October 21, 2012

The House of Mouse

Disney Epic Mickey 2
It’s hard to believe Warren Spector hasn’t always worked with Disney.

Spector visited Toronto last week along with writer Marv Wolfman to discuss the upcoming sequel to 2010’s Disney Epic Mickey, taking a moment to show off his Disney themed socks before demonstrating his extensive knowledge of the company’s animation history.

From documents and sketches hidden away in the Disney vault to pointing out the three rare instances where Mickey Mouse appeared in releases with differently angled ears, there’s no doubt that Spector has the deepest of appreciation for the source material painstakingly analyzed by Junction Point in creating a game that balances the need to chart their own course for Mickey while still honoring the years of work that have made Mickey the icon that he is today.

As impressed as I often am by passion, labors are not forgiven for shortcomings because of the love poured into them. But while Epic Mickey 2 carries the weight of criticisms regarding the original release, it’s very easy to believe that Spector’s motivation remains fixed on the earnest attempt to create a game worthy of the respect he continually pays to the house of mouse. And while Spector isn’t shy about pointing out that the original Wii exclusive sold quite well despite the critical reception, he doesn’t shy away from addressing complaints about the camera system and choice driven narrative that this sequel needs to improve upon on the road to realizing the original vision.

Disney Epic Mickey 2
Of course, preview time makes it hard to gauge how well these two points are addressed with the new outing. Larger open spaces make a camera less aggravating in the taste tests offered, and while Spector insists that a myriad of choices will have profound consequences throughout the game, there’s really no way to test that theory without playing the entire game for oneself.

It’s very much a matter of faith until the release.

But where Junction Point could have simply addressed the camera issues and crammed a sequel out the door, the studio is delivering a game that now allows two players to experience the wasteland by filling the roles of Mickey and Oswald to work together. And with the power of two serving as the driving focus of the game, this means that many players will experience the game with an AI controlled Oswald in the absence of a second player.

It’s something Spector says he was against at the beginning given the difficulty other developers have had creating AI controlled partners that aren’t ten shades of incompetent, but also something Spector believes Junction Point has gotten right for this release. Add this to pins that affect a player’s abilities and Junction Point has significantly raised the stakes on making even more work this time around, leaving me feeling that based on the scale of the wager, Epic Mickey 2 stands to be one of the most interesting releases of 2012 regardless of the results.

As the intro sequence for Epic Mickey 2 played for the audience, I was completely distracted watching Spector as he watched the video. His eyes were fixed on the screen and as he smiled at the game’s opening musical number, I want to suggest he was fighting the urge to sing along. And if I could leave you with a reason to hope that Epic Mickey 2 is successful in overcoming the challenges of its predecessor to create the game Spector speaks so passionately about, it’s the way it made such a revered figure in the gaming industry seem like a child lost in the wonder of that creation, as if he was watching those early cartoons he speaks so fondly of.

The bar of my expectations is set rather high, and colored by my own criticism of the original release. But if Epic Mickey 2 can allow us to feel that for ourselves, than it won’t just be one of the most interesting releases of the year, but also one of the most important releases to date.

Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is set to release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U, along with the release of Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for the Nintendo 3DS on November 18th, which marks Mickey Mouse’s birthday and movie debut in Steamboat Willie, which released on November 18th, 1928.

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