'Disney Epic Mickey' Revives an Icon and Takes Video Game Storytelling to a New Level
Filed under: Video Games
Mickey Mouse may be the world's most recognizable cartoon character, but when was the last time you thought of the guy as a hero? For decades, he didn't do much beyond the occasional hosting gig or guest appearance in a holiday special. In recent years, he's had more face time with preschoolers, thanks to the cheery "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," but no one can really argue that the cute educational show elevated the toon star back to his one-time level of silver-screen glory. Enter "Disney Epic Mickey," a new Wii game (yes, a video game) that intends to remind people how Mickey earned that icon status to begin with.
Back in the day, Mickey Mouse was an action hero. He tussled with bad guys, extinguished raging fires, performed daredevil stunts and so on. He was also -- as were many animated protagonists of the '30s and '40s -- somewhat mischievous and not always the best role model. He was squeaky, not squeaky clean. "Disney Epic Mickey" takes that slightly subversive Mickey spirit and uses it to launch a sweeping -- yes, epic -- adventure.
It all begins with the too-curious mouse traipsing through a magic mirror and spying on a sorcerer (whom you will recognize from "Fantasia") as he builds a magical replica of Disneyland. But curiosity is just as much trouble to mice as it is to cats apparently, and before you know it, Mickey has spilled paint and thinner all over the diorama. Little did he know that that model housed a full magical world within it -- a place where all of Disney's forgotten toons (like Horace the Horse, Clarabelle Cow and others -- all led by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt's precursor to Mickey, who makes his first appearance in over 80 years) could live and be happy. And the paint Mickey spilled in there transformed into an evil being called the Blot, which warped and twisted the "Happiest Place on Earth" into something, well, warped and twisted.
The game kicks in years after the paint-spilling incident, when Mickey is dragged into the dark world of the model, now known to its inhabitants as Wasteland. With you in control, Mickey must find his way home and make some important decisions along the way. One of the great things about the game is that how you choose to play affects the story. Mickey has a magical paintbrush and thinner at his disposal. As he wanders through iconic Disneyland locations, like Main Street U.S.A. (here transformed into Mean Street) or the It's a Small World ride (which looks as if it were envisioned by Tim Burton), he can choose to paint missing bits of the world back into existence, or erase stuff that's in his way. He can do the same to his enemies, the wicked Blotlings: Spraying them with paint will win them over and make them friendly; thinner will simply dissolve them.
There's no particularly right or wrong choice to make at any given point in the game, but your actions will have consequences as the story unfolds. And that story unfolds beautifully. There's a huge amount of character development, surprising for a character we all think we know so well. But Mickey isn't the only fascinating character in the game. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who begins the game as an almost-villainous foil to Mickey, ends up being far deeper than he seems (and we can only hope we'll see more of him after this). The story builds to a rousing and genuinely emotional climax, making you feel that this is one video game that you wouldn't mind seeing made into a movie.
There are things about the game that are far from perfect: The camera angles, for instance, can be frustrating at times, preventing you from seeing where you need to go during intricate obstacle course-like areas. And the controls can feel a bit slippery here and there, making you wish for a little more precision. But these glitches are worth working through to experience the unique and creative gameplay and the exciting and heartfelt story of "Disney Epic Mickey."
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.