Unless you own a Wii, you might not have had the chance to experience Epic Mickey. The original game was released in 2010 on Nintendo's soon to be upgraded console, to a generally positive reception. Two years on and Disney's most famous character returns in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, the Warren Spector (co-creator of Deus Ex and Thief) crafted sequel.
As the title suggests, Epic Mickey is a game best enjoyed when tackled with a friend. Mickey Mouse is joined once again by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - this time as a fully playable character - available to a second player at a moment's notice.
The story starts sometime after the events of the first game. Wasteland is in trouble, and after his sterling efforts last time, Mickey is called back to help. A certain Mad Doctor who was once a foe is now seemingly trying to make amends for his past transgressions, offering to help local citizens as inexplicable earthquakes ravage the peaceful world of forgotten cartoons.
And so the stage is set for a Disney-centric 3D platform adventure, with RPG-lite elements and some musical numbers thrown in for good measure. The "paint and thinner" mechanic from the first game makes a return, and a similar aesthetic prevails. Mickey and Oswald must return normality to Wasteland and uncover the truth behind the strange events transpiring around them. Along the way they meet a variety of Disney inspired characters, and by means of distraction, embark on a series of simple mini quests (usually of the fetch/retrieval variety).
Once again using his trusty magic paintbrush, Mickey must fire streams of paint to reanimate parts of the world around him, changing the environment as he goes. He can also, as was the case in the first game, use paint thinner to remove certain parts of scenery. It's a simple, but visually appealing mechanic, mixing gentle puzzles in and around all the platforming and exploration.
The puzzles themselves are fairly straightforward, and Junction Point should be commended for offering multiple routes through each environment. Whilst choice is fairly limited, an element of morality is often introduced, with players usually able to find a slightly longer (but ultimately more morally fulfilling) solution to the various scenarios presented to players. Linking certain zones are some very pleasant, but painfully easy 2D platform levels. Every time one was completed I was left wanting more, and these sections didn't appear as often as I'd have liked.
Epic Mickey 2 is at its best when enjoyed with a friend. The first player assumes the role of Mickey, the second taking control of Oswald. Together the two Disney characters explore a world full of vibrant colours and striking environments, hopping between platforms and solving arbitrary puzzles as they go.
Environments are steeped in Disney lore. Anybody who remembers the iconic cartoons from their childhood will no doubt notice the numerous references etched into the landscape around them. Big fans of the studio will likely think themselves in some kind of nostalgia heaven. Spector's vision - the distinctive imagery, the nods to heritage - is written large on the walls. It's impressive. Even if cartoons aren't your thing, it's presented in such a way that it isn't too overpowering.
Whilst Mickey paints in the world around him, Oswald uses technology to achieve his goals. Using a charge from a remote control carried throughout, the rabbit opens locks, stuns enemies and reprograms terminals. It's not rocket science, and more often than not it just comes down to flicking a switch, but there's a nice symbiotic relationship between the characters, and utilising each other's strengths is the name of the game.
Using each other's strengths is a necessity because despite being clearly aimed at a younger demographic, EM2 still maintains a decent challenge. Some platforming sections are very tricky and will likely cause some frustration, regardless of who sits behind the controller. Boss fights can be a little arduous at times, but seasoned co-op players will probably find enough enjoyment elsewhere to overlook these occasional annoyances.
Whilst Epic Mickey 2 is designed for co-op gaming, it can also be played by a single player, with AI taking control of Oswald in the absence of a friend. Whilst the charm inherent in the game remains intact after the transition from co-op to solo play, cracks begin to appear elsewhere.
Progress forward is pretty straightforward for the most part. When Oswald has something important to contribute to the action, a little thought bubble handily explains what it is you must do to proceed. The Lucky Rabbit will then dutifully follow you from location to location, using his helicopter-like ears to help you get to otherwise impossible to reach platforms, and his remote control to access electronic locks.
Most of the time this works without any issues. Most of the time.
When it doesn't work it makes the game incredibly frustrating, sucking enjoyment from the experience at an alarming rate. At times you companion is so inept, it feels like if your AI partner were really a human, he'd be an inept moron, utterly thick and totally incapable, at times lacking even basic hand-eye coordination.
In certain sections the unlucky rabbit would constantly fall off platforms, only to spawn again in thoroughly unhelpful parts of the level. It took me ages to complete a couple of relatively simple puzzles, and in the end, I had to jump between two controllers just to make sure that Oswald went where I wanted him to go, when I wanted him to go there.
Single player grumbles aside when it comes to overall presentation, there's very little to fault in Epic Mickey 2. The cartoony stylings are entirely appropriate given the source material. The HD graphics are a definite improvement over the first game, it looks the part, and it sounds the part. The soundtrack is, as you would expect from Disney, very good. There's nothing overly intrusive on the playlist, in fact, the music is very easy on the ears. Tunes never overstay their welcome, and the playful selection of melodies always compliment the action nicely.
Missing in the last game was dialogue, which is present in The Power of Two. The cutscenes, in particular the quality of the voice work, lends an authenticity to proceedings that goes beyond the carefully considered palette and familiar cast list. It feels like a genuine Disney adventure, which will go along way towards making this a must-play game for fans.
Not content with just adding voices to the mix, Epic Mickey 2 comes complete with musical numbers, and they're not too shabby. The songs only reinforce the qualities already present in the game, adding even more appeal to the package for those looking forward to taking Mickey and Oswald on another adventure. But at the end of the day they're musical numbers, and won't be to everyone's tastes.
So who's tastes might EM2 appeal to specifically, and all things considered, how do we score it? In terms of appeal, this is obviously a game that will interest younger gamers and Disney fans. Families who've enjoyed games like Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes will be able to enjoy this one together too, even if Epic Mickey 2 isn't on quite the same level as the Lego series. There's enough challenge in the platforming to keep experienced gamers engaged, but the puzzles are not so complicated that a child couldn't work out what to do. Some of the boss fights are tricky, but nothing that won't be conquered by a determined soul.
Niggles aside, there's a decent co-op adventure here, and for those who like to platform with friends, Epic Mickey 2 offers an enjoyable jaunt through some interesting and distinctive levels (though it's worth mentioning that it's local co-op only). On that basis alone it's worth considering, even if you're not a massive Disney fan.
So the score... you'll have seen the seven at the top of the page by now, but let me elaborate because it's a score with a couple of caveats. If you're a big Disney fan, or if you're considering buying this for a determined youngster, you can probably add one to that number. Conversely, if you're neither of those things and plan on playing this on your lonesome, take a point off. Maybe two.