Review

Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion

Land Of Confusion

Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion has plenty of Mickey, but not enough epic.

By Anthony John Agnello • December 3, 2012

Mickey Mouse’s power is purely totemic. He’s not really a character. How would you describe him if you couldn’t mention what he looks like? He’s friendly? Not always. The Mickey in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a dick. Walt’s rodent is fuel rather than a personality, an ember to spark whatever inferno you want. Want to build an all-encompassing corporate empire? Use the Mouse. Want to make a freaky role-playing game about existentialism like Kingdom Hearts? He’s good to go. Something about the surreality of talking, glove-wearing vermin makes almost any idea more digestible. In order for the Mickey magic to work, the structure surrounding him needs to be sound. Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion is a fun game to touch, but it’s so incoherent that the power of its protagonist is lost.

Some of its lack of focus is due to its origins. Power Of Illusion is actually a sequel to not one but two different series, Epic Mickey and the decades-old Castle of Illusion. The latter provides the setting and antagonist here, a shifting castle ruled by an evil witch named Mizrabel, as well as the run and jump style of game. The former is the source of this Mickey’s primary tools, a brush that can paint objects into existence or use thinner to erase them. Illusion also features an ensemble of displaced Disney characters like Epic Mickey, but rather than a cast of scrubs like Oswald the Rabbit the castle is full of A-listers to rescue like Ariel the mermaid and Peter Pan.

Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion

There are eleven levels in the castle, each one filled with googly-eyed monsters, bats, and wandering Petes between their platforms and spikey floors. Mickey moves slowly, falling like gravity’s an after thought, to hop on enemies and shoot them with various paints. It feels great. Momentum isn’t a factor like it is in Super Mario-infused platformers, making the running and jumping more intentional. Bopping enemies requires you to press the button twice to butt slam them, but if they’re standing on a breakable block there’s a risk of ruining your footing after the attack. If there isn’t a clear path forward, the second screen of the 3DS might show the outline of a new platform or weapon you can draw into the world. Maybe there’s a giant octopus in your way, so you need to erase him. The dreamy pace is fitting for a game about an ephemeral castle, and by the end that stages get downright nightmarish with obstacle placement.

There’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the castle’s vagaries. Getting through the stages isn’t enough to break through Mizrabel’s illusions, you need to find the lost Disney characters scattered in them first. Some you’ll find your first time through. You can’t help but run into the Peter Pan but you’ll have to replay the first few stages multiple times to find some Lost Boys and Tinkerbell. Just exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of the castle isn’t enough either, since most of the characters don’t pop up until the others have you asked you go find them.

Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion

Pals like Donald Duck and his Uncle Scrooge won’t just ask you to go check on their pals. Usually they need an errand run first. The Beast won’t ask you to go find Belle until you’ve found his talking candelabra and drawn him a rose on the touch screen. The busy work doesn’t always send you back into the castle proper, making you just talk to the other characters milling about instead. Rewards are doled out—more life, upgrades to your paints, money to buy the same—but on the fourth or fifth arbitrary play through of a level the illusion starts to wear off. Why are there so few stages for so many characters? Why are there only environments themed on Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Peter Pan and why the hell would Tiana from The Princess And The Frog be trapped at the bottom of the ocean? Why are there only snatched glimpses of the actual castle sometimes in the background? Aren’t those clamshells Ariel’s wearing uncomfortable? Why the hell am I doing any of this?

The very best video games starring Mickey Mouse all have some vital binding agent to hold the weirdness together. The old Mickey Mania had Mickey run through stages based on his iconic features, so it could get away with wacky conceptual shifts like a black-and-white steamboat level followed by a fight with some gangly mad scientist. Castle of Illusion and its sequels picked an unfamiliar setting and stuck with it. Even the unwieldy Kingdom Hearts has a molten core of mythos and melodrama to keep it from collapsing. There’s no tie to bind together Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion’s myriad borrowed parts. Nice to touch, nice to see, but there’s nothing to hold. Mickey’s only a useful tool if he’s used to build something real, but even century-old totem like the Mouse can’t hold together a house of smoke and old mascots.

Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion
Developer: DreamRift
Publisher: Disney
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40
Rating: E

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  • PaganPoet

    Is that seriously how the game looks? I appreciate the bright colors, but doesn’t it look like a Gameboy Advance game?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Normally I can appreciate pixelly mosaiced abstraction in 2D games just fine, but yeah, it seems like in a game that’s explicitly aping the fluid Disney 2-D style, this would be the perfect opportunity to go all RayMan and make a full-on gorgeous animated game.

      Maybe the 3DS’s resolution isn’t as much an upgrade from the DS’s as I thought, though. Perhaps pixel-art-style pixel art is the way to go.

