Disney Epic Mickey 2 - The Power of Two review: Of mice and meh

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When an earthquake rattles the denizens of Wasteland, a melancholic dumping ground for Disney creations long forgotten, the Mad Doctor emerges with evil mustache intact – but a nicer public act. He's changed his tune, he says and sings, convincing all within earshot that he's due for a second chance. And never mind that he just burst forth from the earth on a gigantic robot, just as the town broke in half. That's no cause for suspicion, surely.

Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is something of a second chance for Junction Point's series, at least to my mind. The first game was tinged with a strange sadness as it caught up with characters discarded by their creators, though what empathy there was came in cutscenes more often than play. Mechanically, Mickey Mouse's house wasn't in order.

The sequel promises an improved camera, more elaborate choices, a musical flair, a playable partnership with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and the same exquisite appreciation and restoration of Disney's dusty history. Sadly, these claims of a better game are about as believable as the Mad Doctor's sudden turnaround, and Epic Mickey 2 slides into mediocrity after just a few steps.%Gallery-165274% Controlling Mickey Mouse is still a languid affair. There's no momentum in his movement, no spring in his step, and he jumps with all the fervor of a turkey that just ate an entire turkey and hasn't been able to sleep for weeks because of a recent descent into cannibalism.

The pace is slow enough to agonize, especially in the returning 2D trips through classic cartoons, like 1929's weird "Skeleton Dance." Here, in simpler scenery scrolling from right to left, you can sense the platforming for what it is: mundane, awkward and leaden. The same feeling pervades the 3D world of Wasteland, itself devoid of any interesting tests of traversal.

Mickey still has his squirting paintbrush, and the game pitches his ability to paint in the outlines of cartoons or erase them as a major moral choice. The practical effect is more akin to flipping a light switch on and off, though, so unless you bite your lip and tear up every time you illuminate the world or plunge it into darkness forever, it feels like a toggle for walls and platforms wherever the designers allowed them to appear. The concept is a good one, and you glimpse its potential whenever you're maligned for destroying things in your quest, but there's little analogue thinking to the experience, and no meaningful consequences in the moment. It's hard to think of Mickey's paint stream as creation when he's filling in an object that was already there.

While Epic Mickey 2 over-inflates the hollow choice between paint and thinner, it seems to underplay the more interesting paths presented in the level design. There are several solutions to each problem in Wasteland, some more subtle than others – and that's to the game's credit. Mickey and Oswald's jaunt may be linear overall, but progress in each area can cleverly split between altering the environment somehow, helping one of Wasteland's orphaned characters, defeating enemies, or uncovering a sequence of floating platforms that takes you where you want to go. You might erase pre-determined chunks of a tree to make it lean over and help you climb, or find a different route that takes you above the forest entirely. Oswald can fly Mickey across large gaps or activate electrical panels too, so a couch-only co-op partner can come in handy if you don't want to rely on the dubious AI.

Wasteland remains a charming theme park of Disney lore, strewn with dilapidated and oversized merchandise, beautiful music, and cute characters lovingly brought to life. I particularly enjoyed the Mad Hatter, a delirious purveyor of head gear, and the tunnels beneath Mean Street, which took me past creepy amusement-park clutter from Chip 'N Dale (Rescue Rangers). The intersection of nostalgia and open-ended levels gives Epic Mickey 2 its strongest edge as an adventure, just as it did in the first game.

It's easy to recognize the passion poured into Epic Mickey 2, a work of equal reference and reverence, but its core is fast asleep. Decisions receive admirable attention, then fall out of balance with the dull way in which you act on them. And though Mickey spends an awful lot of time fixing pipes in this game, what he really needs is an apprenticeship with a certain plumber.

The list behind the listlessness goes on: The still sluggish camera (especially so during boss fights), the muted graphics, and the tedious paint combat that makes you feel like you're spraying down the neighborhood's dogs with a garden hose, one by one. Also: Do we really need four different currencies? Why is the jump button also used to open doors? How did the Wii U version of Epic Mickey 2 ship with such an appalling framerate? Mickey's jumps were bad before – on the Wii U it's like he's on the moon.

That's an awful lot of criticism for a game born from love, and one that might see more appreciation from younger players. I'd have added forgiveness too, but I think kids may be even more sensitive to how Epic Mickey 2 feels – and it feels bad, man. The gap between concept and execution has rarely felt as wide, and the Mad Doc's redemption has only come closer by a smidge.

This review is based on review code of Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two on Xbox 360, provided by Disney. Additional time was spent with the Wii U version, provided by Disney.

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