This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Epic Mickey.
You know, as a child, I used to have a phobia of theme park mascots. Emotionally repressed even then, I was suspicious of their instant friendliness, fixed grins, and eagerness to take me into the gents to show me Herman the Hairy Snake (the secret mascot who only comes out for good little boys and girls with weak gag reflexes). The point is, I hadn't gotten over this problem by the time I got taken to Disneyland, and the day became a tense and fearful avoidance game at the first sign of oversized cranium; culminating in paroxysms of torment when the parade rolled around. The grins! A sea of grins! Staring. Judging. Winnie the Pooh doing some foul, perverted windmill dance with his exposed forearms. No, Goofy, I don't want to taste Herman's special milk! You'll be pleased to know I have now conquered this fear, thanks in part to Epic Mickey, a game about systematically demolishing Disneyland while Mickey Mouse repeatedly falls off cliffs; whether you want him to or not.
You may remember that the media started buzzing like an amorous wasp about Epic Mickey when some rather evocative concept art got sent around of an animatronic Goofy post-threshing machine; and of a ruined, post-apocalyptic Disneyland, implying the kind of dark, edgy, subversive reinterpretation of Disney that Epic Mickey most certainly is not. Disney, having long been as artistically bankrupt as a vending machine, care less about interesting new reinterpretations than their copyrights being depicted in the slightest negative light, so the specter of compromise hovers around Epic Mickey - sorry, Disney Epic Mickey - like a bad smell.
Well-meaning funster Mickey Mouse, depicted in the intro as some kind of narcoleptic, wakes up for just long enough to accidentally release an evil blob monster upon something that closely resembles Disneyland, but is never identified as such; ostensibly fucking the whole place up, but not really. You see, pseudo-Disneyland is far too magical and wholesome a place to be brought down merely by the relentless march of time or the indifferent neglect of man; it's got to be blob monsters. There's this one vintage Mickey Mouse comic in which he breaks up with Minnie and spends the rest of the comic attempting suicide - I swear this is true - and it was way edgier than this. Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers was edgier than this. Fucking Kingdom Hearts was edgier than this, if only because of the usual JRPG pedophilia subtext. Two child abuse jokes and we've barely started; that never bodes well.
The game is a hub-based action-adventure with a slightly Zelda-y, Banjo-Kazooie-y bent. Centrally, Mickey is wielding a magic brush - an edgy magic brush - with the power to create with one hand and destroy with the other, Mickey now apparently being a Hindu deity. However, the power extends only to selected background objects, bits of wall, and patches of grass. It's a gameplay mechanic specifically designed to annoy people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, because while a totally created or totally destroyed level both look at least consistent, anything in between looks like absolute arse - like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle balanced on somebody's arse. The creation/destruction thing ties into an ongoing moral choice system where every enemy (including bosses) can be defeated by either destroying them (the evil option) or recreating them into friendlies - which is still evil when you think about it, because it's suppressing their free will. And yes, now you come to mention it, that terrifying full-faced picture of a grinning Mickey Mouse they used to use at the start of Disney shorts does have a slightly Orwellian vibe to it.
Now, I'm not about to say the Wii is inherently a big, white clump of hardened albino snot - that's the old me, the one who lives in a cave feeding off pebbles and arrogant snorts. But every time a third-party Wii game acknowledges the motion-sensor with one token Wiimote waggle control - in this case, for the melee attack - it always fits into gameplay flow as naturally as a sponge at a moisture convention. And why do you think every other console controller has two analog sticks, Mr. Wii? Do you think it's just for symmetry or because they look a little bit like nipples? No! It's because in 3rd person games the camera is like the working class: if you can't control it, it will plot to destroy you. When it's not staring at the floor, it's swinging drunkenly around while you're trying to spray paint at something off to the right. The "center camera" button just flat-out refuses to work sometimes when it feels you don't appreciate it enough. And in 1st person mode you can't move, and when you spray paint it looks uncannily like Mickey is urinating a vibrant blue liquid.
Perhaps the camera issues wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the level design. For a lot of them, it's like they got together all the pieces of the level, dropped them on the floor in a big pile, and then, I don't know, there was a bomb threat or an ice cream van drove past and everyone ran outside - and someone else came in to pick up the finished level and didn't realize the bits hadn't been put together yet. Not that there's not enough opportunity to get your bearings, I suppose; you're only going to see them all eighteen million times. As is so often the case, the interpretation of "epic" seems to be "backtrack a-go-go". Before you can unlock the next level, you're required - required, no less - to complete a few little side-quests in and around the levels you've already been to.
And again, as is so often the case, "side-quests" means "glorified postal service". Guy A wants something from Guy B; he'll give it if you get something from Guy C; Guy C will give it if you masturbate into his webcam for a few minutes. Multiple layers of fetch quests! It's like they couldn't be arsed to think of anything else, so they just said, "Fuck it, we're going for niche appeal with the fetch quest connoisseur crowd". Oh yes, and to travel between levels, you have to go back and forth through these extremely LittleBigPlanet-esque 2D-platform sections every single time! It turns into a fucking commute. There's one collectible in each one as part of another fucking fetch quest, and if you're going after them, here's a gameplay hot tip: take the upper path. They are always, always on the upper path. Maybe they're like deep-sea angler fish in that they explode if they're not at the right altitude.
It occurred to me that you only ever see Mickey Mouse these days if it's in some kind of ironic context, and that led me to wonder: who exactly is this game for? I doubt kids these days have any interest in a small, cartoon animal that cannot fit inside a red and white ball, and all the references to classic cartoons might as well be referencing The Canterbury Tales; if it predates ThunderCats, they just don't want to fucking know. But if it's meant to be some nostalgia trip for adults, then why is it so unchallenging and toothless and about as edgy as a spherical cake in the middle of something? Despite one slightly interesting dual-gameplay idea, Epic Mickey is an irritating waste of potential; like a used condom resting on your forehead.
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FullyRamblomatic.com: So many childhoods to rape, so little time