Launching a sequel to a platform-exclusive title across several formats can be somewhat of a risk. Especially when that game, perhaps, didn’t perform as spectacularly as was expected and therefore didn’t make a huge mark in the marketplace. Epic Mickey on the Wii had some fantastic design ideas and tried to take a mature look at the Walt Disney universe. It was by no means perfect, but deserved to be experienced and enjoyed by more gamers. The sequel is looking to right that problem, and by going multi-platform as well as adding drop in, drop out co-op, Disney Interactive and Lead Designer Warren Spector (of Deus Ex fame) hope to attract a broader range of players. GodisaGeek got an extended hands-on with a PlayStation 3 preview build of the game recently, and we got to see a variety of the new gameplay mechanics that have been added to the title.
We started off in Yensid’s lab, the workplace of the Sorcerer from Fantasia, whose powers allowed Mickey to enter the Wasteland in the first game and begin his adventure. This area is simply a short tutorial, where the game teaches you the basics such as using paint to fill in semi-visible objects and using thinner to make them invisible again, for example, as well as your basic platforming controls, and special attacks. This kind of tutorial is fairly standard in modern gaming, but it is certainly welcome here as a lot of gamers will not have played the first title when they pick up Epic Mickey 2. In this game though, Oswald will follow Mickey around at all times (whether in co-op or not), and he possesses skills that Mickey does not. For example, he can use his ears as a helicopter, to carry Mickey, and he holds a TV-style Zapper, that can access control panels and deliver shocks to enemies. The player, or players, need to make good use of combining the skills of both characters in order to tackle both puzzles and enemies throughout the game.
Before getting into the meat of the game, we are treated to a viewing of an early musical sequence. A big part of the sequel is that it will be taking on an old-school musical film feeling, with big songs and musical numbers punctuating the story. In this one – which was made public earlier this year – the Evil Doctor who appeared in the first game professes his sadness and wants to make amends by helping Mickey and Oswald. Indeed, for this sequel Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – who was one of the antagonists in the original game – is now teaming up with Mickey to tackle the new troubles in the Wasteland. And that is where the two player elements come from. The musical sequence is suitably Disney, being directed like a stage musical, with big choreographed performances throughout the song. It is also very funny, so even those of you who dislike singing films should still be entertained by the silliness of it all.
Then we head straight into the Gulch stage which is based on the original Frontierland Western area of the Disneyland parks. Of course though, being the Wasteland, things aren’t cute and cuddly and nothing looks quite right. Aside from that, the world is inhabited by the spatters, creatures left over after Mickey defeated the Blot in the first title. The first thing you notice is that, of course, the game looks really great, complete with high definition graphics that couldn’t be pulled off in the first game. Things are crisp and the world looks like a cartoon come to life, which is exactly what the team are aiming for. As mentioned before with the songs, the audio is also spot on, with the voices, incidental music and effects really fitting in perfectly with the Disney gone awry aesthetic.
One of the big selling points of the game though is the fact that you can tackle levels in several different ways, and there is a degree of freedom as to how you proceed. To escape from the first area of the Gulch, you need to catch a train which is out of power. You need to collect power spheres, of which there are three. Collect three, and you will get a safe passage through to the next level. However, you can choose to only collect two, or even one, but this will result in a harder route in further stages. In the same way, most levels have alternate passages through them. In the second area we got a look at in the preview - the Floatyard, where all the old Disneyland parade floats are kept – there are a myriad of different doors you can discover which will take you on easier, or more difficult routes to the next part of the stage. This really creates a great sense of discovery as you’ll want to explore the levels and try out your paint thinner on walls to see if there is anything hidden behind them, or paint new pathways where you can, in order to reach new areas. The fact that the game offers such a variety of ways to complete each stage is a great inclusion.
We are also told that depending on your actions throughout the game, the levels will change and stay that way, adapting to how you play. For instance, if you destroy a set of trees in Fort Wilderness on your first visit to the level, when you return there later those same trees will still have been felled, and you won’t be able to use them as a route through the area. The fact that the game will respond to your choices is an exciting prospect, and is illustrated by our interactions with a certain NPC character in the Fort Wilderness stage. Here, a ghost called Ian has been looking after the lost Spatters, who have no leader or guidance after the Blot was defeated. He seems friendly, and doesn’t want you to harm his new friends the Spatters. As you progress through the level, the different Spatters (there are basic ones, fat exploding ones and flying ones, amongst others) will attack you if you get close to them.
You can therefore choose to use thinner on them, which erases them forever, or to paint them, which simply befriends them. Paint them and Ian will lend you a hand, and re-appear later in the game to offer you more help and advice. Kill the Spatters though, and Ian gets mad, sending more enemies your way and vowing you will never see him again; and he actually won’t appear in the game again. The fact that the game actually offers these choices, where you will change a large part of the remainder of the game by your actions, really makes you consider the way in which you approach almost very obstacle. Will you help or hurt the Spatters? Will you re-paint the world and make it lush, or thin out everything? Of course, you can do a mixture of things as you go along, depending on what you think will suit each situation, but the NPCs in the game will remember what you did, and treat you well, or badly, accordingly.
You must use your paint and thinner wisely as you progress through levels, as they will help you find secret items and reach unobtainable treasures. You can fill out an area fully with paint, or render it empty with thinner. Your actions effect the water found in areas, paint a lot of things, and the water will run blue, which offers a restorative boost, replenishing your health. Thin things out, and the water turns green and offers different effects. This also carries over to the fountains that can be found in levels. For instance, in the Blot Alley level of the game, you can choose a stealth or action route. Stealth requires you to power up a fountain you find with blue water (by painting nearby objects), which will cover Mickey in Invisible ink if he jumps in. With this, he will remain hidden from enemies as long as he moves slowly. Want to attack the enemies head on? Why not try the thinner option, the Indelible ink, which covers Mickey in a protective shield for a short amount of time, so he can take more damage. just another example of how you can choose to tackle a level in different ways.
We have only scratched the surface of the title, and by no means covered everything that was on show, such as boss battles and even the return of the side-scrolling platform levels that are based on classic black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons, but there is so much on offer in Epic Mickey 2, it is truly packed with content. However, despite that, we have got a strong impression of what the game is trying to do, and the sensibilities that it exudes. Your choices and their consequences are clearly one of the major concerns of the new game, much in the same way as the Deus Ex games, so the influence of Warren Spector on the team is obvious. This will hopefully lead to a re-playable, deep game that offers players the chance to play it their way, and carve their own path through the narrative. That is quite an evolved concept for a title that most will just see as a Disney cash-in. Let us just hope that the game can reach a wider audience this time around, and people can see what it really is all about.
Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will launch in the UK on November 23rd, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii. Also released on the same day will be Disney Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion, exclusively for Nintendo 3DS. The Wii U version will release just one week later on November 30th.