Review: “Epic Mickey 2” plusses original with much-needed voices and musical flare, still under delivers on Disney magic

in Disney, Music, Video Games

The ambition behind the “Epic Mickey” series is to be applauded, as game developer Warren Spector and his Disney-acquired Junction Point Studios have attempted to spin traditional Disney visuals and characters into a bizarro world known as Wasteland. In its conceptual art alone, the series is stunning, amazing in principle that Disney offered up its theme parks, characters, and films to be twisted into a world of despair, leaving it up to Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to fix.

But while the concept is strong, execution of the original “Epic Mickey” failed to meet fans’ expectations, leaving some desiring a darker Disney while others simply frustrated by its lack of depth and obvious camera and control flaws. Yet the game was successful enough to spawn a sequel, offering Spector and friends a chance to fix all that was wrong.

As such, “Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two” comes across like what the original should have been, a reboot of sorts. Most obvious is the new cross-platform design, with the sequel released not just on the Nintendo Wii, as was the first, but also on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, and PC. HD graphics and higher quality audio help the game feel modern and enhance the unusual Disney-inspired scenery and interactive features that form the basis of the game. It’s here that “Epic Mickey 2” is at its best, repurposing classic Disney sights into fun gaming elements.

“Epic Mickey 2” also adds real dialogue, voiced by talented Disney actors, to replace the grunts and groans that filled the original. This change alone makes the game not only more enjoyable, but also that much more bizarre as Goofy’s classic voice is attached to a half-built animatronic version of him, stumbling through Wasteland. This is what “Epic Mickey” was meant to be.

Spector also had the genius(?) idea to made “Epic Mickey 2” a musical, tying it in to so many classic Disney films but with a strange twist, singing bouncy, catchy songs amidst a crumbling Main Street USA. These musical interludes can be tiresome for those who simply want to play the game, but for players looking for a fuller experience, they add depth to the story and characters as well as plenty of entertainment value.

Unfortunately, the plusses stop there, as the actual game play feels like “Epic Mickey” all over again. Though the visuals are vastly improved in the sequel, the camera stills wings wildly and controls are unpredictable. The Wii U version, a launch title for the new Nintendo system, also lags and chops its way through complex scenes, making them difficult to play. And beyond the controls, the game itself just feels like it’s plodding along, following the same path as the original. From the beginning, players find themselves back on a crumbling “Mean Street,” battling blots and trying to turn on projectors that lead to worlds inspired by real-life theme park lands.

Had “Epic Mickey 2” been released instead of the original, its style and scope may have instantly won over Disney fans and gamers alike. Instead, as a sequel, it’s more of a second attempt to better what was originally clumsy and unfulfilling, leaving so much potential.

The upside is that anyone who has never played the original can easily pick up “Epic Mickey 2” with a fresh view, jumping into an inventive take on Disney that mostly works. The story may not be completely clear without having played the original first, but cutscenes do a fairly good job at catching gamers up. And as long as players don’t get bogged down by unnecessary side quests, there is much amusement to be found throughout.

Most importantly, the “Epic Mickey” series can be credited for the revival of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, giving him a first-ever voice (supplied by veteran actor Frank Welker) and propelling him into superstardom among Disney fans. For that reason alone, the series should continue on, and hopefully mature in future iterations to become everything fans, and its creators, hoped it would be.

Tune in to Show 397 for more about the “Epic Mickey” series from creator Warren Spector and the importance of the reintroduction of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the Disney universe.

“Epic Mickey 2” is available now on Amazon and at major retailers.

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