For last year, there were two potentials vying for the Most Disappointing Game of 2012: Game of Thrones: The Game and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. I still don’t have the heart and/or energy to extensively rip apart Cyanide’s stab at trolling around in Westeros–though you can check out previous posts for some clues to how I feel overall–so let’s spend today talking about Mickey Mouse and his lackluster painting skills and strangely unwavering glee-driven mentality.
It started with gorgeous preview screenshots that showcased a love and attention to detail for all things retro and Disney-esque, and then came the news that DreamRift was working on the game. For those that don’t know, those are the folks behind Monster Tale—which I thoroughly enjoyed–as well as Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, which I’ve not gotten to try, but sounds stellar. This developer loves the DS/3DS scenario, building entire games around using both screens simultaneously and with purpose. And so, with confidence, I tried out the demo and found it to be an all right time, with what looked like the promise of a Suikoden-style castle that you’d be upgrading over time as you found lost cartoon characters and did mini-quests for them. Ultimately, that didn’t turn out to be exactly it, but whatever. The game had the look and sorta feel of those older Mickey Mouse games we all played in our younger days, and between the console version and the portable one, I knew which version I’d enjoy more. Or at least I thought I did.
There are many problems with Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, but let’s start with its pacing. It’s slow, bogged down by endless screens of exposition or contrived dialogue from Disney characters you’d expect more from. Mizrabel the Witch has stolen a bunch of cartoons, and it’s up to Mickey to rescue everyone. Simple enough, I guess, and the witch can take on the appearance of other Disney villains to keep you guessing for a long while. The opening of the game takes at least ten to fifteen minutes before you are even doing anything platformer-like, and basic abilities like “jumping” and “attacking” are doled out one by one to keep things moving at a glacier’s ramming speed.
The pace is further hampered by the game’s main touting point: painting. Mickey has the power to paint and/or erase objects in the world. To do this, you use the bottom screen to either trace the outline of an object or erase it fully. This takes a few seconds to do, and then a few seconds more to actually see your work realized. Now, a few seconds here and a few seconds there don’t seem like much, but you are literally pausing the action every few steps to paint or erase something, and it eventually becomes a bother, to the point that you no longer care about getting “Perfect” ratings with your tracing, scribbling around the outline as fast as possible just to get it over with. I ended up despising the painting aspect so much that I actively avoided it wherever I could; before each level, you can bring certain “sketches” with you, such as Goofy or a treasure chest, which, so long as you have the paint, you can use over and over again. I think I used the treasure chest once, and never bothered with any other sketches as, again, they just weren’t worth the effort and the time-sink.
Let’s talk about side quests, as they surprisingly make up a large chunk of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. They come in two forms: fetch quests or draw something. You are either fetching someone an item or straight up drawing it into existence for them. Oh wait, there’s a third category: go down the hall and talk to X, which should be self-evident. The fetch quests are probably the most annoying of the three, as they require you to hop back into levels you’ve already completed to find something that wasn’t there before. They aren’t difficult–well, depending on the level’s design–but they are a bit of a waste of time, especially since you can use a special currency to basically overwrite these quests and move on with your life. I did that a lot. There was no other reason to hoard these special star things, and so I cheated my way through many questlines. One of the more important quests is to get Uncle Scrooge back on his feet so that he can operate an upgrade store, which provides bonuses to melee damage, health, paint and thinner capacity, and so on; this is where you’ll spend all those Disney dollars you collect in every level.
Without a doubt, the breaking point for me was getting to the Castle South Wing, also known as the water levels. These are based around The Little Mermaid and someone’s love for Satan and masochism. To begin, Mickey’s jumping is floaty, and not in a good way. You spend the whole game getting used to it, only to then be in a water level that takes his floatiness to a whole new level. Now you have to deal with extra float, spikes on cavern ceilings, swimming enemies, and maneuvering around tiny platforms. Hands down, these were some of the worst water levels I’ve suffered through, and I’m the guy that actually enjoys them in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country. These are such pains in the butt that each one took multiple attempts and then, once discovering that new fetch quests opened up in all of them, I said “eff off” and never went back once. I suspect a lot of gamers might even just give up here. I nearly did.
The greatest thing Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion has going for it is its visuals, which never fail to wow. Seriously, every screen is colorful and layered, with hand-drawn and scrolling backgrounds that really make fantastic use of the system’s 3D tech. It looks, in my opinion, superior than its console counterpart(s), and the long stretches of exposition are made slightly more enjoyable thanks to great looking art. I don’t remember who said it exactly, but concept art for Disney Epic Mickey has always looked better than the final product. Here, that “concept art” is the game. So…that’s a win.
But that’s about it for Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, a disappointment in all meanings. Supposedly there was a fourth section of the castle to explore, but it was cut due to timely deadlines. Not sure if that would have saved the game or not, as surely it would’ve been more of the same, but with new things to look at it. Just goes to show that strenuous development cycle this adventure went through though. Even if you’re the biggest Disney fanatic, the magic won’t last long. Try Monster Tale or dig out your Sega Genesis and a dusty copy of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse instead. Trust me.