A quick spin on Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two makes you feel like that mental bloke that gibbers to himself in the corner of the pub. Imagine a world where giant mice and rabbits team up to take on an army of cartoon beasties, armed with nothing more than a magic paintbrush and a remote control. It’s nuttier than a basket of squirrels, but Epic Mickey 2 is laden with Disney charm. Ultimately it’s a game for kids, but this third person platforming adventure has enough creativity to pull in mum and dad for a quick blast too.
A mouse and a rabbit meet in a bar...
We’re new to the Epic Mickey series, but reckon the bonkers story is just as eyebrow-raising whether you played the first game or not. A series of earthquakes have destroyed large portions of Wasteland, a bizarre mish-mash world created from eighty years of Disney cartoons, and it’s up to Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Rabbit (apparently the first ever Disney cartoon star) to figure out what deviousness abounds and put an end to it.
Player one takes control of Mickey, the paintbrush-wielding hero who should be familiar to everyone who doesn’t live A) in North Korea, or B) under the sea (ironically). As with the first game, Mickey can paint in walls, bridges and other transparent objects to make them real, but can also remove them using thinner - for instance, to obliterate an obstacle or weaken a column to bring it crashing down. Both actions are also handy attacks against the world’s baddies, who can be painted into friendlies or simply erased.
Player two handles Oswald, who comes armed with a remote control zappy thing. Again, this can be used to interact with the environment (in this case random bits of machinery) or to stun opponents. Controls for both characters are the same, and for the most part work well. We had no trouble navigating the environments or firing off paint and sparks, with a reasonable camera that can keep pace pretty well.
As the subtitle ‘The Power of Two’ suggests, Epic Mickey 2 is designed to be played in partnership with another real-life fleshy person. Or at least, that’s the theory. Sadly you can only play with a friend if they’re sat right beside you, via the split-screen mode. It’s well implemented at least: the second player simply has to tap the Start button of their controller and they’ll join in instantly by taking over as Oswald, with no break in gameplay. However, it’s a shame there’s no online multiplayer.
If you’re playing by yourself, the AI does an admirable job of keeping up. Oswald plays his part when expected, helping Mickey across gaps and shocking machines into life. Only occasionally does he fall to his death or get stuck somewhere, and most times you can summon him to your current position by holding down the circle button. Unfortunately he proves less useful in battles, sometimes choosing to stand there twiddling his thumbs instead of shocking enemies with his remote, while they gang up and thoroughly abuse you.
There are some areas where co-operative play is essential, for example Oswald carrying Mickey across gaps with his propellor ears, or Mickey opening a grate for Oswald to shock a machine hidden inside. However, the co-op elements rarely extend beyond these simple ideas and in some occasions are spread quite far apart, making them feel more like a tacked-on afterthought. Of course, kids will no doubt get a kick out of playing with their buddy, especially whirl-attacking them right off a cliff to their doom.
Our other bugbear is the sometimes hazy mission objectives. For instance, early on in the game you’re told to repair a lift but given no real indication of how you’re supposed to do that. It was only via a lot of trial and error that we figured out that Mickey had to pull open a steel cabinet for Oswald to shock something inside. Until then we were running around spraying and shocking all manner of machinery, praying for something to work. The main story suffers a similar problem, often simply pushing you from one place to the next with almost no explanation.
As for the environments themselves, they’re a colourful and imaginative bunch inspired by Disney cartoons of yesteryear. From wild west canyons to bonkers worlds filled with enormous toys and disembodied Disney heads, the variety is fantastic and most of the visuals are both vibrant and remarkable. Occasionally the 3D gameplay is flattened into 2D, mostly in the form of black and white cartoon projections that link the various worlds. These sections are generally easy to complete - a complaint that can be levelled at the majority of the game (barring hazy objectives) - but they’re still fun to play.
You’ll meet a full cast of cartoon characters during Mickey and Oswald’s quest, mostly half-forgotten creatures from back in the day. Stand-outs include the Mad Doctor, who bursts into song at every opportunity and expects our heroes to do the same, and slightly creepy mechanical versions of popular characters such as Goofy. You can interact with every cartoon beast you come across, and the cutscenes - a mix of 3D CGI and old-school 2D animation - are both well produced and entertaining.
Chatting with the cast often unlocks extra side-quests, the majority of which involve tracking something down. Notable standouts include a camera mission, which involves competing against your partner to snap as many iconic locations as possible, and helping an amnesiac toon to regain his memories by returning his surroundings to normal. Some of these side-missions will be pure gold for completists, especially those who try tracking down as many Disney pins as possible.
Our review of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two might seem quite negative at turns, but truth be told we kept on playing only partly out of duty, and mostly to see what crazy world we’d end up in next. The main mission might feel rather rushed in places but the side quests add plenty of extra value, and the characters are just as wacky and memorable as the levels themselves. It’s a shame the co-op elements weren’t better thought out, and a few minor frustrations were allowed to creep through to the finished product, but there’s about enough creativity here to keep kids and parents entertained (or at least intrigued).