It's probably not the greatest omen when a game's creators and PR team start off by telling us what their game isn't -- in the case of Epic Mickey, that'd be a dark version of the world's most famous animated mouse.
So okay, we get it -- Mickey's his old chipper self, but the bleak and forbidding environments in his latest game are anything but sunny
Fantasia apparently taught Mickey nothing, because he's back again messing with the sorcerer's toys, this time unleashing a malevolent phantom ink blot into a series of worlds called the Wasteland, home to all the forgotten ideas Uncle Walt ever had.
This is a great premise for a trip down a memory lane of Disney's greatest hits; all the better to recall classics like Steamboat Willie, Mickey and the Beanstalk and Oswald the Rabbit -- cartoon concepts that embodied the origins of animation way before the word Pixar ever became part of our vocabulary. The trouble is that, for all the ways Epic Mickey nails these beautiful classic-cartoon elements, it botches all the mechanical ones. Ultimately, the action never really rises above the level of an above-average platformer.
The main gameplay mechanic involves a magical paintbrush Mickey can use to either paint in missing pieces of the environment, or thin out existing ones. It's initially entertaining -- at least until you realize that there are only a limited number of specific objects on which this magic works, and the changes you effect aren't permanent. (It's also not an original concept -- see the obscure Wii game Spray, where vomit was substituted for paint.)
The good news? You can choose to use either paint or thinner on your inky enemies -- especially the boss baddies -- and in doing so, exercise some real and meaningful control over the direction the game will ultimately take.
Elsewhere, control's a serious issue. Mickey's jumps are floaty and frustrating to gauge, and his spin-and-stun attack often takes multiple Wiimote shakes to jolt into action. Game missions, meanwhile, involve a ton of random trial and error and way too much fetching and backtracking. It's easy to begin feeling like you're on a directionless scavenger hunt in a virtual theme park, trudging from Tomorrowland to Adventureland and back again. That's not fun in any context, magical or otherwise.
Epic Mickey was helmed by the Imagineers at Disney and also by Warren Spector, the dude who gave us the superlative Deus Ex series and the original System Shock. With a rockin' RPG pedigree like that, we could have justifiably expected a slam-dunk entry into the Wii hall of fame. Instead, we're left with a so-so experience whose technical shortcomings don't feel so terribly epic at all.