      • PaganPoet

        I’m actually really not a graphics whore, but in this case it just seems lazy. Hell, I think Aladdin on Sega Genesis looks even better than those screenshots. That was a gorgeously animated game (I wonder why the SNES version wasn’t)

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Shiny (of ultra-fluid Earthworm Jim animation fame) did the Genesis Aladdin, while Capcom did the SNES. Consequently, the Genesis one is noted for its fluid animation, and the SNES one for its tight gameplay. And people can argue until the cows come home over which one is objectively better.

      • Ardney

        It’s  not the hardware actually, it’s a design design by the developer. http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/epic-mickey-power-of-illusion-is-a-faithful-modern-day-spiritual-successor

        Basically they wanted to re-create the look of games from that era so they intentionally avoided using the hardware’s potential.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           That’s what I figured, but it seems like a weird artistic decision. Like, I understand Megaman 9 looking back into video game history and adopting an old video game aesthetic, but Disney’s aesthetic lineage has totally different roots to draw upon. It feels kind of under-considered.

        • Ardney

          test.
          aaaand fail. I concede the field of battle to Disqus and retreat to lick my wounds.

      • Ardney

        Agreed, and I had similar thoughts when I 1st read the article in as much as I didn’t think it’d go over very well. At the time though I hadn’t thought of MM9 and it’s an interesting comparison since they both obviously chose a lo-fi aesthetic but I really liked what Capcom had done but I didn’t care so much for the look of Epic Mickey.

        I’m wondering how much of that is down to what the intent of the creator’s of both iterations of both games were going for and how well that resonates. For the MM9 release I remember Capcom even did some faux box-art in the style of the (notoriously awful) original US Mega Man cover. It conveyed the sense that they were saying “Hey, what if you could go back in time and buy another Mega Man game? Here’s what it’d probably look and play like”. Because for that period of time, that sprite WAS Mega Man. He didn’t change at all over his many NES iterations. And sure, that had plenty to do with hardware limitations but at the same time, since Mega Man was “born” directly from that tech and that time his look and feel was established by those same design limitations and decisions. It’s exactly what Mega Man was and was trying to be.

        Contrast that with the case of Mickey where you have a fairly defined look for a character in cartoons and other media. It can be argued that the original Castle of Illusion was trying as hard as it could visually to BE Mickey. And it succeeded as well as it could for that time. The audience understood the intent of the devs and to an extent the limitations and it was all good. But if the tech constraints weren’t there, would the game have looked the same? Or would it have looked like a playable cartoon? And so to now go and re-adopt those constraints when we know the tech is capable of supporting much better looking sprites feels…odd. Maybe it would have helped if they released it with Faux 90s boxart, faded as if it’d just been found in a bargain bin? Or maybe not. It just somehow feels that taking this approach to a follow-up isn’t really in line with the original (perceived) intent of the game.

        I’m not sure if I’m conveying my thought process on this all to well or how valid/useful it is to the point at hand but it’s a bit of what went through my head when contrasting my reaction to the 2 games.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Yeah, Megaman exists in the context of video game history, and that’s the history MM9 was interacting with. Mickey exists in the history of commercial cel animation, and his various permutations, including video games, interact with that history. To intentionally be derivative of a Mickey Mouse video game is to make a copy of a copy, something that doesn’t make sense without some very intentional artistic or metatextual reason (if this were a game about Mickey video games or something, the choice might make sense).

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Unfortunately, yep.  Their previous game, Monster Tale on the DS, looks much better.  (I won’t say it’s amazing, but it’s very, very good and innovative, enough to make me wish that this was their breakthrough.)

      And, interestingly, Facebook/NeoGAF archived this from Destructoid: “I emailed DreamRift’s creative director Peter Ong in regards to any cut content. Though he doesn’t confirm exactly what was removed, he did say that the final game has less content than was originally planned and the team was allowed less than a year of development time. It’s never pleasant to learn that a promising title was subject to such a strict development schedule. I can only wonder what kind of game Power of Illusion would have been if given just a little more breathing room.” http://www.destructoid.com/review-disney-epic-mickey-power-of-illusion-239231.phtml#disqus_thread But it’s gone from after, “…that’s enough.”

      I don’t know if I’m mistaken or if Disney clamped down on them, but that’s sad if that’s the case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bensalazar Ben Dunbar

    The original Castle Of Illusion was, hands down, one of the best platformers the Game Gear had, and, was fun even for a kid who thought Disney was for fascists(I had strange parents). If this game is anywhere near the original, despite the reviewer’s disenchantment with the fact that the characters seem to be in anachronistic settings, it would totally be worth a buy.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Agreed!  I had it on the Genesis and loved it.  The toyland levels especially were a lot of fun.  Don’t drown in the quicksand-jello!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Son, is that you?

