Up for consideration as the saddest noise in the world: the sound Mickey Mouse makes when he dies/gets knocked out/whatever in Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion.
It's a depressing, elongated "ohhhh " groan that immediately makes you feel disappointed in yourself for letting a beloved slice of your childhood keel over. Childhood—both personal ones and the younger days of the video game medium—figure prominently in this self-conscious platformer.
WHY: 16-bit nostalgia and Disney fan service aren't enough to save this short, creatively conflicted Mickey Mouse game.
Released: November 20, 2012
Type of game: Sidescrolling platformer with instances of touchscreen drawing.
What I played: Finished the game in about 7 hours, including lots of backtracking for sidequests.
Two Things I Liked
- Power of Illusion surprised me with the lushness and variety of its cinematic soundtrack.
- Retro-styled graphics have rarely looked this good outside of the Genesis and Super NES. This Epic Mickey game will make you long for those systems.
Two Things I Hated
- Much of the game quickly becomes repetitive and the fetch quests filled with forced backtracking don't help its cause at all.
- So many fun Disney characters; such uninteresting usage of Peter Pan, Mulan and others.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "The most Epic thing about this game is how much potential it squanders." -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
- "Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion suffers from a severe shortage of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Too bad." -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
Power of Illusion harkens back to the kinds of richly designed platformers that thrived on the Genesis, Game Boy and SNES and shares a bit of DNA with the RPGs of that era, too. You control Mickey Mouse as he tries to rescue girlfriend Minnie and other famous toons from the clutches of evil witch Mizrabel. If these plot beats sound familiar, it's because Power of Illusion is being positioned as a spiritual sequel to the 1990 Genesis game Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. But, since it's an Epic Mickey game, players get the use of the series' Magic Paintbrush mechanics, which enables them to create and destroy objects with paint and thinner.
The homage to past eras provides most of Power of Illusion's charm. The adventures come to life via beautiful animations and get accompanied by wonderful music. You rescue a plethora of Disney icons over the course of the portable adventure. Everyone from Rapunzel to Peter Pan to Scrooge McDuck makes an appearance and once they get to safety, you'll be given quests to perform for them. The action portion of the gameplay favors fast reflexes and perceptive screen-reading, as with the instances where you instinctively know that you'll need to keep an enemy alive to bounce off of him to a higher platform.
The implementation of the paint/thinner mechanics feels like a winner initially, letting you add platforms, partner characters and other elements at specifc points in a level. And this usage gets surprisingly complex as you go on. Some hazards—like a swinging chain with a bladed edge—will need to be deleted with thinner and then painted into existence again to help Mickey pass a level. At first, these elements win you over, seeming like a great way to weave disparate input methods into each other.
But later, as the platforming and combat difficulty ramps up, every time you need to poke at the lower touchscreen and scrawl out a sketch—whether it's cannons, platforms or magical tridents—feels like a nuisance. The shift from top screen to bottom also breaks up any sense of flow that you build while playing. The fact that painted items disappear after three uses feels like an artificial difficulty multiplier.
This is a short game that paradoxically feels way too long. Loads of Disney characters make cameos but they mostly stand around and issue annoying fetch quests that send you back through the exact same levels. Or they'll send you traipsing through the Fortress overworld map where you knock on neighbors' doors asking for needles & thread and other flotsam and jetsam.
What makes this busywork even more aggravating is the fact that you'll need to do it to improve important attributes, like your paint reserves and cache of power-ups. You can be sitting on a wad of virtual cash and have nothing meaningful to spend it on, finding yourself commandeered instead into jumping through a level once again to find Rapunzel's frying pan.
Dreamrift's 3DS entry in the Epic Mickey franchise comes across as an irritating compromise. It recreates a lot of what made video games from 20 years ago fun to play: the sense that spare digital resources could be hammered into shapes as sprightly and thoughtfully imagined as any animated film or Saturday morning cartoon. Nevertheless, the actual play experience feels like it's pulling you in opposite directions, with twitch reflexes on one pole and careful touchscreen drawing on the other. I really wanted to like Power of Illusion but ultimately found myself wishing that it had found a better balance for the things it was trying to do. There's genuine Disney magic in Power of Illusion but all the wishing in the world won't make it a better experience.