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Even Warren Spector admits that Epic Mickey was a flawed game. He’s determined to fix its issues and improve upon the concept with a just-announced sequel — Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.
Epic Mickey was a big deal back in 2010. It was the first time Disney had handed its beloved mascot over to a big-name video game developer and allowed him to do whatever he wanted. Spector vowed to take Mickey back to his mischievous roots with a motion-controlled game for Wii that saw the world’s most famous mouse setting out to fix a dark, broken version of the Magic Kingdom.
The game got points for daring and originality — enough to build a strong cult following — but ultimately most fans and critics thought it fell well short of its potential. So Spector has gone back to the drawing board to address the game’s issues, while pushing it into new territory. Let’s look at what Spector and his team are changing for the second game in response to the first one.
1. In Epic Mickey 2, the characters will speak. Spector insisted that Mickey’s high-pitched voice would take players out of the dark tone of the original game, so characters interacted via text bubbles. He says now that this was a big mistake. “I made a choice,” he says. “In retrospect, I wish I made a different one.” So voice actors have been hired to perform voice-overs for all of the game’s characters. But here’s a twist: instead of just speaking, they’ll also be singing. He’s hired songwriters Jim Dooley and Mike Himelstein to write original tunes for the game, which will allow Mickey & Co. to periodically burst into song.
2. As the title implies, the new game will have 2-player co-op. In addition to Mickey, players will also have the option of dropping in to play as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. And since all of the characters are getting voices, this will mark the first time in Disney history that Oswald has been portrayed with a voice. Veteran voice actor Frank Welker will portray Oswald in the game; his very long list of credits includes everything from Megatron on Transformers to the title character on Curious George. If you’re playing solo, Oswald will function as a helper sidekick, but a friend can drop in and drop out to take control of Oswald at will. Where Mickey still has his magic paint brush and thinner, Oswald will have a remote control that he can use to command electricity.
3. A major focus for the development team on the second game is fixing the camera. The first game did not allow players to control the camera in any way, often leading to Mickey’s inadvertent death on the edge of a cliff or something similar. While they’re keeping control of the camera out of the hands of players in the second game, Spector claims that over 1,000 specific changes have been made to the camera’s function. “We’ve had a team working on the camera from literally the day we finished the first game.”
4. Instead of being a Wii exclusive, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will also be released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. With Wii U on the horizon and no release date yet given for Epic Mickey 2, I can’t help wondering if Disney might not be shooting itself in the foot by not planning this one for Nintendo’s next-gen console instead of the Wii (which most players have grown tired of these days). Box art that’s turned up on Amazon suggests that the Xbox version won’t use Kinect, which is a serious bummer.
Do these fixes make you more likely to embrace the second game? The one thing that gives me pause is the musical aspect. I just can’t imagine gamers having the patience (or interest) to sit and wait through musical numbers. But maybe Spector intends for you to play during the songs, even incorporating their rhythms or instruments into the gameplay somehow.
As for its plot, the second game sends Mickey back to Wasteland, the twisted, alternate version of Disneyland, which is still home to forgotten characters and attractions. But Wasteland has suffered from earthquakes and other disasters since we last saw it, so it’s an alien place to Mickey once more. Mickey — and his new partner Oswald — will also explore brand new Wasteland locations, including Frontierland.