The idea that this game is a spiritual successor to the Illusion games is strange. I mean, Epic Mickey as a series is probably more of a detriment as a name than it is a sales boost by now surely, so I guess using the Illusion series as a jumping off point isn't too ludicrous an idea, but still, when I think about the Illusion series and then turn my thoughts to this one again, this game feels all too primitive and stale in its mechanics and premise. After successfully filching this game off my friend as a kid, World of Illusion kept me entertained for many a weekend, as did its two predecessors. I think you'd find it hard in this day and age to find someone who doesn't have an affinity for Disney, whether it be the golden-age games that they released or the movies that we all cherish, Disney has been there for us as kids and they continued to be there for us as adults, however, video games have changed so much in the last two decades and because of these changes (especially to licensed games and the complications that surround their development), Epic Mickey almost resembles nothing of the great platforming that the previous games brought to the table... And in a way, who can blame them? It isn't just Disney that have lost the way when it comes to licensed games, it has happened to everyone and it is a damn near miracle if a licensed games comes out as anything but "OK" in this day and age, as sad a fact as it is.
But a few years ago a glimmer of hope was unraveled to the gaming public in the form of the original Epic Mickey's concept art. A sight for sore-eyes, Epic Mickey looked like the Disney game people had been wanting for years. However upon release, Epic Mickey wasn't quite the power-house for creativity that it seemed and as word got out, the public's perception of Epic Mickey took a nosedive in a bad direction and attention was diverted to other games with close releases. But it wasn't just Mickey's direction that stifled his critical/commercial success, the core mechanics and the novel idea of the game just wasn't strong enough and it suffocated under its own mediocrity. With Epic Mickey 2 out now, Disney are planning to reconcile with the user, however it doesn't seem like it is having success as planned and much like the original, seems to be a game to be lost to time. In fact, as these games go, the public opinions seems to strongly be in the camp of the original being better than the successor. However, one of more interest to people is the target of this review, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. Another glimmer of hope for the series, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion plays off Disney's golden-era mechanics, dimension, feel and aesthetic. So it's with great sadness that I now explain in moderate detail, just why Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion isn't a very good game.
As the game starts, Oswald the Rabbit tells Mickey that the Castle of Illusion has been spotted in the Wasteland and that Minnie was seen inside of it... and from there, you get a ridiculous drawn out story-line that could have been told within a 2 minute cut-scene, instead we see cameo's from various Disney characters (not that they aren't needed, but without them the cut-scene would take about a minute) and strenuously long dialogue between Oswald, Mickey and others. If there was ever a definition for unneeded, you found it. However, the opening dialogue isn't the extent of the games dirty work, conversations between Mickey and various characters inside of the game aren't any better. Throughout the game you will pick up various characters from the Disney catalogue and bring them back to the Fortress, your hub of sorts for the game. With this meet and greet comes a mess of dialogue that semi-references the movie in which the characters were in, but it's never interesting dialogue that strengthens anyone's character, just bland casual talk and Mickey telling them to go to the Fortress, it does nothing to further your level of enjoyment or your connection with the game, nor the characters.
So when it comes to it, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion has two great strengths: Its artistic feel and its sound. Aesthetically this game just looks great, it has a Disney vibe which can only be described as such and when you say it, everyone understands. It looks pretty saturated in a tasteful way, the character art looks just great, everything about it down to the design of the levels is industry standard and then some. It is strange that we have seen the 3DS do 3D and in a very impressive way yet here we are, looking at a 2D game, although I must admit it does make sense considering the history of this series, plus the actual 3D effect from the 3DS itself does look subtle and impressive. Sound-wise they made a really great investment by making the music orchestral in style, with a standout being the music in the level "Under the Sea" and another being the level "London Skies" both of these songs feel epic in nature and more importantly, fun. They sound just fantastic, no tracks feeling stridulent, overblown or pretentious. I would say that if you are going to listen to any 3DS game through headphones, this would be the one. It's just too good to let go to waste, even if the 3DS speakers aren't too shabby, sticking a pair of Sennheiser's in there wouldn't go a miss. If I had to compliment any part of this game, it would definitely be these aspects.
But regardless of its brownie points, Power of Illusion always feels like the "also-ran" of platformers. The floaty nature of the jumping mechanic, coupled with the sedentary nature of the platforming altogether feels like the divine synthesis of mediocrity and it has been shown through countless platformers before that this combination is pretty much a game-killer. The problem is, no matter how much wow your platformer has simply by virtue of the fact that it's Disney, nothing will replace the constant reminder of its monotony when the platforming is so half-empty. It really hurts to say it, because regardless of how this review is sounding, anyone who plays this game will want to like this game. It's inevitable. It's a world that you can get engrossed in, no matter how much it dives into the Disney catalogues for inspiration, it just doesn't matter, it's a wonderful world. It's just the gameplay (among a few other aspects) surrounding it that destroys the entertainment value. I think it's really hard to shoot this game down on this aspect because of the underlying fact that actually, it isn't terrible gameplay realistically, it's just how it's implemented and how slow everything is. At the start it's all dandy because you are taking in the scenery, the classic graphical composition of the enemies and Mickey... it's all pretty splendid until you get far enough into the game that it all becomes tedious. Making a Disney game suck on a purely mechanical level sucks for no other reason than it could have been so, so great if that was fixed.
OK so let's us not dwell on the inevitable round-up. Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is both a bad game and one of the most disappointing games of 2012. The underlying dread of having to play more of it after a few hours is incentive enough to not pick it up anymore and stop playing it. For the things that are so right with it, there is the you know, actual gameplay. Whilst the general graphical presentation is fantastic and the soundtrack is high up there for me when it comes to video game soundtracks of 2012, there really is nothing I can say that can defend how this game plays. 2012 is a fantastic year for video games, believe me when I say you don't need this hot-mess all up in your life. Maybe, one day, we'll see the Disney we knew from the past, but for now, just go back and play that Castle of Illusion cart you have lying around. You'll like yourself 100% more afterward.
Written by Jonathan Moore,
January 14th, 2013