a programming thing.

The fact that the Gremlin asks you to confirm entering and exiting every single area needlessly slows down the pace of the game. The 2D side scrolling areas that act as transitions between 3D platforming areas feel like poorly constructed Little Big Planet levels. The only difference is, the physics and hit detection are terrible, and Mickey can actually jump.

This game is an “entry level” videogame for children and people who aren’t gamers. There is no voiceover whatsoever, so there is, relatively, a lot of reading. This may make it seem like it’s not for children, but there were numerous times where I stumbled forward and accidentally fulfilled a quest. This is an “entry level” videogame because it rips off elements from games like Zelda, Okami, Mario Galaxy, Little Big Planet, and Mass Effect, but doesn’t live up to the quality of any of those games because it simplifies those elements. If you don’t know any better, much of the design of this game will seem fresh and fun.

Indeed, any bit of fun that you will be able to pull out of Epic Mickey will depend on whether or not you can ignore that other games pull off those elements better. There is fun to be had with Epic Mickey, and that’s what makes it so disappointing. You may be able to forgive those shortcomings and enjoy the experience and that’s what makes the game so difficult to review. Whether or not you like the game will depend on your temperament and your willingness to accept a watered down experience.

However, what is universally atrocious, and what no gamer can forgive, is the awful camera. It’s flabbergasting how such a broken camera was implemented in to the game. It’s frustrating, difficult to manage, and ultimately can ruin the experience. Were it not for the camera, everything else about this game could be forgiven, but the camera is the two ton weight that broke the camel’s back.

In the end, the best part of Epic Mickey is the story. It’s heartfelt, and very appropriate for something made by Disney. Spector has mentioned in interviews that his goal was to reignite Mickey and Oswald in the gamers’ consciousness. The story accomplishes that beautifully. I see Mickey in a different way, and have a whole new respect for Oswald. A character I didn’t know existed until this game. The animation that accompanies the story is simplistic but charming and expressive. It’s certainly not up to Disney’s standard but its charming none-the-less. It’s too bad the rest of the game doesn’t support that story.

Epic Mickey is a game for children who haven’t quite been bitten by the gaming bug yet and hardcore Disney fans. If you’re looking for a gift for that young kid who isn’t a gamer, or love Disney, buy this game.

If you’re a hardcore gamer who demands a certain level of quality then the best I can say is that this game requires a rental to see if you can tolerate its shortcomings.

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