Hands On: Disney’s Epic Mickey
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Developer: Junction Point / Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios / ESRB: E
Meet Creative Director Warren Spector, and enjoy a guided tour of Epic Mickey and Disneyland…and note, this is not the Disney game for your kid brother.
“Please don’t tell anyone I’m actually a six-year old,” says Warren Spector as he stands on the patio of Walt Disney’s private apartment, a special VIP-only “attraction” in the animation legend’s Disneyland Park. That six-year old’s spirit of giddiness has fueled and empowered his studio’s faithful and deeply honoring recreation of Disney’s most iconic character as he aims for a return to videogame glory. So, apologies to Warren, but I don’t think you’re at all ashamed of the schoolboy enthusiasm you exuded all day as we played a near-complete build of Disney’s Epic Mickey, then toured many of the sites and attractions that inspired the game. If you want to understand what it means to have a passion for the subject of your chosen craft, then Warren Spector is the living embodiment of six-year old glee wrapped in the creative, story-telling talent of a visionary game director who now has some 20 revered products to his credit (Deus Ex, Thief, Ultima Underworld, Wing Commander, and more). So as the November 30 launch of Disney’s Epic Mickey looms, how will it fare as the poster child for broad-appeal with hardcore depth Wii gaming? Our hands-on report…
If Spector blushed during his day in the glorious early November sun bathing what was clearly his own personal Field of Dreams, it wasn’t when young park-goers mistook him for Stephen Spielberg. That happens often enough for him to crush kids’ opportunities for playground stardom by telling them the truth that he’s really not that guy…or occasionally rolling with it since it’s easier to nod and say “nice to meet you.” Nor was it when caught with the proverbial frog in his throat when explaining how special it was to stand in Disney’s apartment, or telling a personal tale of seeing the original Haunted Mansion at the World’s Fair in New York City before it was shipped, piece by piece, to its home in Anaheim, CA. No, Spector was most coy when some of the assembled media waxed lyrical about their own personal Disney fan stories. It was those cool twentysomethings getting their own giddy on amid families of park-goers that seemed to have the most impact. These were Spector’s people; reveling in the opportunity to investigate Mickey’s Wasteland. Yes, the game; Disney’s Epic Mickey is absolutely not just for kids. Not that its themes are particularly adult, but what stood out during our time jumping around several of the different areas in the game, is that it’s deep. Multiple options to solve puzzles; choices in who to help, and how; and a 3D world that requires deft Wii control skill to navigate.
From a story perspective, Disney’s Epic Mickey evokes images and memories from some of those earlier Disney cartoons, when darker sub-texts lurked just below the surface of kids’ Saturday morning fun fare. To that end, the game unveils a character from Disney’s epic past. Oswald hasn’t been the subject of a cartoon or property since 1927 when Walt lost the rights to the anarchic bunny. It was that real-world contractual dispute that resulted in the animator working on a new character, this time a mouse. The one with the ears.
This story forms the foundation for Epic Mickey‘s plot progression. When Mickey walks through his mirror into a magical world, the playful rodent causes catastrophe as his messing with paint and thinner at a sorcerer’s table unleashes the Blot that turns their world into a fractured Wasteland. Though Mickey escapes, and continues his days without consequence for his actions, eventually he’s pulled back. His heart is what will allow him to escape, but the how, the when, and even the why involves a journey through scenes and settings inspired by the various Disney parks around the world, along with the vast back catalogue of content.
In our play-test we jumped around the opening level area and began to learn how to use paint to fill in missing portions of the game world in order to earn respect or help, or just because it made the place look better. We learned how to use thinner to erase pieces that could help remove objects blocking the path, or dispatch items helping an enemy. We waggled the Wiimote to perform a spin attack against some of the enemies, and we double-jumped across platforms to reach new areas or to snag collectibles. Disney’s Epic Mickey is crammed with collectibles, pins, and e-tickets that encourage exploration and provide rewards in the form of concept art and goodies to satisfy hardcore Disney fans.
It will certainly take a while to complete, and as testimony to the depth, Spector said a single play-through was about 26 hours, and it might take three completions to find all the collectibles. As a third-person action adventure on the Wii the control may take a little while for many players to master. Certainly younger gamers hoping to play with Mickey may fall off a few ledges in the opening acts. But the visual effects around the Wasteland, traveling to locations based on the attractions appears sure to keep pulling you through. What was most surprising was the variable routes you could take, and the different methods of defeating puzzles and monsters. We fought a boss battle with Captain Hook that featured two distinct methods — one solving puzzles on the ship deck while dodging his shots, the other climbing the rigging and leaping, painting, and thinning in quick succession to send him to the croc. Rescuing Oswald, earning Mickey redemption for past actions, and seeing the game’s conclusion definitely looks to be a truly epic quest.
The day concluded with a dinner where two Disney artists were creating custom sketches for the assembled media. Spector himself was the last to get his choice… and who did he want for his personal collection: Oswald.
And to see more on the park experience through the inimitable style of Khail.Anonymous, check out his interview with Warren Spector and personal sight-seeing experience at Disneyland…
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