Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion Review

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion Review

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.

Altogether: 46%

Written by Jonathan Moore,
January 14th, 2013
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Video Game Cartoons: The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3

As ideas for articles have come and gone, I started to think about using them repeatedly, as a series of articles, if you will. Developing ideas for new articles in the A Look Back series and England Doesn't Have WHAT?! Is fairly easy, mostly because an unbiased, nostalgic look back at a show is fairly easy to muster, it's in my nature (even when I have watched the show over and over as a younger me) to criticize it and leave no weakness unturned, plus there are plenty shows that we just haven't got round these parts. But developing an original series over again is interesting, one that demands more creative flow and time. So when I found another series that I could do just as easily, I was fairly relieved. I grew up, like a lot of people, playing video games. Video games played as much a part in my childhood (or maybe even more) than television, movies or music. It wasn't a creative release like music would become for me, it was pure fun. It was an art that I hadn't realized was an art yet and I was... well, slightly addicted as a kid. I look back on it now and it's only a decade later that I realize just how much of an affect these characters and worlds have had on my life.

So welcome to my new series of articles: Video Game Cartoons. This one is definitely a controversial one, as one side will remember some of these cartoons rather fondly, whilst the others won't have the nostalgia-tinge to understand it's place in history, nor have the experience with the games to understand it's worth. For me, a big reason I always wanted to watch these video game characters out in their own worlds was because I wanted to see the intricacies of how they (the locations and the characters) worked and interacted with each other, how do Mario and Luigi act? What about Toad and Princess Peach? How do the power-up's work in this world? Which power-up's will they use more frequently? Will they use the Frog-Suit more to align itself with this video game? These cartoons left us with many questions, sometimes answering them, sometimes leaving us with too many questions at the end of the series.

To push our attention to this particular show, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 is definitely one where our questions got answered more frequently than pushed aside. Mario 3 really brought the world of the video game to us, as opposed to others such as The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, where they decided to take different environments each episode, make Koopa a different type of referential pop-culture villain every time and fight (what I believe would have been) the more popular formula of a set world, with an all around looseness. Mario 3 was the Super Mario Bros in their own world, warp pipes, music blocks, question blocks and enemies included. The art style was largely unsaturated, a little grunge n' grain looking at times considering the source, not forgetting that the animation was choppy, continuously glitchy, goofed and problematic, but the charm of seeing the different worlds, Water World, Sand World... it was fantastic and almost made the problems of using an overseas studio to cheaply animate your show forgivable. It was what you wanted to see: Super Mario, his brother Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach getting into adventures and thwarting King Koopa.

In comparison to the Super Show, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 definitely got it's cast of enemies right. Where as the Super Show got it's enemies from the first and second Mario Bros games, they really didn't play an integral part in the series. They were just a vehicle to get Mario and Luigi in trouble, then for Koopa to imprison and make some wise-crack at the brothers, then for the brothers to finally escape and save the day. This time round, having the Koopa Kids with King Koopa was a wise investment. Although the personalities feel thin most of the time, it's enough for the voice actors to put their spin on these characters, giving enough to personify themselves far beyond the enemies of The Super Mario Bros Super Show! Fun fact: Nobody working for The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 at the time of it's development knew the names for the Koopa Kids, as they hadn't been told by Nintendo, so they made up names that corresponded with how they looked and acted.

The music is pretty interesting. Sound-effects being the core of what you'll remember and care about, as they use the actual sound-effect clips from the video games. When Mario jumps, jump sound. When he gets a power-up, power-up sound. It's really great to hear these sounds come to life, just as their characters do. Of course actual instrumental songs are taken from the video game frequently also, sometimes modifying the song with another melody line over the top. The songs are used tastefully, if a little too frequently. An interesting fact that is Milli Vanilli actually guest starred for one episode where Princess Peach goes to one of their concerts, but shortly after the initial airing of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 on NBC, the scandal broke out about the group and the masters were completely re-done to remove lines from the episode and the songs. The songs on the original master were Blame it on the Rain and Girl You Know it's True. If you're interested, the original airings are on Youtube. Also, TAOSMB3, much like the Super Show, decided to use songs that were popular at the time, or were popular at a certain point in history (although the songs on TAOSMB3 were covers, as opposed to the original recordings).

Now on the story... and to be honest, this is where it gets slightly janky. The animation is pretty much exactly what you wanted as a fan of Super Mario 3. It was that world. It was Warp-Pipes mid air, the Doom-Ship, Power-Up blocks and Music blocks, the works. The sound was what you wanted, it was the sound-effects from the video game, it was the music from the video game, it was complete. Now the story is two fold really. There are two types of stories in this series: Going to the real world, or staying in the Mushroom Kingdom. When staying in the Mushroom Kingdom, the stories are generally vibrant and at least marginally exciting to the fans of the show, which is really the only market and audience they have or should be striving to please. When switching between the kingdom and the real world... well, things take a turn for the worst. I guess it's because in the long run, who really CARES if you can put Mario and Luigi in the real world... we know they were from Brooklyn regardless thanks to the Super Show episodes, these episodes always just end up being monotonous thanks to the lack of power-up's, villains and vibrancy. Some episodes just end up being slightly... well, strange. Take the episode where Hip and Hop turn Luigi into a Dog, as well as the King of Ice Land. It's just... such a strange episode... it was nothing to do with Mario and Luigi saving the day... in fact thinking about it, I have no recollection of Mario being anywhere in this episode... which I guess is fine, but it's just a boring storyline about two guys becoming Dogs, then trying to become humans again.

I think The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 has a habit on relying on the Super Show's formula for success sometimes, unfortunately. It has a bad habit of playing the world itself loosely, as if anything can be interchangeable, which if they could have kicked the habit for good by the second half of the season, would have helped tremendously in making this one of the most enjoyable video game cartoons ever made. However, regardless of it having these graphical issues, storyline issues, paper-thin characters and personalities etc, this still ends up being one of the better video game cartoons ever made. Why? Because it gave us what we wanted all along: The World's. I wanted to see Water World, Ice World, Dark World, Sand World etc and I did get to see those, more importantly, I got to see how our heroes worked and used those environments to their advantage. It was an exciting and exhilarating experience because for so long we had been denied the continuous exploration of a set world. The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 gave us what the Super Show never did: reliability.

For my final thought: When I was younger, Super Mario 64 had not been released. I still had my Super Nintendo and the only way I could have possibly known Mario as having a voice, was from these cartoons. As I grew up and my friends grew up, Mario's trademark voice from Super Mario 64 became the norm, Koopa became Bowser, power-up's were used less etc etc, but I guess it speaks lengths about this show that more than a decade down, when I personally hear Mario in my head, he's the Italian-American, Brooklyn sounding, pipe-cleaning commoner that the cartoons made him to be, Luigi the same. Bowser is still Koopa in my head and although the video games eventually got round to using question boxes and other such items from the old Mario world again, they never left for me. These cartoons have had a huge effect on my life, this one especially. So should you check this out? Heck, even just for enjoyment I would say yes but as a historical view on Nintendo at this point in time, when Mario, Luigi and King Koopa ruled the world... Yes... oh goodness, Yes.

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