Disney Epic Mickey is one of the exclusive Wii games I’m most looking forward too. Helmed by video game god Warren Spector, the platformer’s release is likely to be one of the few times when PS3 and Xbox 360 owners will experience Wii envy. Recently I got a chance to play the beginning of the game.
After the opening cut scene that established the premise (Mickey enters a cartoon world armed with a paint brush and paint thinner), the demo began with yet another elaborate, Disney-style cut scene in which Mickey has to deal with a mad scientist. Once gameplay starts a game tutorial has the mouse destroying dangerous machinery and jumping over chasms.
After this he gets to use the game’s unique painting mechanism, in which he can dissolve specified sections of the game world or paint in missing scenery. For example, when confronted with a part of a path blocked by rubble, he can use paint thinner to make the path disappear, at which point the rubble will fall into the nothingness, and then paint the path back in so he can continue his journey.
Paint can also be used in battle, where you have a choice of attacking enemies or of painting them into helpful friends. Since I only had a single battle with a weak tutorial monster I can’t really say how much fun combat will be.
After the fancy opening cut scenes it was a surprise to see further bridging cut scenes done in a primitive style that is apparently based on the work of an early Disney animator. I didn’t love the look, but I think I could get used to it.
The early gameplay is fairly typical of platformers. Mickey can do a single or double jump and has a spin attack triggered by a shake of the Wii remote. Half the time I shook the remote nothing happened, something that will hopefully be fixed by the final build.
As Mickey explores he can break open objects to gain health or tickets that can be used for upgrades, although the demo didn’t show me how upgrading will work. I like games where items are magnetically drawn towards your avatar, but in this one I had to break objects and then jump or run to get the items revealed.
While the main game is in 3D, occasionally Mickey will enter into a Disney movie, which is a 2D platforming world based on an old Disney short. The first one of these is simple and honestly rather forgettable.
The most Warren Spectorish moment in the game is one in which the player is confronted with a caged game character attached to a treasure chest. You can save the character or open the chest, but you can’t do both. I’m told that if you save the character then later in the game he will help you out, whereas if you take the treasure he won’t.
I was also told that the game would keep track of what sort of player I was by watching things like how I use the paint and paint thinner. This is the game that will tell you whether you are a builder or a destroyer?
My excitement about Epic Mickey is based on its connection with Warren Spector, whose most notable games like Deus Ex: Invisible War allowed players an unusual amount of control over how they wanted the game to unfold. It’s worth considering what I would think of this game based purely on the demo, if I had never heard of Spector and his promises of bringing Deus Ex-style freedom to the platforming genre.
The answer is, I would say this is a good-looking, solidly-made platformer with a somewhat interesting game mechanic that shows promise but has some control issues. Nothing in the demo makes the game look like something extraordinary, but that was true when I saw a demo of Invisible War many years ago.
Ultimately Spector does not make games that seem like something extraordinarily different in the first half hour. So even if the first level of Mickey did not blow me away, my faith in the game remains unshaken, and I am still eagerly awaiting its November 30th release.