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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Epic Mickey (Wii)

The long-anticipated collaboration between Disney and Warren Spector has finally arrived in the form of Epic Mickey for Nintendo's Wii. It's a brilliantly realized platformer that nearly matches the quality seen in Super Mario Galaxy, though it brings a few twists and surprises of its own. You play as the famous mouse and follow along on his journey, battling foes and helping friends with Mickey's special paint and thinner brushes. The game's brilliant design gives you plenty of freedom to explore and find many secrets. Its not a perfect game but, these minor flaws don't over-ride Epic Mickey's charming execution and superb production values. This makes for one of the best Wii titles we've played to date, and a must-purchase for anyone who owns the console or is a fan of the classic Disney cartoons.

Much has been said about the legendary game designer Warren Spector's unexpected journey into Disney mythology and his attempt to bring the legendary Mickey Mouse back for a new generation of gamers, the promises become real once you play the game. Epic Mickey's concept is brilliant and helps to suck you right into its' beautifully realized world. As the game begins, Mickey finds himself sucked into a netherworld called the Wasteland. This is a place where forgotten characters end up, and as the charming opening cinema explains, a universe that the Mouse himself might have inadvertently created by messing around in a wizard's workshop. Epic Mickey lives up to its name in the scale of its quest and the game puts you in control of the famous mouse as he seeks to fix the Wasteland, fight the evil blots that have taken it over and find his way home. Unfortunately, the blot monsters have taken over large portions of the wasteland and stand in his way. This leads to one of the more interesting aspects of the game that occurs when Mickey encounters them. He can choose to either attack them with his thinner brush or try and turn them into friends by using his paint. Thinner gets rid of them quicker, and is also quite dangerous to Mickey if it splashes back. However, when he gets them on his side, they can potentially help him and his virtuous actions also help his reputation with the other toons. As he explores the world of the Wasteland, he'll also encounter numerous friends who come in two types. He'll find many goblins laying around and sometimes trapped. If he chooses to free them, they'll usually repay his gratitude by fixing something, which can open a new path and areas for him to explore. There's also a group of guardians who will help him along in another unique way. By holding the wiimote straight up, they'll light up a path that will help him see the way forward, which helps immensely in some of the larger levels where the next objective isn't easy to see.

What's most impressive about the design is how seamlessly its brush and paint system is integrated into the rest of Epic Mickey's gameplay mechanics. To keep things simple, each type of paint assigned to one button on the wiimote and nunchuck. In addition to attacking enemies, the paint and thinner mechanic acts to build or destroy objects in the Wasteland. For example, Mickey sometimes encounters bridges that are partially collapsed and can fill them in using his paint brush. There are also barriers that seem impossible to pass, but using the thinner can erase these objects and clear a path for him. When you're in this mode, control changes from standard platform to first person, and you merely need to point the wiimote at the general area to accomplish your goal. To keep things accessible for a broad audience, painting and thinning is simple and the developers have implemented a forgiving mechanic. This means that you don't need to be precisely accurate, which makes the paint system one of the more ingenious and engaging we've seen on the Wii to date. This system also wins points because it encourages players to experiment and play around in certain sections of the game. Even though some objects seem very dangerous, you can change them by adding or subtracting to mitigate them. The paint can also be used to create objects, such as gears and platforms that are essential to progression in the game. While it might not be immediately obvious, some areas are seen as transparent outlines that you need to fill in, others are slightly mis-colored, which makes them stand out. This approach might seem complicated but Epic Mickey's intuitive approach makes the paint/thinner system easy to learn and use.

Most of the other controls are fairly good as well, and make the game an intuitive joy to play. The game's platforming elements are straightforward with Mickey's movement controlled using the standard analog joystick while his special actions can be performed by shaking the wiimote around a bit. The designers at Junction Point have also included a handy camera system that can be controlled using the standard cross-bar controller on the wiimote. It's not always completely smooth but it mostly works. There are occasional glitches where its hard to see where you're going, but these are sporadic and don't really hurt the game's overall quality. Epic Mickey's structure doesn't suffer from these points, and it's a nicely rounded platformer with many familiar elements. The game's levels are divided in smaller quests, where you usually have to complete one section of the area before moving on to the next. This usually involves getting a group of gears working or clearing out a section of a level. There's a lot of variety in these quests which can involve closing all the thinner-leaking pipes, collecting pieces of a broken ride or restoring a section of bridges. You'll also need to be aware of dangerous whirlpools and have to avoid falling into the rivers of thinner, which can quickly decimate Mickey's power-bar. As you navigate each level, you'll also find numerous bonus objects such as E-bucks, currency Mickey can use to buy uogrades or other items, additional paint and thinner buckets, life-restoring items and bonus objects such as film reels, which can be used to unlock cinematic sequences and cartoons. These extras give you a strong motivation to keep playing and earning extras and unlockable content.