      If I ever have kids (unlikely), there will be lots of reasons for them to think their parents (or dad, at least) “strange.” Thinking Disney is evil bullshit will likely just be one of many…

      • http://www.facebook.com/bensalazar Ben Dunbar

         Yeah, I mean, I still THINK that but other eight year olds don’t expect you to call Walt Disney an anti-semite. Even though the sentence is semantically meaningless to them, it still provokes a result because of the stridency of my pre-pubescent cadence.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          “Dad doesn’t let me watch The Incredibles in the house. He calls it an ‘uncritical paean to Objectivism.’”

          “Dad says we can’t rent Beauty and the Beast. He said that if we want to romanticize domestic abuse that’s our own business, but he sure as hell isn’t paying for it.”

          “Okay, fine dad, then which ones of these movies aren’t ‘racist bullshit’?”

        • WL14

          I knew about the anti-semite thing, but a quick bit of searching showed me WAY more connection between Beauty and the Beast and domestic violence than I really cared to know about. I definitely didn’t remember the movie that way, but now I feel terrible and would never let my putative children watch it.

  • Nathan Rogers-Hancock

    Has anyone read the old Floy Gottfredson Mickey Mouse newspaper strips that Fantagraphics is reprinting? Mickey comes across as a pretty developed character in those, and the level of graphic sophistication is pretty high, as well as the amount of narrative ideas Gottfredson shoots out. Really disappointing that none of these games have looked back to that material.

    • His_Space_Holiness

      Ooh, I’ll have to check those out. Gottfedson is to Mickey as Carl Barks is to the Ducks, but I haven’t read much of his work.

      I think a primary reason Disney doesn’t draw much on Mickey’s narrative past is that his value is a mascot is much higher if he remains a cypher. He’s a big, smiling, recognizable empty suit that can be plugged in wherever they want him, whereas, say, Donald has an established character that wouldn’t work in every situation.

      • Nathan Rogers-Hancock

        Also those new Barks reprints are amazing. Why we haven’t gotten an Uncle Scrooge game is beyond me. 

        And the Gottfredson books are far better than I expected – second only to Popeye and Krazy Kat for classic era strip stuff that’s really enjoyable.

        • His_Space_Holiness

          Haven’t gotten one since DuckTales, you mean? Well, he showed up briefly in Kingdom Hearts 2, but yeah, I would be all kinds of on board for a new Uncle Scrooge game. Maybe one based on Don Rosa’s Life and Times series, jumping around in time to show him riding through the Old West, barroom brawling in the Yukon, and so forth…

          Damn, now I really want something that doesn’t exist. Thanks a lot!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Are those the comics where Mickey contemplates and attempts suicide? That’s probably part of the reason why Disney doesn’t play up that characterization of Mickey so much.

        • Nathan Rogers-Hancock

          -

  • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

    I love how wildly inappropriate Mickey’s idle animation is in that old Castle of Illusion game.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Almost as bad as Mario’s victory dance from Mario & Luigi…

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

        damn, Mario’s really hittin’ it

  • Chum Joely

    So… still no review of Far Cry 3? I’m dying to know what you guys think of it.

  • Overflight

    I saw the Quick Look on Giant Bomb and I think my reactions really say a lot about this game: first it starts out with a massive cutscene during which I was bored. Then the game proper starts and you’re greeted with an awesome remastering of the Castle of Illusion Stage 1 themed and I was hyped. Then they showed that the gameplay keeps being interrupted by sections in which you have to use the stylus to draw or erase crap. Then other Disney characters start showing up for no reason. I couldn’t even finish watching it. I felt cheated and I didn’t even PLAY it, as stupid as it sounds.

  • SonjaMinotaur

    Does anyone have recommendations for 3DS games? I just picked one up for Paper Mario & Adventure Time and want to know if there is anything else I should check out.

    • Citric

      There’s a Professor Layton for it! I don’t actually have a 3DS, but I very nearly picked one up for Professor Layton.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Mighty Switch Force, Pushmo, Resident Evil: Revelations, and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy (actually a Ace Combat 2 remake) should all available in America and are good to very good. Dillon’s Rolling Thunder and Liberation Maiden are okay and you might enjoy them, but I can’t outright recommend them.

      Rumor has it that Revelations might come to home consoles, so you might want to wait for those (I know, I know: Capcom in Exclusive-Turned-Multiplatform Shocker).

      • SonjaMinotaur

        Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll be looking into them. I admit I am intrigued by the idea of playing survival horror on a handheld system. 

        • http://twitter.com/NeedleHacksaw C. Zurschmitten

          And you could go with Cave Story and VVVVVV, to put a bit of indie brightness on there, too.

  • http://www.seooptimizationservices.us/ John