With boundless enthusiasm, Mickey Mouse makes a spirited journey into the castle of sniveling witch Mizrabel. Large, orchestrated music may be booming, but it is sedating in the classic sense of the 16-bit platformers Power of Illusion is emulating. Mickey is not aggressive; he doesn’t have it in him. With a slow, sweeping jump and struggle to perform the last painted projectile blast of a combo, most of his offense feels accidental. This is slow, purposeful platforming.
Power of Ilusion is a Disney playland, true to character and light on attractions. Mizrabel has imprisoned key figures in the lore of classic animation, most of whom mutter about the castle in fear until Mickey stumbles upon them. Emphatic text boxes turn to all caps to celebrate their return to safe rooms inside the structure, each rebuilt to proper character specifications. Mulan takes residence against rolling greenery, Beast inside a lush, saturated castle.
Interaction is a concern, with Power dealing with often slow burning conversations that are easy to replay inadvertently. This isn’t Disney character so much as it is filler. An overworld begins to sprawl into view as fresh faces take up new home fronts, all relying on each other to complete missions. Mickey becomes a middle man in a droll series of fetch quests completed on an overhead map. These static sprites cannot walk down a hall; Mickey must do it for them.
Items related to key ancillary characters also spread about the 2D platforming levels, requiring an inordinate amount of blind searching and sluggish level replaying. Power of Illusion isn’t much longer than the Genesis classics that spawned it if one goes through it directly. Indirectly, with the necessity of multiple levels runs, it’s padded.
Despite its lineage and Sega Genesis namesake, Power of Illusion is playing heed to Epic Mickey first. That means paint schemes, and ushered onto the 3DS the implementation comes crashing down around the pacing. Structurally, levels stretch out for visual impact. Those wide leaps remain a thing of beauty, bringing background depth and leisurely pacing to the forefront of a beautiful design.
Interruptions in that flow are what kill it all. Music stops for rudimentary busy work as players must trace or erase objects on the bottom screen which then affects the top screen gameplay. Snippets of this idea work. Even with low difficulty, Power of Illusion is inviting, allowing those with trouble to place purposefully designed blocks to make spike pits maneuverable, leaps of faith tolerable, or enemy line-ups passable. A handful of puzzles are ingeniously deployed as a pace changer, not a killer.
Then there’s the rest, where platforms are needlessly lengthened vertically, necessitating the painting of an object merely to progress. Boss fights are dominated by a stop-and-go style that lessens their scale as dropping floors must be replaced while they crumble. There’s a punishment for incorrectly tracing, one being stopped gameplay; if you run out of paint, you’ll have to wait for a meter to recharge itself. You will also be faced with broken objects if you trace outside of the lines or rush. Floating ledges will feature spikes for example.
Imagine this as a constant burden for even playing the game as intended — on the go. A bouncy car makes precision impossible, and if you’re left handed, reaching for the stylus with the 3DS XL is so often a burdensome chore. The bother wouldn’t be evident were it not for the inanity of the idea conceptually, or maybe from a marketing perspective. Epic Mickey without paint doesn’t fit with the franchise’s ideals, despite ill-fitting to this pseudo sequel/homage.
Developer DreamRift knows how to work dual screen gameplay. Their drastically under appreciated Henry Hatsworth and under the radar Monster Tale (both DS) are inspired takes on the idea. Their touch screen splits are built into the game’s flow, plus they’re ingrained in a way that makes them logical. While Power has glimmers of that design, it is too often bogged down by the weight of its objectives, and that’s not moving an energetic Mickey Mouse.
There is an allure to Power. Watching the side of right expand, seeing Mickey’s firm heroics in motion, the soft shading, and three dimensional weight of the images combine into a game that alleviates the modern platformer of its annoying quirks. This isn’t a celebration of torturous difficulty. The genre was more than cheap hits and pits, an element ran into the ground after it was popularized by the indie scene. Power is the right idea at the wrong time, strung up by its neck due to the theatrics of its console brethren.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.