When Disney Epic Mickey arrived on Wii in time for the Holiday season in 2010, it attracted a lot of attention due to its concept and the development leadership of Warren Spector, one of the industry's most respected figures. Its relatively late arrival in the system's lifespan meant it pushed attractive visuals "for a Wii game", as well as implementing an interesting "choice" system that, although a little superficial, was a welcome attempt at some extra depth. It had its problems, but was gratefully snapped up by plenty of Mickey enthusiasts.
It was a fairly bold undertaking, and now, two years later, its sequel Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two has arrived. This time around it's appearing on all major consoles, but its ideal home is arguably on Wii, with Remote pointer controls perfectly suiting the painting mechanic. Like its predecessor it promises new ideas, supposedly delivering a "musical experience" and interesting co-op. Unfortunately, it brings across the flaws of the first title, and adds even more of its own.
To start with the title's strongest point, in parts it represents some of the best audio and visual presentation on Wii. While the story is a tad predictable and unimaginative, it's acceptable with the acknowledgement that the target audience includes children. The telling of the story is undeniably excellent, with a combination of CGI and hand-drawn animation sequences teaming up with full voice acting and fantastic music; often the motivation to progress is to see the next cutscene. Some of the voices are a little grating, but that can be said of almost any animated film, so it's a very minor gripe. For the most part it's a treat, and the Mad Doctor does a lot of the singing with various moments of comedic effect; the members of the development team who took the loose story and produced these sequences deserve plenty of credit.
When you actually pick up the paintbrush as Mickey, the early going is reasonably good. The introductory sequence is good fun, reminds you of the painting and thinning mechanics, and even Mickey's less-than-ideal jump mechanics are more than suitable for purpose. The camera does a reasonable job, too, with instinctive adjustments on the D-Pad working well. Mickey meets up with Oswald, his co-op buddy, and if you're playing in single player the mechanic starts well: you go to the right spot and trigger Oswald's assist action with the minus button, and there are a couple of early puzzles that use both mascots instinctively.
Problems begin once the adventure settles into the main story, however, and it becomes clear that development deadlines and sloppy execution are going to plague the experience. As you start to progress to new areas it's obvious that, at times, this title has little idea of how a modern 3D platforming environment should work. Often they're just big areas with buildings and platforms scattered around, and rather than intuitively running around and traversing the environment, you're regularly scratching your head while fighting the physics and wonky camera. Some areas are well-done, especially a town where Mickey is tasked with sneaking through unnoticed, but often it can be an exercise in confusion and frustration.
The game does try to help, at times, with gremlin companion Gus positioning himself at the next checkpoint or place of interest. On occasion controls, camera and poor environments combine for maximum frustration, however, so even if you know where you're going it can be an infuriating trial. In single player Oswald is little help, with co-op specific areas often requiring you to stand in an over-picky spot before the action prompt will appear, and there are some moments where getting him to follow you is the biggest challenge. You'll hear him say "I'm on my way" a lot — at times you'll wish it was true.
Like the original, there are small snippets of 2D areas, this time divided between the stylish black and white cartoon reels and sections based on the Wasteland world. Like before, they're well executed and fun, pleasing on the eye and satisfying to play. On one occasion we did seem to break one area, getting trapped in a section with no escape and being forced to restart, but on the whole they're a stronger part of the overall package.
All of these factors make Epic Mickey 2 a very uneven experience: at times the environments are interesting, intuitive to navigate and a lot of fun, while the framerate and good old Oswald just about keep up, yet on other occasions the opposite will be true and you'll be desperate to progress for all of the wrong reasons. At some points this is a game that you'd readily recommend to anyone, but then it descends to a half-baked rush-job that can just as easily be condemned.
As you've probably guessed from the game's subtitle, this adventure has a major focus on co-op. In single-player, most of Oswald's actions are mercifully limited to using his electricity beam to power up outlets, or when there are two switches he'll happily jump on the other. When he's not being an irritant it works fine, but feels like an unnecessary fiddle as he does the bare minimum to help. If online co-op was an option then it'd be ideal to hop online to find someone to play with, and therefore make Oswald more useful in a fight, but it's local play only. The second player simply sets up a Remote and Nunchuk and drops in with a press of the 2 button; this switch to two-player is quick and splits the screen vertically, so pointer controls need a bit more precision. Graphical detail does drop a smidge, but thankfully the barely-acceptable framerate matches up to the single-player equivalent.
In truth, local co-op for an adventure game isn't going to suit everyone, so many will be stuck with the below-par AI. The basic story can be rattled through in anything between 8 - 12 hours; in theory there is a huge range of side-quests to do in order to gain favour, pins and other items from occupants of Wasteland. Such is the level design and the aforementioned frustrations that few are likely to feel the need to complete the substantial list of extras, and the sheer number of tasks can be downright daunting. Remembering the necessary backtracking to deliver a particular photo to a character, for example, doesn't feel worthwhile in the context of the experience.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two often fluctuates from being entertaining and enjoyable to being a frustrating mess. In terms of characterisation and charm it's excellent, and some puzzles and areas can be interesting, but it's an incredibly uneven experience. The co-op concept seems unnecessary, in truth, and the overall package feels rushed and incomplete; it's certainly not up to the standards of its predecessor. Fans of Mickey will get some enjoyment from the better stages and adore the presentation, while others may bemoan the fairly regular blips of confusing design and messy execution.