In the last months of 2012, a well-known but failing department store chain called Zellers was acquired by Target. The inventory of Zellers' stores had to be liquidated by their shutdown date, and I strolled its aisles with the other vultures, thinking to pick at the bones.
I went not once, but twice, each time seeing a pile of heavily discounted special edition boxes of Epic Mickey, for the Wii. Twice before I had almost bought a copy of the game, but for whatever reason hadn't. Here, once again I walked away, empty-handed. I had a few unfinished games at home already, and though I was intrigued, it wasn't a must-play (if there still is such a thing for me).
The game's been somewhat polarizing, and I think I have an idea why. Long-standing Disney properties bring a certain cachet that can't be whipped up out of thin air, and the company is careful how they leverage that. Putting Mickey in a mediocre game would be like making a bad sequel to a brilliant film. It's pop-culture sacrilege.
Fan hatred is a scary thing. The mixed response to that first game meant that a sequel needed to fix everything that didn't work, or replace it with something better.
I like the idea of this series a lot. I like that Walt Disney's first cartoon creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, is Mickey's bitter doppelganger, existing in a "Wasteland" of forgotten cartoon characters. There's a very meta, self-aware quality to the whole idea of a real-life legal battle resulting in the fictional abandonment of a living intellectual property.
This surreal, self-referential conceit continues into the basic game mechanic. Mickey, a cartoon, wields both a magic paintbrush and a bucket of thinner, giving him the power to create or destroy the very fabric of reality as he knows it. Obviously this works well with the Wii, though you can also play the PS3 version with an ordinary controller (it's Move-compatible).
This unique gameplay mechanic carries over into the sequel, but is paired with the abilities of Oswald, who has switched from antagonist to partner. He gets a magic remote, with vague electrical/machine-controlling powers.
I love the idea of this world. It includes familiar as well as little-known characters and half-remembered cartoons from the '30s that I remember seeing as a kid, all transformed into black-and-white 2D sidescrollers. Unfortunately, they tend to be rather tedious.