With 2010’s Epic Mickey on the Wii the iconic mouse made a long awaited return to the video game world in an interesting if flawed adventure. Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion acts as more of a spiritual successor to the Mega Drive classic Castle of Illusion than a direct part of the larger Epic Mickey series despite the narrative taking similar elements from its console sibling, Epic Mickey 2.
Things don’t get off to a great start as the game kicks off with an unskippable, lengthy cut scene. The evil witch Mizrabel has trapped all of the Disney characters in her castle to steal their energy. Upon hearing a distress call from Oswald, Mickey returns to the wasteland of the first game in order to save the day. For a portable game to make the player wait a fairly long time before letting them interact with the game world is quite a frustrating experience especially if you’re only playing for short bursts of time. Fortunately once the game actually begins the story doesn’t intrude upon the experience too much.
From the central castle hub, Mickey can access the different worlds which he must explore to rescue his friends. Each area takes the form of a traditional 2D sidescrolling platformer. Upon rescuing the various characters they will take up residence in the castle. As Mickey clears more levels the Castle of Illusion opens up more rooms and allows him to explore new worlds. Levels are themed around various Disney franchises including Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin as Mickey makes his way through each level. It’s a little disappointing that so few Disney franchises have been represented through the locations as there are a great many characters from other properties littering the environments. With just the three franchises only offering a few levels each the game can be breezed through very quickly. There also isn’t much variety in the obstacles on offer between the different themed levels which is also quite perplexing as it would certainly help differentiate them further than just the background artwork.
In each level there are various characters who can be rescued and sent back to the castle hub. Between levels it’s possible to talk to each character in their room and be asked to locate another character, Peter Pan for example may want you to find one of the Lost Boys. Tokens that can be collected in the wasteland can also be cashed in to upgrade the character’s room, essentially adding more decorations. It’s also possible to talk to Scrooge and allow him to upgrade Mickey’s attributes from health to paint damage.
For a 2D platformer the physics feel fairly slow and floaty as Mickey wanders and hops around the screen, feeling very similar to Castle of Illusion. However once you get a feel for his general movement the game does control pretty well. There is a slight hitch towards the end however as levels get much more deviously designed in the final third which can become a little frustrating thanks to flowing water and low ceilings becoming prominent features.
Enemies can be dealt with in a few different ways. The simplest way is to tap the jump button a second time as Mickey is about to make contact with an enemy, which will also allow him to perform a much higher jump as well. There is also a spinning melee attack which can be quite unreliable as enemies caught on the edge of the attack can recover much faster than Mickey, and with no cancelling out of the move the player will become vulnerable. Finally the player can use the Magic Paintbrush to throw paint thinner at enemies to erase them from the world.
By looking at the bottom screen on the 3DS it’s possible to see highlighted areas signifying items, enemies or allies that can be painted into existence or erased. By tapping on them the game pauses and gives the player a shape to either trace or shade in depending on what the player wants to do with the object. As this is a core aspect of progressing through the game it can get quite irritating constantly stopping and starting to trace over shapes when needing to create various objects. As the bottom screen can’t pan around the player needs to alternate between controlling Mickey and switching over to the touch screen quite quickly which can get rather fiddly in sections where the player is being fired from cannon to cannon.
The Magic Paintbrush can also be used to conjure an inventory item. Throughout the game Mickey can acquire various abilities such as a floatier jump or summoning an ally to smash into enemies. They work in the same way as environmental items in that they must be traced on the bottom screen in order to activate them, but it’s much less problematic as you won’t be using these abilities anywhere near as much. Only one support ally can aid Mickey through any one level as the choice of who to take is presented at the start of a level meaning there’s no real experimentation with different tactics without completely restarting the area. As with the environmental paintable objects you will find yourself simply drawing the same thing repeatedly and it quickly wears thin.
There isn’t much in the way of difficulty as you progress through the game. The platforming is always pretty easy with few moments requiring much precision. Enemies have set patterns that are pretty easily taken care of especially with Mickey’s projectile attack. There is the odd occasion when using the Magic Paintbrush to create objects some thought must be put into what order to paint them in but even so it’s still pretty obvious even at a first glance.
The Power of Illusion is also incredibly short as the story can easily be finished in a couple of hours. Although attempting to fully upgrade Mickey’s abilities or rescue various hidden Disney characters can add a little extra playtime from the game there isn’t really any reward for doing so, especially in the case of finding all of the characters. There are some alternate routes through the different areas which does at least make revisiting a level for some of the side quests a little more interesting.
Where the game excels is in its presentation. Taking inspiration from the Super NES era of games, The Power of Illusion simply looks beautiful featuring great character sprites and detailed environments. The 16-bit style visuals are smoothly animated and do have a great nostalgic appeal. The soundtrack is also excellent featuring an assortment of wonderfully composed music. Some of the character voice clips can be a little grating at times but it never becomes a distracting issue.
Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion is a beautifully crafted game on the surface but is ultimately crippled by its core gameplay mechanics and short length. For the more forgiving gamer it can be a fun but brief nostalgic trip through various Disney franchises via a 16-bit filter, but those without such affections may soon become frustrated with the repetitive nature of the title and with little reason to revisit the game after completing the story many may feel a little short changed.