Epic Mickey's gameplay flows naturally from one sequence to another and the main game is very nicely designed and cohesive. You can play through several levels in one sitting and even losing your energy bar isn't much of a problem thanks to the game's frequent save points and respawns. Completing the various quests in the game isn't much of a problem thanks to the relatively straightforward mission design and placement of objectives. There's plenty of jumping from platform to platform and fights, and the pacing is generally fairly good. As stated earlier in the review, the game's storyline is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable as you and Mickey search out lost characters, including the infamous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who have been trapped in the Wasteland for many years. You can definitely see that a lot of care and concern has gone into the game's storyline and its levels, most of which are based on long-forgotten Disney theme park rides. Epic Mickey definitely straddles the line between a cartoon history lesson and a contemporary video game and does so successfully because neither element is over-bearing. One of the coolest aspects of the game are the intercessions between levels where the action switches to a traditional 2D approach. Here, you are given the opportunity to travel through famous cartoons including Mickey's first appearance in 'Steamboat Willie' and other significant moments in his history. You can also collect additional items in these sections as well, which makes them important to the main game as well. There are many small touches like this that make the game feel and play incredibly smoothly. Epic Mickey is definitely one of the better designed titles we've seen available on the Wii and it's long quest is satisfying without becoming excessively frustrating.

Epic Mickey's gameplay is superb and highly-polished, delivering an outstanding platforming experience from start to finish, but its presentation also deserves praise. From the outset, its brilliantly designed cut-scenes set an appealing stage. You're quickly immersed in a surprisingly interesting storyline that goes a bit deeper into Disney myth and legend than you're used to seeing. Half-remembered characters appear while more familiar ones show up in new forms which keeps your interest level high. The tension between the good and evil sides keeps you constantly on guard, but the overall feel isn't nearly as dark as some of the early previews might have indicated. A lot of this has to do with the way Epic Mickey allows you to transform the wasteland areas from somewhat depressing, dark sections into brighter more welcoming sections. Performing these transformations is one of the more enjoyable parts of the game. The task of repainting these areas brings them back to life. Its graphics engine itself is quite impressive and represents some of the best visuals on the Wii to date. Each level is loaded with details, with large areas to explore and secrets to uncover. As you'd expect, Epic Mickey's animation is beautiful as well, with vivid colors and vibrant backdrops making the game feel like an interactive cartoon throughout. The production values are superb and the game frequently hits high notes in its approach and execution.

An appropriately cinematic soundtrack accompanies the action, enhancing Epic Mickey's cartoon roots, though it does tend to become a little tedious at points. While there are a few minor issues with the camera sytem, the can be correctly manually with little effort in most cases and it doesn't detract from the experience. Epic Mickey is a fantastic game for the most part - and delivers on much of its promise. This could have been another case of slapping a license on a few gimmicky gameplay mechanics, but the game's vision remains quite coherent throughout. Most third-parties have seen the console as a dumping ground for third-rate titles, but Warren Spector's team at Junction Point have proven what can be accomplished with a little effort and by playing to the console's strengths. Unfortunately, too few developers have the vision and intelligence to really take advantage of the Wii's innovative features. Wii owners should put this frustration aside for a moment, because Epic Mickey succeeds on its merits as well. It's appealing storyline and challenging, yet not frustrating gameplay makes it fun to play without becoming tedious. There are a few sections that seem a little bit less polished than others, but these are very small faults on an otherwise superb gaming experience. Epic Mickey is one of the best Wii titles released to date, with outstanding gameplay, brilliant visuals, execution and polish marking it as a definitive a high-point for the system.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A-

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