Disney Epic Mickey review: A brush with greatness

The unlikely creation of Deus Ex designer and industry legend Warren Spector and his imagineers at Junction Point, Disney Epic Mickey is the single most ambitious Wii exclusive outside of Nintendo's own releases. "Epic" is not a misnomer -- from the quality of the art and animation, to the level design, scale and even score of the game, it's clear that massive amounts of resources, both of the creative and financial variety, were lavished on it. There are moments in Epic Mickey that are so good, so polished and so full of charm I would have sworn that I was playing a game Shigeru Miyamoto had a hand in.

If only the whole game was like that.%Gallery-76724%
Mickey Mouse has accidentally unleashed havoc on a mirror version of Disneyland, where all of Uncle Walt's forgotten creations reside. It's only fair then that he's charged with restoring order and -- of course -- defeating evil. It's a well-told story, but not what really sells the experience. No, that would be the amazing world that Spector has managed to create, integrating decades of Disney shorts, films, characters and theme park attractions into a one-of-a-kind game setting.

Your main way of affecting that world is also Epic Mickey's main gameplay hook: the ability to erase and restore elements of the world using paint thinner and paint, which stream forth from Mickey's magical paintbrush (as represented by your Wiimote). It's the key to plenty of clever environment-based puzzles, but it's also at the center of some more meaningful choices. For example, you have the ability to eradicate enemies using thinner or hose them down with paint and turn them to your side. Or, you can put your platforming skills to the test in locating trapped gremlins (classic Disney characters, not the kind that hate bright lights) that will complete challenges for you.

Apart from how good the whole dissolve/rebuild play mechanic feels and the sheer "Disney-ness" of everything, the moral decisions are what I'll most remember about Mickey's adventure. Early in the game, a character asked me to find an item that would prove his innocence in a mishap -- I found it, and was eventually offered a Mickey pin (one of the game's collectibles) for it by one of the characters I encountered. I declined, and, when I reached what I thought was going to be a battle with the character who'd asked for help, he instead thanked me for proving his innocence and rewarded me by unlocking a treasure room. Choices like "Do I drop a safe on someone to get what's inside, or take the time to find a more clever solution?" not only lead to different endings, but a feeling that you're truly affecting the game world in a way greater than even creating and destroying chunks of it.

Epic Mickey is a 10+ hour experience oozing charm and built around some fundamentally sound platforming. Amidst the spot-on atmosphere and serious obsession with Disney history, though, lie some pretty detrimental missteps. Specifically, the game's spastic camera, lack of any sort of target lock-on and copious amount of slowdown.

Thankfully, the moments of sheer joy Epic Mickey creates ultimately redeem the experience.

While the camera initially seemed good enough, it got progressively worse as I made my way further in and constantly wrestled with it to avoid falling to my death or being hit by enemies. Then the game would go into unintentional slow-mo and change from quite pretty to pretty painful to look at.

I found myself comparing Epic Mickey to another incredible rich and charming platformer with its own share of iffy mechanics and rough edges: Tim Schafer's Psychonauts. Both games share a similar vibe, but, more importantly, are flawed first platforming efforts from their creators. It's saying a lot that Warren Spector got so much right in this first try, and that, after the credits rolled, I wanted to go back for seconds. I just hope all the problems will be addressed next time around. (A "next time around" that, sadly, Psychonauts never received.)

You don't need to be a Disney fan to appreciate the high points of Epic Mickey, but it certainly helps when the going gets rough. Thankfully, the moments of sheer joy this game creates -- whether it's the umpteenth weird twist on a Disney classic or the multitude of fantastic side-scrolling levels themed after Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts -- mean there's always something worthwhile just around the corner.

This review is based on early review code of Disney Epic Mickey provided by Disney Interactive.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.