The illusion of a great game
It’s no secret I’m a huge Disney fan. From my annual trips to the Happiest Place on Earth™ to my Mickey Mouse tattoo, I’ve loved Mickey and friends from the time I could drool in front of a television, watching classic cartoons.
So, it’s no surprise I enjoy the Disney Epic Mickey games. Since I’ve always been so immersed in Disney history, it’s perhaps easier for me to gloss past some of their flaws than some other critics. It’s because—particularly with the recently released Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two—those flaws honestly didn’t affect my enjoyment.
But the game I was most looking forward to was Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, the 3DS game from DreamRift, developers behind the excellent DS action-platformer Monster Tale. The idea was to take the classic Genesis game Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and make a sequel set in the Epic Mickey universe. Like other Disney ephemera, forgotten video games end up in Wasteland, too. So, when the evil witch Mizrabel’s magical castle appears there, a new threat descends on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s troubled home. Not happy with being relegated to the land of the forgotten, Mizrabel kidnaps characters from the outside world, including Minnie Mouse, trapping them in her castle in an attempt to drain their essence and bring her castle back into the Toon world.
In typical Epic Mickey fashion, Oswald reaches out to Mickey to come save the day. What follows is a 2D, side-scrolling adventure though Mizrabel’s castle to save the toons and defeat the evil witch—and things certainly start off well enough. Mickey hops and bops his way through castle corridors, defeating enemies and searching for characters to free. Once free, they move to a safe place in the castle (the fortress), where they gather to help Mickey in his fight.
Of course, things are never as simple as running about, unlocking doors. Mizrabel uses the castle’s magic to make the expansive corridors seem like settings straight out of Disney films—and here’s where the game starts to have a few problems. The levels themselves are laid out well, but only sometimes do they really look like the places being represented. For example, the market of Agrabah looks good, but there are no wonders in the Cave of Wonders. I’m not sure if you’d attribute this inconsistency to the side-scrolling nature of the game, but I can’t help but feel it could’ve been done better.
The gameplay system is also flawed. In addition to the standard platforming, you must use Mickey’s paint and thinner to make objects appear and disappear in the level. Platforms, obstacles, and even characters must be painted in or removed to get through each section.
After a few levels, though, it gets old painting in a platform here or a canon there, particularly when they disappear after a few uses (the time varies depending on how well you do in creating them). It would’ve been better had the paint/thinner mechanic been left to puzzle-solving and minimized during the main parts of the levels; both the pacing and difficulty would’ve been much improved. This is particularly true in the boss battles, where you’re juggling the action on the upper screen while trying to paint and thin on the lower screen. There’s no flow here—just a false story of difficulty that makes you want to quit playing.
One thing the developers did perfectly, though, was to include sketches the player can draw in at any time, such as a platform you can place wherever you want to help reach difficult places or characters who’ll come in and help you through tough spots. Look for a great homage to Capcom’s old DuckTales titles sure to make experienced gamers smile.
Pacing and difficulty both prove problematic throughout the game. The castle’s split into wings; the first two have a difficulty comparable to a Mario game, but when you hit the third, you’re in Mega Man all of a sudden. There’s a sharp increase in environmental hazards, and the enemies get nastier and harder to avoid. I’ve got no problem with increasing difficulty, but it should ramp up more gradually.
It does help that Mickey gets stronger as the game progresses. Increases in health, strength, and paint/thinner can be purchased from a store in the fortress. Additionally, once safe, the characters in the fortress will ask Mickey for favors—and reward him once these tasks are complete. Some will be as simple as painting in an object or running to another character to retrieve an item (think Animal Crossing). Many of them, however, require you to revisit levels you’ve already beaten to search the nooks and crannies for objects or other characters.
This, too, becomes tedious at times, particularly when you’re running back into a level you don’t really like. At least a symbol appears next to the level letting you know there’s a reason to go back in, so you’re not searching blind. It’s well worth running these errands, though, since you’ll need the additional power later in the game.
Power of Illusion isn’t a bad game, but—as my mother frequently said of me—it just doesn’t live up to its potential. The uneven pacing and difficulty, along with some annoying repetition, make it strictly a Disney Fan–only experience. Still, I definitely hope it sells well—there’s so much potential in the concept that I’d love to see unlocked in a sequel.
SUMMARY: The spiritual successor to the Genesis classic Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, the latest game takes the setting and drops it squarely in Epic Mickey’s Wasteland. The game retains the 2D, side-scrolling gameplay while adding the paint-and-thinner mechanic of Disney Epic Mickey—and the result is a mixed bag that suffers from pacing issues as well as a difficulty jump halfway through that many will find infuriating. Disney fans will find the story fun, even when the action becomes a slog, but others will likely lose interest midway through.
- THE GOOD: The return of the Castle of Illusion as a classic side-scrolling Mickey adventure.
- THE BAD: The poor implementation of paint/thinner abruptly interrupts the gameplay.
- THE UGLY: Having to entertain Disney villains you rescue and house along with the heroes. To the dungeon with them!
Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive.