Monday, December 31, 2012

New Reviews: Epic Mickey Power of Illusion (3DS)

A few years back there was a good bit of excitement over Disney's decision to revive Mickey Mouse's video game persona, this time in the form of an epic adventure headed up by industry vet Warren Spector. Epic Mickey was the end result, a game that I found to be such a disappointment that it really damaged my hopes for Mickey Mouse's video game future.

Epic Mickey 2 was released this year across all platforms, and though I have yet to play it, the game looked to me to contain all the same flaws that made the first one such a chore to play, so I haven't yet gone out and bought it. The one bright spot, however, was the 3DS version; Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion went a different direction entirely, taking the form of a 2D sidescroller meant as the spiritual successor to the Sega Genesis classic, Castle of Illusion. It was this version that I looked forward to, and without hesitation I picked it up and immediately dove in.

And the verdict? Well, "okay" is at least better than bad, right?

Let me start from the beginning, though. Power of Illusion is a far more straightforward game than its console brothers. You move Mickey from left to right across some gorgeously rendered Disney worlds as he takes out enemies by ground-pounding on their heads, the goal being to free Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters from the mysterious castle they've been imprisoned in. There's no "good/evil" mechanic, there are no in-game fetch quests, and there's no co-op play.

And, at first, it's decent enough. The sound effects and art style had an immediate "Genesis" vibe for me, with the 3D effect adding real depth to the backgrounds and creating environments well worth venturing through. The music is far better than what I can remember from the Wii's Epic Mickey game, featuring suitably epic tracks but fitting the environments far better. And there's something undeniably fun about spotting various Disney characters hidden throughout the levels and rescuing them. Doing so creates a room for them in the Castle, a static map you can explore between levels. In this network of rooms, you can take on missions from the newly-rescued characters, missions which always seem to involve visiting another character, highlighted on the map with an exclamation point, and talking to them. It's simple and not particularly challenging, but compared to the endless series of item hunts and fetch quests required of you in the console Epic Mickey games, it's unobtrusive and addictive.

To a degree the side missions are required, as they help net you the points necessarily to unlock new areas of the castle, but you can also spend points to "upgrade" the characters' rooms; adding more personality to each with every upgrade, something which winds up being a fun little distraction. It's the little things that you'll find yourself thankful for, because like with Epic Mickey, it's the core gameplay mechanics that drag the whole thing down.

As you progress through the levels you'll see no shortage of enemies to take out, but the ground pound, which requires you not only to jump but to hold the A-button midair, can wind up messing things up for you, especially if it bounces you too high off the defeated enemy and into a hazard above. To compensate, developer DreamRift has given you the "Epic Mickey" Paint and Thinner moves, though here it doesn't seem to matter much which one you fire at the enemy. Your amount of paint and thinner is limited, however, and doesn't fire particularly fast, making it ineffective when surrounded, something that becomes all too common and a source of much frustration in the game's later stages.

Another feature has you using the touchscreen to trace the outlines of various objects to bring them to life, all while rating you on your accuracy. It's a cool idea in theory, but in practice it's beyond clunky; bringing up the "draw" screen not only freezes the action and interrupts the pace, but you're then forced to sit through the unskippable animation of Mickey actually using the paint. With boss fights that demand you bring this screen up constantly, it doesn't take long at all for this to come across as tedious.

The power ups you can gain access to don't provide much help, though there are several to be unlocked, if you so choose.


Verdict: All in all, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a game that, like with the rest of the Epic Mickey franchise, was developed with great intentions. Here we see an attempt to create a sequel to the iconic Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion games which played such a large role in my Sega Genesis gaming growing up. It's been a very long time since I've played those games so it's tough for me to remember why they worked and why Power of Illusion doesn't. But though the platforming feels uninspired almost from the start, the graphics, music, and atmosphere kept me going full speed, well, until the frustrating trial-and-error gameplay that defines the final levels shows up. Meanwhile the attempts to merge this with the world (and flawed gameplay concepts) of the Epic Mickey series feel tacked on and wind up being a bit of a pain.

If you want to play a Mickey Mouse sidescroller again, Power of Illusion fits the bill in the sense that we've been waiting a long time for it, and believe it or not I spent over 8 hours playing it. It's just too bad that flawed gameplay concepts and frustrating final levels show up to ruin the nostalgic fun.

Presentation: All-text story sequences continue to feel like a step back, and though the characters have their charms, their dialogue feels bland. A hub world Castle (of sorts) provides some fun character interaction between the levels.

Graphics: The game definitely looks the part, with colorful and very detailed foregrounds as the 3D adds depth to the back. (New Super Mario Bros 2, take notes.) Some framerate drops later on.

Gameplay: Your average 2D platformer at heart, with some last minute frustrations and under-developed ideas leaving a mark.

Sound: Music is epic. Effects are great.

Replay Value: There are plenty of additional powers to unlock should you want them, and upgrading your teammates' rooms is a fun bonus. Game took me a little over 8 hours according to my 3DS Activity Log; not bad for a game that many deemed to be "too short."

Overall: 6.5/10

(Note; my reviews go on a .5 scale.)  

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