With the power of video games enabling us, we've been able to make James Bond a klutz and Darth Vader a hero, but who expected that Disney would allow us to make Mickey Mouse a selfish, dangerous jerk?
At the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle last weekend, Disney was letting people play the first level of this fall's big Epic Mickey game for the Wii. The level is mostly tutorial. You learn how to run, jump and spray paint or thinner on spaces of the world, depending on whether you want to make things appear or disappear.
One part of the level grants Mickey access to the first of many brief 2D sections of the game, areas that are based on established Mickey Mouse cartoons, such as Mickey and the Beanstalk (seen in this post).
There's this one moment in Epic Mickey's first level, though, when you learn that this game has more edge to it than you might expect. Mickey Mouse can make moral decisions. He can decide whether to be nice or mean, although the game's script — and a Disney person who might stand next to you at, say, a Penny Arcade Expo while you play the game — emphasizes that Mickey is always a hero.
Alright, but Mickey Mouse might be the kind of hero who sees a treasure chest and doesn't care who he might hurt trying to get it. This treasure chest in the first level is connected to a contraption that includes a catapult on which an innocent Disney Gremlin is standing. And Mickey might be given a choice to either save the little guy or Mickey could grab the treasure chest and send the guy on the catapult flying... to who knows where. To his death? Who knows. What would Mickey do? The nearby Disney representative might warn you that this Gremlin, if rescued, will then block your access to the treasure chest.
When, at PAX, Mickey was made to go for that treasure chest, that catapult guy did indeed go flying off yonder somewhere. The landing probably hurt.
The moral decisions in Epic Mickey have some sort of undescribed effects on how the Epic Mickey journey unfolds. There are also consequences for Mickey's player-orchestrated preference to use thinner to defeat Mickey's enemies or paint to befriend them (yes, in the world of Epic Mickey, spraying paint on someone who is trying to hurt you makes them your friend.) As the player leans more to the nice or mean tendency, small floating specks of colored light will trail Mickey. These Terps and Tints will create a shield for Mickey and will fly toward enemies to do more of the beating-up or befriending in which the player's Mickey specializes.
It's still unclear how a lot of this variation plays out. Warren Spector, the head of the Epic Mickey project, has been known for games such as Deus Ex which give players a lot of flexibility in their playing style and with how they express the moral disposition of their character. These elements feel unexpected in a Mickey Mouse game but familiar in a Spector one. We'll see what it all adds up to. Good? Bad? Mickey's always a hero, they say, but sometimes, in some player's hands, maybe he'll be the kind of hero who might as well have been your enemy.