November 27, 2012

Failed Review – Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 11:32 pm

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
Given how much work goes into creating the elements that bring a videogame into existence, even releases that fall short of their goals tend to offer minor points of interest. I’ve often maintained that even the worst releases have good ideas seeded somewhere within their core – why else would people work so hard in the attempt to flesh them out?

But Disney is determined to prove me wrong, offering a disheartening view into the business side of game creation with the multiplatform release of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, a game that feels as if it were assembled by machines in a subterranean dome. And while that may sound like an extreme appraisal of a project that clearly had human hands involved in its creation, anyone involved that ever had a love for playing videogames was clearly discouraged from expressing said love here, I assure you.

Any logical sense that guides the creation process has been abandoned in the bizarre effort to race the original Wii release to the bottom while selling you on the idea that the exact opposite is the case.

There are a lot of more fanciful and poetic paths toward opening a discussion about the game, but the simple fact is that I can’t be bothered.

Life is too short to expend the effort on Epic Mickey 2.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
It is possible that I’m a bit put out from having sat and listened to Junction Point’s Warren Spector discuss the franchise a little over a month ago. Spector consistently demonstrates his passion for the content being mined from the Disney vault to furnish the world of Wasteland. And that passion is infectious, there is no question that Spector is a first class salesman. But there’s also no escaping the disconnect between the game Spector talks about directing and the final result being offered here. I would love to play the game the man describes if only someone could point me in its direction.

If you want to come at the game from the content Spector expresses so much passion for, the case against him would soften some. Epic Mickey 2 is again crammed full of content – overwhelmingly so. Navigating the Wasteland is like a continuous trip through the house of a seasoned hoarder with a penchant for Disney collectibles. The environments of the Wasteland overflow with characters and rich designs, heaving all things born from the house of mouse into a rainbow colored pool of nostalgic vomit – a cluttered result that is fascinating to look at, and a new ring of hell to navigate.

The pocket sized environments have you tripping over objects and environmental pieces, tempted to feel surrounded by rich atmosphere, but ultimately attempting to get from one side of a very drab area to another.

Perhaps the worst offence is that none of these spaces offer the means to play.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
You’ll be able to jump up onto the occasional rooftop, but these are not platforming spaces – these are set pieces from a film. It’s just as well, since the game provides no sense of tactile pleasure. It’s often evident that every effort has been spent attempting to mimic the animation of Disney cartoons, and absolutely none of that has been translated into the feeling sent to your fingers. Mickey might as well be a bag of potato chips for how well you’ll sense his essence within this world.

And there’s something very criminal about characters born of such a rich and joyous animation history feeling so utterly flat within this world. If you were watching Mickey jump and spring, you’d be deceived until getting your mitts on the controller – moving any object within the game will reveal a devotion toward unbinding the entire effort of physics within gaming.

How could the priority not be in convincing the fingers of the movement that one professes such a love of?

It doesn’t help that the environments offer plenty of hiccups in this allegedly polished tribute to Disney’s favorite son. Mickey is continually hung up on the environment, sliding off of objects he shouldn’t, or colliding with objects I can’t identify because they are invisible. Sometimes you’ll jump and miss a landing and there is no explanation as to why this happened.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
Having stressed that the camera that plagued the original Wii release has been fixed, survivors of the original release may feel more inclined to believe that Junction Point has simply attempted to patch the problem with more open spaces where the camera is denied the opportunity to clip and lock against the environmental walls. Rest assured that your old friend will return to spoil the adventure however, as the camera takes on new demonic traits.

Perhaps you’ll jump on to a shifting boulder to have the camera suddenly zoom into the rock before rising from beneath Mickey, right before you fall off of said boulder for the trouble. If you want the camera to behave, it’s best to stand perfectly still – though to be fair it will generally obey your commands until combat enters the picture.

To make sure that isn’t your only frustration, you’ll also be aiming the paint and thinner reticule with an analog stick, spewing the stuff in every direction as you surrender any notion of accuracy and douse enemies with both in the attempt to simply survive encounters.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
This wonderfully undermines the idea of choice, which Spector stressed a greater emphasis on this time around. The sad truth is that I’ll never know how it all came together, because I’m never making real choices, I’m simply taking the least aggravating path toward the goal line regardless of what impact it has on Wasteland.

There’s something wonderfully Ed Wood about that though. I mean Mickey would totally face that challenge in real life, right?

Epic Mickey 2 also discovers many wonderful new forms of trouble within a 3D space largely resolved by others over the years. At one point, whilst fighting a dragon, I ran Mickey around in circles while the dragon sat in the center and issued attacks against the outer platforms. It’s a fairly safe design approach that even Spyro the Dragon had a handle on back on the original PlayStation, and yet Epic Mickey 2 finds a way to get it spectacularly wrong.

The recipe for doing so, if you’re curious, involves the player being able to clip the outer edges of the centered boss and fall, at the same time that the computer controlled Oswald fails to issue the charge attack that temporally disables the boss, all while the player attempts to shoot paint at the boss because it’s just easier than trying to discern which parts of it one is meant to use thinner against.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
Adding Oswald as a secondary playable character means solitary sessions will see him controlled by AI. Spector stressed that he was hesitant because of the trouble other developers have had with AI, and the immediate result is that Junction Point has just as much trouble with the endeavor as anyone else ever has. Oswald drags behind you issuing the same lines and bumping into the same walls over and over again, rushing to reach the cues necessitated by a two player lever switch positioned about every ten feet within the game. But the game is so confident of Oswald’s abilities that it doesn’t offer something so simple as the option to swap roles between the lucky rabbit and Mickey.

When you aren’t fighting the environment, you’ll be listening to the game talk at you endlessly. The game spews information that doesn’t really lead up to story so much as continually push you immediately toward some new area. The gist is that you’ll run in circles until the obvious plot unfolds and you can deal with it. Rest assured you’ll be told where to go every few minutes with as much dialogue as possible, stopping only to be introduced to new gameplay mechanics that make simple tasks more complicated – you can’t just move objects, you have to levitate them with fairy pages, sit back and hear all about them…

Epic disappointments also include an obtuse menu for tracking side-quests, which stood a chance of offering some incentive for exploring Wasteland, despite how difficult the confusing paths through 2D films continue to make such an effort. Every effort has been spent making this more complicated by offering the ability to change paths through the films, rather than simply accepting that these 2D bits of gameplay were always the superior horse to bet on – each one is too sparse to really provide a compelling game, but remain the one place where the attempt to marry the content to gameplay that captures some slim bit of the animation heritage works.

Review Epic Mickey 2 The Power of Two
Choice undoubtedly remains the greatest disappointment however, particularly because it seems to matter even less this time around while Disney insists it matters more. The segmented nature of Wasteland continues to discourage any connection, any real sense of bringing together a community or destroying it. And it doesn’t help that navigating these spaces makes so little sense – at one point I entered a themed area only to find it necessary to move through a 2D shop to reach the other side of the 3D play space.

Why would anyone ever design that?

Despite Disney’s momentous effort to undermine my optimism, I will persist in offering two positive points of interest here. The first is that Epic Mickey again offers a treat in the form of early Disney artistry, specifically The Skeleton Dance, which remains a classic example of the company’s once great achievements in animation. Let me also save you sixty dollars by linking you to said animation right here.

The second point is a nod to Epic Mickey 2’s singular achievement in creating a game that makes the original Wii release seem so much more polished and well-designed in the rear-view mirror. And considering how flawed that original release was, you really have to tip your hat to the house of mouse for accomplishing that.

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