Monday, November 1, 2010

'Epic Mickey' review

"Disney Epic Mickey is an upcoming Mickey Mouse video game designed by Warren Spector, with 2D cinemas by Powerhouse Animation Studios, Inc. and developed by Junction Point Studios for the Wii console, using Emergent Game Technologies' Gamebryo Engine. Epic Mickey is part of an effort by The Walt Disney Company to re-brand the Mickey Mouse character by moving away from his current pleasant, cheerful image and reintroducing the more devious side of his personality."
I have mixed feelings about Disney’s latest foray into the world of video games. When I first saw the logo (above), I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and the intro for the game totally turned me off. It felt gratuitously dark – even though the appearance of Yen Sid scored major nostalgic win points – and just seemed like an attempt by Disney to ‘update’ Mickey for a new generation of edgy, postmodern kids. I totally see the marketing logic there, but I’m a bit of a traditionalist who believes my old-school animated characters should be left alone.

That being said, they’ve all but sold me on the concept; a world of forgotten characters, with special focus on Oswald. For those who don’t know the story, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was actually Walt Disney’s first character. He created a series of shorts with Oswald, then went to his distributors to ask for more money to make more toons. Not only did they terminate his contract, they stole the rights to Oswald and sent Walt packing. It does seem cruel, yes, but think of it this way; if Walt hadn’t lost the rights to Oswald, he wouldn’t have had any reason to make Mickey. Can you imagine how different the face of animation would be? I wouldn’t be writing a review for a game called ‘Epic Mickey,’ for one thing.

At its most basic level, the premise of the game is entirely appealing. Mickey is drawn (haha) into an alternate universe behind his mirror, where he discovers Yen Sid creating a world for forgotten characters, a kind of mirror (haha), if you will, to the Disney Land and Disney World parks of the real world. He intends them to be a safe-haven for these characters that time has forgotten. (Oswald, the Mad Scientist, the Phantom Blot...) Yen Sid steps away from his table and in true Apprentice form, Mickey starts messing with the paints. He creates the Phantom Blot and spills thinner all over Yen Sid’s creation, effectively destroying it. Mickey escapes back into his own world and enjoys a meteoric rise to fame and a comfortable life – until the Phantom Blot returns and sucks Mickey back through the mirror and into the now-ravaged world of forgotten toons. Before he can be dragged down, though, Mickey manages to grab Yen Sid’s magic paintbrush, which the Blot seems to be afraid of. Now – you guessed it – Mickey must use this magic brush to save Toon Land.

As more footage appears for the game I’m starting to get more and more on board. I’m even starting to warm up to the darker aspects of the story, now that I’m getting a feel for how they’ll be used. What really did it for me, though, was the release of a 2D cut scene – 2D! Imagine that! – where Mickey is shown downtown toon land (Mean Street; a reference to Disney World’s ‘Main Street) by a character named Gus, and where, in a shot that actually gave me chills, Mickey comes across the famous statue of himself holding Walt Disney’s hand… except that it isn’t Mickey holding Walt’s hand, it’s Oswald. A look at what could have been? Keep this up, Disney, and you’ll have a game with a story worth remembering.

This isn’t to say I’m totally sold on everything coming out of the game so far. For instance, some concept art was released showing a Donald cyborg. The fact that he’s a cyborg doesn’t really bother me in and of itself, but the stickler in me says that if this really is a world for ‘forgotten’ characters, then well-knowns like Donald and Goofy really don’t belong. Of course, I don’t know how these characters will be used. I have heard that they were actually created by Oswald to be counterparts to the real Donald and Goofy, which could work in the story.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the game is the fact that players will have the option to play Mickey evil. Yes, players can actually choose to align Mickey with the Phantom Blot and make even more of a mess out of the ravaged toon land. To add insult to injury, there has been an unsettling piece of concept art floating around the interwebs that depicts how Mickey’s design changes* when he is played evil. He actually becomes this sort of rat-skeleton creature. Not cool, Disney, not cool. I realize that Mickey is a bit of a goody-two-shoes, but I have to admit, I kinda love that about him. He really is a symbol for everything classic Disney animation is all about, and this ‘new’ approach to the character just feeds back into my initial complaint that ‘Epic Mickey’ is gratuitously edgy.

But again, I don’t know how that will play out either. In my Intro to Gaming class we discussed game psychology, and how the reward system is an essential part of any game. Players expect rewards for completing tasks successfully; a power-up, a useful item, a key to unlock the next level, and so on. Maybe there is no way to ‘beat’ the game with an evil Mickey, or perhaps the reward system wanes/disappears after a while. I’d love to see an uprising against evil!Mickey led by Oswald and the Donald cyborg.

All-in-all, I’m split. I’m excited about the new material that keeps pouring out onto YouTube. It looks like some great gameplay, and the concept – and inclusion of Oswald – is really working well. I’ll reserve judgment until the game is released and my friends with Wiis can tell me what it’s like.

* When I went back to look for this image, I couldn't find it anywhere. I did learn, however, that this concept of Mickey's design changing has been scrapped post focus-group tests. Apparently I wasn't the only one who had a problem with it.

(I like reviewing things and thought I'd give it a shot on this blog. If you liked it, feel free to tell me. If you didn't like, please feel free to tell me.)

No comments:

Post a Comment