Imagine if on the first day of grade school, your teacher shouted at you. At everyone in the class. Not really in a mean way per se, but with volume and force. “WELCOME TO THE THIRD GRADE,” he would say. “THIS IS GOING TO BE A VERY FUN YEAR. OPEN YOUR MATH TEXTBOOKS. TIME FOR A POP QUIZ. I’M BUYING YOU ALL FREE MCDONALD’S.” Then, imagine he never stopped.
This would not only get very annoying, but after a while, it’d become impossible to discern when your teacher was legitimately angry, happy, tired, or just having a neutral day in which the status quo is being upheld. Soon, even the most valuable of history lessons would seem as incidental as the lunch bell, and discipline would cease to exist. Because how do you raise your voice when your baseline volume is “maximum”?
Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two shouts at you. Constantly. There is audible shouting when Gus, your guiding gremlin, tells you how important your next mission is and warns you of the dangers ahead. Or perhaps its merely a rapping pig who wants you to collect old film reels you find lying around. There is the visual equivalent of shouting, too. Taking place (like its predecessor) in the Wasteland—basically a desolate, animatronic Disney World—there are parts of clocks and disembodied pianos floating around, treasure chests full of Captain Hook’s clothing hidden behind technicolor walls, and cyborg Goofy. You collect tickets for stores, pins for other stores, cloth for a third kind of store, pieces of scrap metal…sure, Mickey Mouse is about 50 percent ears, but even he couldn’t withstand this much noise.
This sequel is subtitled The Power Of Two—there are two characters you play, each with special abilities. Mickey, as per usual, can make the world more vibrant with paint or wash it away with thinner. Oswald, controllable either with a second player or via the computer (which routinely sends Oswald off the screen for no apparent reason), has a remote control that can either zap enemies into submission or be hurled at them to destroy them. Sound familiar? The two characters do much the same thing in their feverish rush to take care of pests. And in the rare instances they must work together—like when Mickey pulls a lever and Oswald powers up a TV monitor that appears—you better believe Gus tells you exactly what to do. Repeatedly. Loudly.
The Wasteland is a gorgeous amalgamation of Steamboat Willie-era homages and a behind-the-scenes tour of a modern, vaguely steampunk amusement park, yet there’s little time to explore or affect the world without somebody barking at you. There are plenty of side missions available in the main town, collecting things for the museum or what-have-you, but the discovery of a hidden treasure is cause for Gus to remind you that, yes, that’s one of the things you should have been looking for.
The stakes of your quest to vanquish evil never acquire much gravity—not in any real way. In the first Epic Mickey title from 2010, Mickey used a combination of paint and thinner—construction and destruction—to defeat the Mad Doctor and a giant ink blot. This game is essentially the same, except Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, who serves as the benevolent Wasteland leader, is no longer a shadow for Mickey to chase. The shadow, this time, is the source of the evil itself. And each mission, be it the slaughtering of a dragon or the fixing of an elevator, is treated with great importance. Perhaps this is the one, Gus shouts, that will finally shed some paint on the person or thing behind the decimation of the Wasteland. It might be. Or most likely, it leads to another door, which opens to an equally important room.
Everybody is clueless. Oswald knows nothing. Gus is befuddled. The Mad Doctor from the last game claims to be good now and sings his confusion. It’s as if they compete to see who can express their naïveté the loudest. Daisy Duck, a reporter now, has some dirt she dares not share in public. But she also hasn’t received flowers from Donald in a while. Help her! With either one! They both matter a lot, maybe! During your hunt for the final boss, a character shows up unannounced and says that the fate of the entire world depends on your finding his missing pearl. He uses a lot of exclamation points. Come to think of it, everyone does. “Shift + 1” on the keyboard hasn’t gotten this much use since the heyday of LiveJournal.
The conceit of the game is that there are two sides to every decision: paint and thinner, metaphorically and literally. For one long stretch, you enter a series of rooms constructed to honor Mickey’s accomplishments from the first game, and you can either fix them up or keep them in a state of decay. Whatever you choose, the broken tour guide robot—the ally you need, at least according to Gus—will either remain broken or get fixed up. Obviously, it’s good news all around if you make things right. But if not, Gus will lament the loss of your new best friend, and you move on. Even the wrong decisions in Epic Mickey 2 lose heft amid the shouting.
After the game is over and the final boss defeated, the villain speaks softly and simply, lamenting past errors. There are no exclamation points. It’s a rare moment of Zen-like calm, allowing for the briefest hint that your work in the Wasteland was meaningful. Then every character bursts into song, the (very long) credits roll, and the game…starts back up again, right where you left off. See, those side missions you failed to complete were also apparently important. It was so hard to tell.