If nothing else, at least you can't say that Epic Mickey 2 doesn't try hard to be different. After all, it's not every day you come across a game that's part platformer, part musical, and part shouting-at-daft-computer-player simulator. In fact, we can't remember that last time we came across a game that was part-musical at all...
The sequel to the Wii exclusive Epic Mickey, Epic Mickey 2 takes place in the cartoon graveyard of the Wasteland, where forgotten characters, rides, and toons go to wallow in their own obscurity. After being partially demolished at the end of the first game, the renovation's just starting to get under way, when all of a sudden, an earthquake strikes, demolishing much of the hard work, and signalling the appearance of the villain from the previous game, the Mad Doctor. As the music starts up (it's a surprisingly catchy tune), the Doc begins to warble on about how he's a changed man, and the earthquakes only happened to coincide with his mysterious return. In fact, he was only on his way over to warn them that something terrible their way comes - a new enemy, who look set to take over Wasteland - and he needs help to stop it. Realising the land's in trouble, Oswald the lucky rabbit puts in a call to the only person who can help in their time of need - Mickey Mouse.
When the singing dies down, it's up to you to step into the bright red shoes of the mouse himself, as you platform your way through the levels - although there is a little bit more to it than that. Armed with a magical paintbrush, you can spray both your enemies, and the levels with either paint, or paint thinner, which each have different effects. Spray an enemy with thinner, and you'll destroy him - but spray them with paint, and you can befriend them, rendering them almost completely harmless. Even the environment isn't safe - spray a pot, pan, wall, or platform with thinner, and you can erase it entirely. Look for thin, white outlines throughout the levels and spray them with paint, however, and you can draw new objects in, helping open up paths to different parts of the world.
Rather than being divided into specific levels, Epic Mickey 2 is a lot more free form, with different areas connected to a hub that you'll have to trek to and from in order to progress through the story. At regular points, you'll be given quests to complete, whether you've got to help rebuild a train station, blow a hole through some rubble, or solve a puzzle to get the energy (or as it's alternatively known, neon paint), from the rainbow falls into the machine to power Wasteland.
Most of the puzzles revolve around some combination of thinning things, or painting new objects in, but often, you'll have to work together with your partner, Oswald, in order to get things done. Coming with his own set of moves, Oswald can, somewhat bizarrely, tear his own arm off and chuck it at things, and zap electrical items with a remote control-cum-lightning conductor that'll dish out a nasty shock to any enemy that comes near. So whether you're pulling on a switch to open a gate that'll let Oswald zap the controller inside, or sliding Snow White and her Prince Charming together in order to unlock a door, there are plenty of times you'll have to work together (much like in the LEGO games) - although unfortunately, when Oswald's under the game's control, he's not all that much use. While you can press a button to tell Oswald you need your help, at times it seems like his giant ears aren't all that much use, as he'll completely ignore you. At other times, he'll simply mistime his jump, or land on something you're carrying and knock it out of your hand. Luckily, you don't have to rely on the useless AI, though, as an extra player can drop in and start playing at any time by simply pressing start on an extra controller - and you'll appreciate the extra help.
At times, Epic Mickey 2 has a rather odd feeling. On one hand, you've always got loads to do - characters to find, things to collect, quests to complete - but you often have no idea where you're meant to be heading in order to do them. Whether it's a question of poorly designed levels, or the lack of signposting, finding your way from one end of the Wasteland to the other can be a bit of a chore. Even more oddly, you can't simply choose to jump from one side to the other - instead, you have to work your way through a mini-level, based on an old cartoon, every time you want to enter that area. When you're having to backtrack there for the third time, having to play through the same level again before you get there can be a bit grating.
If you don't have to repeatedly use them though, these 2D levels offer a nice change of pace. Connecting the various worlds together, the levels offer a change of perspective, as you'll be playing side on, and a welcome change of pace. Mostly based on the black and white cartoons that Mickey found his fame in, you'll have to balance on beams, bounce off balls, and, as you may expect, paint things in, thin things out, and zap things with Oswald's magic remote. Sadly, things are a little bit trickier than they really should be here too, as it can be awkward to aim your weapon. While Mickey can only fire in an arc, you have the freedom to move your cursor anywhere, and the disconnect can be a bit disorienting. Point your cursor at a switch, and Mickey will often simply fire straight up into the air, as though he hasn't a clue what you want him to do. It's disappointing - and could have been easily fixed by matching your cursor to where Mickey's going to fire.
But in the various lands of the Wasteland, things start to come together a lot more nicely. Packed full of Disney characters from days gone by, if you're a fan of the house of mouse, or you've ever been to theme parks, you'll notice the many references scattered around the lands - from the bugs from the Main Street Electrical Parade, to the signs from Autopia, and various murals to films from days gone by. The whole game has a "dark ride" style feel, and the characters all sound rather authentic too, with a special mention going out to Big Bad Pete (and Small Pete, who for some reason is dressed like one of the dolls from It's a Small World). In fact, one of the quests in the game asks you to hunt down and take photos of "hidden mickeys and oswalds" that are scattered throughout the lands - objects, pieces of scenery, and arrangements of things that bear more than a passing resemblances to either a mouse or rabbit's head, which are a popular feature of the real life parks. The levels themselves are packed full of secrets waiting to be found - walls that can be thinned out, with treasures waiting behind, or passages just off the beaten track full of collectibles - it's just a shame so much of the game is so hard to get your head around.
When playing through the tutorial, we actually ended up getting stuck, and had to look the solution up on the internet. For a game that's designed to be played by families and children as much as it is experienced players, that's a bit of an embarrassing show. The problem in question came when we were trying to get over a large gap in the castle courtyard. The gap was too large for us to jump, and all the advice the game would give us was "When Oswald is ready to help, press B to give him the OK". So we did - and chucked Oswald into the air. Turns out the problem happened because we were playing in co-op. Play through in single player, and not only do you get a much better explanation, but Oswald also drops down after being chucked into the air, and hovers above you. In co-op, we eventually managed to leap up, grab Oswald's legs, and make it across - but only just. Mickey grazed his knee upon landing, and we almost slid off had we not hammered jump quick enough.
But sadly things don't really get much better. The game seems to jump between telling you what to do far, far too often, and then not telling you anything at all - even when you spend ten minutes wondering around an area thinning things and painting them back in. The co-op seems a bit flawed too, as one of the most basic requirements - an arrow to tell you where the other player is - is notable by its absence. Making it that much harder to meet up when you get separated, it's a surprisingly frustrating thing. And there are other little niggles too - the jump button's on the same button as the action, so try and go through a door and you'll end up jumping a few times before you open it; only Mickey can be given quests - talk to a character as Oswald and you may end up missing out; and a lot of the plot is fairly poorly explained if you haven't played the first game - like why Goofy's part robot when you first meet him.
While it's not quite the epic it hoped it would be, Epic Mickey 2 is a fairly solid platform adventure nonetheless. With plenty to see and do, puzzles to solve, and a fair sprinkling of that Disney magic, there's enough to keep you and your co-op partner occupied here - but if you're going to be playing on your own, or you prefer a little more hand holding when you're finding your bearings, it may be worth thinking twice about Epic Mickey 2 - or perhaps going for the Wii U version, which features a map on the GamePad screen (and would likely solve many of the problems we had with this).
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360