I’ve put the controller down. My anger is mostly gone, but the disbelief... no, that’s still there. I just don’t understand how it could happen. How could a game, with such a solid pedigree and background, with an idea that has proven golden before turn out so badly? All that pre-launch hype? Forget it. All those promised improvements over the original? Not here. No, this is a game that doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the original.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two picks up a little bit after the events of the first game. The Blot is defeated and peace is slowly returning to Wasteland. It doesn’t take long, however, before things start to go south. A series of unexplained earthquakes begin to ravage the countryside and the Toons turn to Mickey for help once again. This time around he is joined by Oswald throughout the entire adventure as together they try to unravel the mystery and hopefully bring peace once again to Wasteland.
And that’s where the real problems start. The entire game is designed as a two player co-op adventure where the first player controls Mickey and the second player is Oswald. Mickey’s repertoire remains mostly unchanged from the original Epic Mickey while Oswald can fly and shoot electricity from his remote. While on paper teaming these two up should have made for some enjoyable platforming and unique level design, in reality the experience is a muddy, confusing mess with some very frustrating design choices thrown in for fun.
While Epic Mickey allowed you to control Mickey and his brush via the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, The Power of Two forces player 1 to use the Wii U Gamepad, which simply doesn’t offer the same level of responsiveness as the Wii Remote. To make matters worse, the game doesn’t even use the Wii U’s touch screen in any meaningful way; in fact it’s mostly used as a map of your surroundings or as a glorified pause screen. And while the second player is allowed to use the Wii Remote combo its use is more reminiscent of some early Wii efforts (think unresponsive twisting) than a major game from 2012. To add insult to injury the back of the box depicts the Wii Classic Controller as an option, but nowhere could I find this option and when I connected one it just asked for a Nunchuck.
In terms of pure gameplay everything from the original Epic Mickey makes a return in Power of Two. You'll still be platforming, painting, and thinning your way through Wasteland, and depending on which of these you prefer, the inhabitants of Wasteland will either reward you or shun you. This ‘good vs. bad’ gameplay mechanic was fairly well executed in the first title, but this time around it’s far too easy to do the ‘wrong’ thing and often much more difficult to find the ‘good’ solution. New mechanics, like new sketches (power-ups) and two special inks (one that makes you invincible and another invisible), do remind you that you are playing a new adventure, but they're seldom used in meaningful ways.
Most quests offer two (or more) ways of reaching a conclusion. Depending on which you choose you will affect the lives of the toons living in Wasteland for better or for worse. However, the level design is so ambiguous that most of the time you will find yourself simply jumping around, painting and thinning away in order to work out where to go next. Worse still, the game never gives you any indication as to whether you're doing things the ‘good’ way or the ‘bad’ way until it’s too late to change course.
The return of the 2D platforming levels based on classic Disney movies is the small silver lining in an otherwise desperately disappointing sequel. This time around they come in two flavours: the classic kind, where you can simply jump, or a mish-mash style, where you can use your paintbrush and remote to solve puzzles. In general these levels are enjoyable and break up the rest of game’s slog rather nicely. The execution of these levels is far from perfect, however; Oswald and Mickey start at different places in these levels (one in the foreground the other in the background), so if you want to collect all of the hidden items in the game then you'll have to replay these levels.
For a game called ‘The Power of Two’ it sure doesn’t give the poor sap you roped into playing as Oswald a lot to do. For a long stretch of the game I completely forgot that I even had my AI partner with me. The only point where you will absolutely need Oswald is either for puzzles that require both heroes to solve or for some rather tricky platforming. The little bunny is almost useless in battles too, since he can only stun foes and has little to no impact on most of the game’s bosses. When Oswald finally does get to step up to plate it’s a total disaster. The AI can’t handle the simplest of tasks and is so rigid in its thinking that it will only try to do one thing over and over, even if it’s not what you want to do. Pressing ‘B’ will call him over but once he gets there he will often just ran back to whatever he was trying to do before.
Playing with a human partner is in some ways a lot better, but in others so much worse. Being able to tell the person beside you where you both should be trying to get to is a huge help, and playing with another person can actually be a pretty fun experience if you use teamwork, but you can’t play the game on just the Gamepad, and having to share the TV makes the whole experience very cramped.
Power of Two looks nearly identical to the first game, save for a few new effects. Epic Mickey was a decent looking game for the Wii at the time, but appearing unchanged on the Wii U makes it very disappointing. The art style continues to shine through, however, and delivers an experience that any Disney fan could pore over for hours. The animation style used in the cut-scenes is also top notch. The game’s soundtrack is also very good, neatly bridging the gap between classic Disney tropes and more modern sensibilities with a hint of darkness and gloom.
In the original Epic Mickey characters spoke in gibberish throughout the adventure. This time around the game’s entire cast has been given voices - supporting characters and all. Most of the vocals are well deliver, but some sound completely inappropriate (I doubt, for example, that characters in a 1920s Disney flick would talk like stoned teenagers from a bad 90’s movie).
So you may be saying to yourself: ‘OK, presentation's a mixed bag, but it's not all bad’, but hold on there, it’s about to get much worse. On a technical level it feels as though the game is barely functioning. The framerate will sometimes drop to dangerous levels, some parts of the game don't load correctly, collision detection is poor, Oswald will at times move as if in slow motion and won't revert to normal until he dies, there are familiar camera issues and, to top it all off, the game will occasionally freeze.
Epic Mickey 2 should clock in at around 15 hours play time. If you want to prolong your suffering, however, there is a fair bit of extra content. There are additional quests, two endings to achieve, hidden items to find (Rare circa 1998 would be proud) and challenges to complete. Wasteland is also a pretty big place and exploring it can yield some fun Easter eggs for the Disney aficionado. While the first Epic Mickey provided a hardy challenge in both platforming and combat, The Power of Two is a total walk in the park. All of the creativity that went into the first game flew out the window this time around. In fact, the only challenge that the game really presents comes in the form of some pretty cheap enemies, poor AI, and ambiguous level design.
Disappointment isn’t strong enough of a word. In fact, I find it almost impossible to describe how I honestly feel about Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two without resorting to expletives. The whole experience is just a mess, from confusing level design, to unresponsive AI, frustrating multiplayer, lacklustre presentation, infuriating controls, and even technical issues - there's very little to recommend Epic Mickey 2. In fact I recommend purchasing a copy of Disney: Epic Mickey (read the review here) instead and forgetting this sequel even exists.
This review is based on a Wii U copy of Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.