Wii 25-in-25: Epic Mickey,
As regular readers of this site will no doubt know, I am a hardcore Disneyphile. My earliest memory is being three years-old and watching the classic Mickey/Donald/Goofy team-up cartoon Mickey’s Trailer so many times that the VHS tape wore out. I was such a hardcore Disney fan growing up that I even managed to first hear of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back in my early teens. Long before Epic Mickey came along, I discovered the truth of the rabbit that came before the mouse and I even managed catch a few of the Walt Disney-created cartoons starring that wonderful lagomorph along the way. While fairly simplistic in comparison to the later Disney cartoons, the Oswald shorts still possessed that old Disney magic and I found them to be enjoyable precursors to the true greatness yet to come.
Yet, I never imagined that not only would somebody try to resurrect Oswald someday, but that they would do so while equally trying to help restore Mickey to his former glory as well. Mickey might be THE Mouse, but many have long held the belief that his best days were long past him. They would say that as a character he was no longer cool or complex enough to star in the kind of adventures that modern audiences wanted to see. They would argue that his real value these days lay in being a cooperate mascot. Of course, I never believed such talk for a moment and so I was hardly surprised when such works as the Kingdom Hearts series began to hint at just how awesome the Mouse really could be. However, it was not until 2010 when Deus Ex creator Warren Spector and his development company Junction Point Studios brought the world Epic Mickey for the Wii that someone truly proved that Mickey could headline a tale with real modern appeal.
The fact that Epic Mickey successfully accomplished this while also equally honoring the long tradition and past of both Mickey and Disney as a whole made it only all the more impressive. Make no mistake, Epic Mickey is any Disneyphile’s dream come true and in ways both big and small the game serves as a giant love letter to the often forgotten elements of Disneyana that have accumulated over the years. Characters like Oswald, the Gremlins (whose origin lies in a team-up between Walt and famed author Ronald Dahl that sadly never got past the pre-production stage), and the Phantom Blot (a Mickey antagonist who never really managed to get much traction outside of Europe) all play their part, even while long-abandoned pieces of the Disney theme parks serve as the basis (sometimes more literally than others) for the game’s very setting: The Wasteland. It was clear that Spector and his team of developers had a deep love and appreciation for all things Disney and sought to make a game that really honored the company and the Mouse who first brought it to fame.
There is more to Epic Mickey than just simple nostalgia though. For one thing, the tale of two brothers needing to reconnect and establish the true bonds of family is a potent center around which to build the game’s excellent story. Grounding the fantastical in understandable and relatable human emotions has always been the hallmark of Walt Disney. It something that helped separate his works (and the works of those who followed after him at the studio) from other cartoon figures to come; Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes may have had the edge when it came to sheer invention and energy, but rarely could they match the heart that Disney brought to the table. From classic moments like Snow White running through the forest and Bambi confronting the death of his mother, to more modern examples like the death of Mufasa and the burgeoning love between Belle and the Beast, Disney (the man and company alike) have always evoked strong emotions via its best works.
Mickey and Oswald started out as antagonists in Epic Mickey only to end the game with a new bond that marked them as brothers in spirit as well as lineage. It was a transformation the game deftly earned and it only felt right that Epic Mickey built a story possessing such a strong emotional core. Ultimately, the unabashed and unashamed sentimentality (living up to the word’s original meaning of “the reliance on feelings as a guide to truth”) of the game only served to help make it feel of all the more of a piece with the company from which it drew so much inspiration.
I acknowledge that Epic Mickey had some flaws on the gameplay front, with its often wonky camera being easily the most noticeable and prolific of these. Indeed, overall there was a definite lack of polish and refinement when it comes to the gameplay in EM and it is something that will bug many to a significant degree. Still, I would argue that the game’s strengths (including story, characters, setting, visuals, and audio) far outweighed any such weakness. Even with camera problems I enjoyed playing EM more often than not. Sure, I died some cheap deaths here and there, but I never for a moment thought of quitting the game.
When it comes to Disney there are lots of naysayers out there and I can respect your opinions. Certainly, the company does not have an untarnished record from either a creative or a business perspective. I would simply argue that taken as a whole, Disney has been a remarkable creative entity over the course of its existence. The company has helped to create some of the most enduring characters of the last hundred years or more, plain and simple. I have similar feelings about Epic Mickey as well. For whatever problems and mistakes might have cropped up in the course of the game, it was a title with real strength and appeal. Nor was this an opinion I alone shared and the game was equally a commercial success as well, selling over 1.3 million copies in its first month and over 2.68m worldwide as of October 2012. With multiple sequels coming for multiple systems in the weeks ahead, the world of Epic Mickey seems primed to keep growing in the future. And yet, just as how it was one little mouse (with an assist from his brother the rabbit) who started an empire, so too does Epic Mickey remain a game worthy of inclusion in any gamer’s library. Even after 84 years, Mickey has still got it and with titles like Epic Mickey that seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
Be sure to stay tuned to the Wii’s 25-in-25 to see more great Wii games.