Review: Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two isn't all that epic
Having not played the original Epic Mickey on the Nintendo Wii, I was super excited when Disney and Junction Point announced the sequel -- Disney's Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two -- would be released for multiple consoles. Better yet, The Power of Two was said to have improved on the original with better camera control, multiplayer support, and character voice-overs. These were promises that were kept by Junction Point, but ultimately failed to live up to expectations cast upon the highly-anticipated sequel.
Disney's Epic Mickey 2 is rightfully named The Power of Two because it truly shows the impact a second player can have on your experience. Having played the game both alone and with a buddy, I can say it is definitely better with two players. It's not that Oswald is completely dumbfounded when controlled by the AI, but he does fail to respond as quickly as, say, a human would. It's even more telling that the game was designed for two players based on the fact that throughout the game Gus gives directions to Oswald -- regardless of the fact that he's being controlled by AI.
For puzzles, Oswald is more than capable of holding up his end of the deal. When you finally figure out what you need to do, Oswald will be right there to supply energy to a control box or turn a gear with you. It's when you encounter enemies that Oswald's glaring weaknesses are revealed.
When fighting waves of enemies, Oswald is often found doing his own thing -- running around in circles mindlessly and occasionally coming to the rescue once you "die." After a while, he does get the idea that you need his help, but that's after a few minutes of you battling alone. Oswald's incompetence is really exemplified in boss fights. Most boss fights require you and Oswald to work together -- you spraying the boss with paint or thinner and Oswald shocking something to stun them. During these boss fights, you might as well be alone, as Oswald is slow to react -- either in stunning the boss or coming to your aid to revive you. Oswald's apathetic behavior makes for extremely frustrating boss fights and combat sequences -- especially with how unforgiving some of the fights are.
I must point out that in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, you have very little health. While the game does supply an adequate amount of places where you can regenerate your health, I often found myself a victim of "cheap deaths." I rarely use this term to describe deaths in games, as I realize the majority of time it really is the player's fault. However, in The Power of Two, with thinner literally erasing parts of the level, one hit can compound into several hits, resulting in a loss of several health bars before you even have a chance to react. In the final boss fight -- which takes place on a circular, rotating level -- I found myself being hit once, falling into the thinner, and then jumping to get out but landing in the other missing block and back into thinner.
Like I said, Oswald's incompetence only really hinders the combat portion of the game. The rest of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is comprised of fairly straightforward puzzles with portions of platforming and 2D sidescrolling. If you are not the puzzle-type of gamer, The Power of Two spells out everything you must do with the help of your navigator, Gremlin Gus. Some might find this to be too revealing, but I welcomed Gus' generous handholding.
The platforming in The Power of Two is extremely simplistic and generic; that's because the goal isn't to challenge you, but rather to encourage you to explore Wasteland. Over the past few months, we've heard game creator Warren Spector preach about "playing your way." The game is designed to let you explore and experience it how you want to play. The "story" can be as long or as short as you want it to be based on the amount of time you spend exploring Wasteland's nooks and crannies.
Speaking of story, The Power of Two is a direct sequel to 2010's Epic Mickey. Unfortunately, the original was only released for the Wii, so only select individuals were able to experience that original story. In this game, the Mad Doctor returns to Wasteland claiming to have realized the error of his ways and offering his help to the residents of Wasteland following a series of recent earthquakes.
Not trusting the Mad Doctor, Gus the Gremlin (Oswald's adviser) and Ortensia (Oswald's girlfriend/wife) contact Mickey Mouse to ask for his help. Mickey and Oswald then set off on an adventure through Wasteland to uncover the real purpose of the Mad Doctor's return. It's a fairly straightforward plot; however, elements of it can be lost to someone new to the franchise. There's a little recap of what happened in the prior episode -- aside from a brief cinematic and short song -- so you really have no idea about many of the characters or creatures you encounter throughout the game.
As I mentioned, The Power of Two and Spector's "play style matters" design lets you experience the world of Wasteland how you want. Gus does serve as a nice guide for where you need to go next, but how you get there is totally up to you. For the majority of the game I felt lost in Wasteland, but at the end, I ended up where I needed to be. In most cases there are at least two ways to end up at the final destination, and it's up to you to uncover them. Most of the time, you'll be given the option of two choices in which you must decide, but be warned, each choice does have a "consequence." The consequences are hardly noticeable, but I will say that upon completing the story I was missing three of the 15-or-so cinematics (maybe I would've unlocked them had I chosen something else?). That's still to be explored.
Beyond the main story, there's still plenty to do in The Power of Two. There are pins to collect, costumes to unlock, and concept art to find, so even if you finish the story -- which is rather short -- you won't find a lack of things to keep you busy afterwards. With that being said, Wasteland -- despite its potential -- doesn't really provide an intriguing place to want to continue exploring after the story is completed.
In terms of environment, as most of you know, Wasteland is a place for forgotten Disney toons. However, most of the environments are unrecognizable to the less-hardcore Disney fan. The lands are inspired by Disney attractions, but unless you're an older fan who appreciates the history of Disney, it's very likely that the lands in The Power of Two will seem like nothing more than waste. Although there are a few things you'll immediately recognize from a more modern Disney, such as the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves rock carving in Rainbow Caverns, the majority of the land seems like a strange, robotic world you could find in any other game.
Some of the best environmental experiences in the game happen to be in the 2D sidescrolling portion. To travel from land to land, you must traverse through a 2D environment inspired by classic Disney shorts. The themes of these films and the contents of the level change depending on where your traveling, resulting in some of the most aesthetically pleasing environments and fun gameplay in the The Power of Two. Unfortunately, your time spent in these areas is very brief.
As mentioned above, Junction Point kept true to their word with Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, but they did little to really make this game stand out. Yes, the characters do have voices and there are musical numbers in the game, but some of the voices are painfully annoying, and the few songs are all sang by one character; it's very disappointing. It's also quite frustrating hearing the same line repeated over and over during fights and boss encounters (maybe they were better off silent). Yes, the camera angle is MUCH better, but there are still times when your view puts you at a disadvantage -- especially with boss fights. And yes, the game features drop-in/drop-out co-op, which I highly suggest you take advantage of due to Oswald's AI weakness.
The reality is that Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two really isn't that epic at all. The overall gameplay, experience, and adventure is lackluster. The game stayed true to its promises, but failed to eclipse expectations. It almost feels like Junction Point did just enough to get by with this one. The new features are nice, but for every change there are still glaring weaknesses highlighting the improvements that still need to be made.