For all its faults, you could hardly accuse Warren Spector’s Epic Mickey of playing it safe. Its dark, twisted vision dared to scratch away the colourful surface of Walt’s world to reveal the rotting black heart pulsing beneath. This startling treatment of a pop icon – and the novelty of its unusual setting, the Cartoon Wasteland – carried Epic Mickey a long way past the reasonable complaints about its errant camera, awkward exploration and simplistic quest design.
How disappointing, then, that Junction Point should steer this sequel into gentler waters, all while making the same mistakes as last time. The camera might not be quite as wayward as in the Wii game, but it remains a bitter irony that a game developed in collaboration with the world’s most famous animation house should have such issues framing its action effectively. An unreliable double-jump hardly helps matters, contributing to a persistent feeling that exploration is more laborious than it really should be.
Of course, as the title suggests, Mickey isn’t alone this time. Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, the antagonist for much of the first game, is his unlikely companion as the pair attempt to uncover the secret behind a series of quakes that threaten to tear the Wasteland apart. Though the two rivals eventually settled their differences, it’s still odd to see them team up, their seething resentment apparently entirely forgotten.
Indeed, the tone is generally much lighter, a shift perhaps dictated by commercial concerns. Yet if the desire was to create something more family-friendly, it’s too inconsistent to work. There are moments here, particularly where the game’s mechanical menagerie is concerned, when it’s too dark for the very young, and the gloomy environments sit uncomfortably next to the whimsy elsewhere. Worse still, the dialogue has no zip, the humour has no punch, and the musical numbers are unforgivably poor for a Disney production.
That might not be such a problem had the developer managed to meaningfully expand upon the first game’s ideas. Mickey again relies on paint and thinner to respectively create or destroy, but there’s precious little development beyond the introduction of invisible ink as a stealthy option or an indelible variety to bypass corrosive hazards. New ideas do accompany Oswald – the rabbit’s remote control used to zap enemies and power machinery – but having a second character does bring problems for lone players at least. Occasionally, your AI partner will automatically assist in dealing with enemies or environmental conundrums, while at other times a prod of a button is needed to nudge him into action. On too many occasions, however, he’ll either refuse to help or be too far away to do so. Any platforming sequences that require use of Oswald’s hover ability are challenging for all the wrong reasons.