Are you taking the (epic) Mickey?
August 20, 2015
One of my biggest gaming shames by FAR, is the decision to purchase Epic Mickey over Donkey Kong returns for the Wii.
Let me set the scene, I want to appropriately lament my fuckup.
It was late November and Christmas was fast approaching, I didn’t have a lot of university work left and I had a lot of time for gaming to do. And of course being right before Christmas, my pockets were well and truly anemic.
I swaggered into the local HMV and perused the latest entries in the Wii catalog. I only had enough funds for one title and aside from the bog standard array of Mario titles, the two new hip games on the block were Epic Mickey & Donkey Kong.
Pretty epic boxart, you cant deny.
Now, before games journalism became the colossal joke it is nowadays, I gave some credence to reviews, and none had popped up for Epic Mickey so far. And is always the case, all the previews were neutral to positive with too much vagueness to be useful. (a truly frustrating trend if you wanted to pre-order)
I did know that Donkey Kong was glowing with praise expectedly, but Mickey was something of a wild card. It was coming from legendary developer veteran Warren Spector and the game had been hyped like you wouldn’t believe. The allure of a edgy mickey re-imagining with Deus Ex talent was hard to resist. (“who gives a toss about that chunky monkey! edge lord mickey is on the scene hot damn!”)Plus, I had been binging on a lot of `making of` videos which showed how they were using the old mickey cartoons to base their 3D animation on.
I’m something of an animation enthusiastic and this was very enticing.
Surmising the two different games, Mickey seemed like a big open world with lots to do and see, whereas Donkey Kong was a more strict linear level based affair with repetitive gameplay. And since I needed something meaty to tide me over till next year, I opted for Mickey.
Thinking back to Donkey Kong country on the SNES, I remember being constantly stuck and frustrated. (I was more of a Sega child) And the memories of dozens of game overs and retries and eventually giving up on the game all together were haunting me and also helped sway my purchase.
Getting Mickey back home and diving into it, me and my friend were having a somewhat decent time at first. We tried our best to spot all the cool references and in-jokes for Disney fans. But our enthusiasm waned quickly.
I feel bad for any 3D platformer which had to share a console library with the Mario Galaxy series.
Speaking about the controls. I am no slouch when it comes to handling the Wii remote. The ir functionality was sufficient. It’s everything else that was the problem, the basics. Jumps felt floaty and sticky at the same time, melee attacks felt laggy and the camera was headache inducing. A lot of reasoning for unresponsive controls could be blamed on the phenomenal animation in the game. The top tier animation from Disney really did help offset the systems lack of processor power.
We all remember seeing the early concept art. Of a tim burton-esque re-imagining of Mickeys world, featuring mechanical zombie like incarnations of iconic Disney characters and abstract nightmareish landscapes. Well sadly a lot of those ideas didn’t make it through the Disney family filter intact. There’s nothing especially radical about the game aside from mickey being a slight jerk. The aforementioned levels are painfully PS2-era platformer and the frequent glitches and crashes frustrated to no end.
Do a google search when you get the chance. Some of the stuff will shock you.
The environments were all dark and dull, the games hub world and structure was just a confusing mess and the soundtrack was repetitive. I played through the game twice (once on the hero/blue style and the other on evil/green) and the only impactfull change was that the game felt even more depressing when playing the evil way. I tried and failed to eke some semblance of enjoyment out of this game. Completing it twice felt more like a economic decision rather then one inspired by enjoyment. The gloomy environments and bleak atmosphere sadly reflected my state of mind surrounding this game.
But don’t worry, this tale doesn’t end on a downer.
Even the 3DS version is a worthy purchase. Portability cant diminish this monkeys swag.
I was still on the fence a while after about Donkey Kong. I had red coverage about it’s insane difficulty, the inane collectathons and the fact that Retro studios weren’t working on another Metroid game. (2015 and still no word what it is they’re working on)
But when I actually got into the game. I was blown away. And I take back any negative thing I may have said or thought about it. Retro studios are truly artisans of their craft.
Now the game isn’t perfect objectively. But for me its a 10. The motion controls are at odds with the hyper precise platforming but that is my only complaint.
I could talk forever about everything this game does right. The Pixar level of animation quality. The frankly excessive attention to detail in the environments. Pitch perfect soundtrack, enjoyable multiplayer, beefy content, world drenched in atmosphere and some surprising world building.
These levels are a definite high point. Which is saying something considering how many of them there are.
The silhouette levels are extraordinary inventive and creative. the way they play with visibility and lighting is leagues beyond what the games contemporaries can offer. They deserve to be their own game on their own merits.
Every single level is bursting at the seams with fun to find collectables, (surprisingly fun) polished settings, hilarious enemies, catchy songs, nostalgic throwbacks, winks and nods to the almost 30 year history of the series. But it’s by no means a hollow throwback. This game has a ton of heart and the epic struggle between monkey and banana strangely resonated with me.
My favourite moment by far. The `realisation` of the factory level. My jaw hit the floor.
With the completion of this game under my belt (100% not 101% the new game plus & time attacks are beyond me) I am suitably hyped for the sequel tropical freeze. Hopefully I can amass the funds to get it before this generation ends.
If there’s one lesson I’d like people to ascertain from my epic fail, It’s don’t believe the hype. Your wallet will thank you.