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Epic Mickey preview: Small mouse, big decisions

Justin McElroy

Mickey Mouse isn't supposed to be in situations like this.

Though I'd been having a great time spraying paint on enemies and wiping out obstacles with magical paint thinner in my PAX demo of Epic Mickey , I found myself absolutely stymied during a crucial moment. Here on my one hand was a helpless gremlin in a cage, begging for rescue. On the other, a treasure chest full of the game's currency, E tickets.

The tickets were counter-balancing the catapult in which the gremlin was confined, so snatching them would lead to his doom. But I was told that the tickets would be lost if I freed the gremlin. I had to get one of the two, but as soon as I did, the other would be lost forever.

Gallery: Epic Mickey (PAX 2010) | 12 Photos

I was assured that this is the influence of Junction Point Studios chief Warren Spector, who has a long legacy of introducing impactful player agency into games like Deus Ex. Heck, his studio's name could easily be seen as a reference to just that idea.

Despite this evidence, I was still hung up by such an ethical stumper. Perhaps I was caught off guard by how much my perception of the game had shifted after just a few minutes of playing. This was not the pleasant-enough platformer I had expected, this was something far more engaging. I'm apparently more of a sucker for vintage Disney imagery than I imagined because levels like Mickey and the Beanstalk (which shifted to a straight 2D platformer from the rest of the game's 3D action) had me completely engrossed.

I was similarly enamored with Mickey's paint and thinner. They're demonstrably useful -- such as making a bridge disappear and then reappear to rid it of some rubble -- but it was the physical application of those abilities that really got me. Using the Wiimote to aim Mickey's brush is a simple joy and one I imagine will have plenty of staying power.

The way Mickey's tool is employed in combat reflects the choice aspect as well. With a spray of either paint or thinner, enemies can either be turned to fight for you, or destroyed. Though I'm still not convinced that I'll find myself engrossed by the overarching story (Mickey's quest to save the Wasteland of forgotten cartoon characters that he himself created), I was certainly buying into the moments.

If I had one concern, it was the look of the game. While it's well-designed, it's crying out for the polish and panache that a beefier console could provide. The graphics, appropriately enough, reminded me of watching my VHS copy of The Black Cauldron as a kid and wondering why it wasn't as thrilling as when I saw it on the big screen.

Still, I wanted to play more, but first there was the problem of the gremlin and the E tickets. Years of gaming has given me an almost Pavlovian response to the opportunity to collect more widgets, even though I wasn't exactly clear on what Mickey's version could be used for. On the other hand, the poor little gremlin looked so helpless.

So, what did I do in the end? I saved the guy, of course. I'm still Mickey after all, not a monster. Perhaps you'll be one when Epic Mickey launches this November.

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