When it comes to Disney platformers, there's reason to be excited, especially if you're over twenty years of age. Considering the House of Mouse's intended audience, that's as ironic as it is true. In the late '80s and early '90s, the populace was gifted with many glorious games featuring Disney's stars. There was DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Aladdin, and numerous others; nearly every one of them exuded incredible quality, beckoning you to play them again and again.
Perhaps one of the most beloved Disney side-scrollers was a little number called Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse, which showed off the potential of 16-bit systems, and impressed every friend who questioned your Sega CD ownership. It lovingly carried each player through a lush tour of Mickey's history by pampering their many senses, for its soundscape was sweet, its graphics wonderfully vivid, and its gameplay plucked from the most stringent critic's dreams.
Its six levels of glory fit the bill back then, but in 2010, the populace expects more. Carrying Mickey Mania's torch to light the way, Junction Point Studios wants to lead a new generation through the Mouse's history, and they're doing a mighty fine job of it with Disney Epic Mickey. The title was demonstrated at E3 2010, and only those allergic to well-crafted platformers could have walked away indifferent.
In the demo, a player's journey begins within the seedy starting area of the Cartoon Wasteland. Its bleak décor consists of waning wooden buildings, lurching plants, and shadowy, looming scenery. The porches and courts are occupied by forgotten characters of yesteryear, all of whom once fled to this place in search of safety and happiness. With their lives in shambles, the Wasteland's inhabitants are lethargic, and terribly downtrodden by their plights; it sounds awfully serious, and in their world, it is.
Since the moment I beheld its fantastically stylish, gothic art style (a glorious amalgamation of dark fantasy and classic Disney), I believed that Epic Mickey earned its self-awarded descriptor. Though the word “epic” is over-utilized, this is a splendid case of proper implementation, as it helps describe the luscious, whimsical scenery Epic Mickey presents. It also hints at its scope, which is far more broad than that of the beautiful but brief Mickey Mania.
You can walk up to a pirate known as Damien Salt, and hear him lament his beloved though unhappy Henrietta (whose character may be an allegory to Clarabelle Cow), who shan't speak to him. Or you can share a conversation with Smee, Hook's old boatswain, whose swashbuckling companions were turned into heartless contraptions by a devious machine.
Every scenario smacked of Disney storytelling when Disney storytelling was good, and wasn't handled with kid gloves or, as is commonly the case today, left to the celebrated Pixar. That, too, was reminiscent of the early '90s Disney gaming (and movie) heights, but what would all this atmosphere be worth if you couldn't adequately explore it? After all, the environment contributes only one stroke to Epic Mickey’s entire portrait; brilliantly intuitive controls supply another.
Movement is a breeze, as Mickey responds to even the slightest flick of the analog stick, whether he's on foot or in the air. He can double-jump at almost any point during a leap, allowing the type of pinpoint control that platforming enthusiasts love. If you're sending paint streaming everywhere, you can redirect its flow with the slightest of Wii Remote movements, and it will always go where you want it to (if you're aiming at the right thing, that is; if you're not, don't try to blame it on Mickey).
Speaking of paint, one of Epic Mickey's claims to fame is its paint and thinner system. Building on the animated medium's history of tangible drawings and hand-painted cels, you can choose to utterly destroy foes with virulent thinner, or bring them into your favor with a slathering of paint. If there's a route you're hunting for, and a bunch of rocks are in your way, you'll wipe them down to their outline and stroll on through it. All of this is easily done, and you'll usually know when to use one mechanic or another, though your decisions can potentially alter three things: a story's outcome, Mickey's reputation, and his appearance. The easiest route may not always be the noblest, and mascot or no, you're free to be as devious or chivalrous as you desire.
In its current state, Epic Mickey seems well on its way to earning a place alongside all the great 3D platformers of the past fifteen years, and that's a spot Mickey should be comfortable in. He's proven himself worthy before, and if any of you believed the genre to be dead, know that Disney Epic Mickey is itching to prove otherwise.
We'll get to see if it delivers on its promises of grandiose adventure and glorious fan service (for the young and old alike) when it's released in December, 2010.