Warren Spector is a man admired for seminal entries into our gaming universe. Early cornerstones like Deus Ex and System Shock, which pushed the definitions of player impact and interactive narrative. And his conviction. So when he was willing to weather the scowls for what he assured was a project of an ongoing obsession, the Disney french toast soaked Epic Mickey, those willing to trust him enjoyed a passion project equal parts frustrating and charming. The 2010 cartoon platformer featured a lot of issues to muscle through, but the interesting atmosphere and the goopy paint v. thinner mechanics ensured that Spector’s time sporting a Mouseketeer cap wasn’t wasted. It also made a happy amount of money, so here’s a sequel, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, that shoehorns in co-op, singing and practically nothing else.
Mickey Mouse has been drafted once again to defend the less-than-magic kingdom of the Wasteland, though against what threat is up in the air. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mark 1, ushered in the more popular, titular toon to deal with a series of quakes stirring the forgotten citizens of Wasteland. Informed by the Mad Doctor, who expresses his change of heart through song, the two protagonists learn that the root of destruction is from a new, deadlier foe flooding in from the recesses of this loopy dimension.
I’ll refrain from spoiling, but the grey cloudiness looming over Wasteland is confusing and constantly back-and-forth. It’s a really short game, but even in that life span the goalpost is moved with dangling, made up plot devices. In the end, you find that you only arrive at something that was both obvious from the outset and makes little sense. Why did certain characters go so far out of their way to aid in their own thwarting?
The previous game was good. The gears needed desperate greasing, with a WiiMote controlled camera that fought against you, but the glue that held your attention was the eclectic appropriation of Magic Kingdom iconography; torn to shreds and bolted back up in an strange, dirty and decidedly non-Disney manor. The trash pile avalanches on Epic Mickey 2, with bits ‘n’ bites of Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland and Atlantis thrown into the scrap heap. Within the first hour of play, you will encounter an enemy made out of The Black Hole props (and concept art reveals a similar baddie inspired by Return to Oz was on the table). Things get even stronger with a set of underground, 2D tunnel sequences in the first act, which I would describe as that private hell where Scorpion fights Johnny Cage in the first Mortal Kombat movie with a Disney sing-a-long smile facade.
However, while some of what made good last time around is made more of, there isn’t much new to speak of. Epic Mickey 2 has you doing a victory lap through Bog Easy, ‘Ventureland and Mean Street, while the cartoon reel portals whiplash you to new, unrelated realms inspired by pioneer-time forts, cowboy cliffsides and a parking garage. It’s easy to feel lost and at a loss when what once felt like a streaming world is now a bunch of dabs in a void. In one moment I’m dancing with the ghosts in the haunted southern swampland of Bog Easy, only to next play lumberjack amidst the pines.
That freshness slack is left to Epic Mickey 2’s biggest new article, co-op – which is frustrating. A second player can now take up the reins of the spunky Oswald, who can throw his lucky foot like a boomerang and hover in the air with his rabbitty ears. But much like Oswald being the face discarded for Mickey’s fame, the poor second player will need to be cozy with playing second fiddle. Oswald is a helper, at best, used to carry Mickey over chasms and throw him to higher platforms. He can hack and charge a series of context sensitive panels, and many enemies must be taken down in one-two team up punches (which, I assure you, are a huge pain when the AI is in charge), but none of that nears what the main draw of the game can do. Mickey is still the epic one, with the brush that can paint in and thin out and sway the moral compass that spins with every quest and boss battle. In a history of video game co-ops, there are really only two effective routes: a sit-in, like in Double Dash or Super Mario Galaxy, with one player, be it sibling, parent or partner, who can feel included without feeling intimidated, or the completely level, letting two players experience equal, complementary parts. Epic Mickey 2 wades in both, and suffers the consequences.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t any errors erased. Two of my biggest grievances from the first outing – courier-style quests and locking doors that denied backtracking – have been dealt with. But the activities replacing the mail man duties aren’t much more engaging. Even in a confined space, Epic Mickey 2 has a lot of ongoing side quests, so many that by the credits, I had doubled back and discovered there were still a baker’s dozen I hadn’t even discovered until it was too late. For all their numbers, they are more or less the same task: collect. Collect pins, collect scraps, collect teddy bear parts, spirits, gremlins, baby rabbits, costumes, costume pieces, photos (of landmarks and or Mickey-shaped things) with more specific collections loading over the horizon. Just like before, the moral outcome of these collection quests really only hinge on your choice to use the blue or the green goo.
Epic Mickey 2 doesn’t do very much to justify itself. The outset plot feels forced and additional. The co-op isn’t much meditated on aside from just adding a second party (or a really dim computer). Even with a second analog stick (I played on the PS3), the camera still wrestles with you from time to time. It is buggy, and the bugs reveal themselves the more you dissect your surroundings for side quest goods. It’s a package, it’s just not a very good one. It seems Spector’s boyish earnesty was spent on the first Epic Mickey, a love letter to the House of Mouse and the theme park it’s located in. Spector’s fandom hasn’t so much lost steam as it has hollowed out for a needless sequel.