Ever think "Why did I start playing games?" Need a good, throwback reminder?
I started playing games with the NES and loved platformers like Super Mario Brothers 3 and Mega Man. They got into my blood and never let me go. But the following SNES and Genesis era is what kept me playing games, which is why I was thrilled with I first saw Power of Illusion in action. There's something about detailed sprites running in a 2D platformer that really makes me happy.
For some history, back in the early '90s, Mickey Mouse starred in Castle of Illusion, a platformer based around the idea that the witch Mizrabel wields shapeshifting powers around her castle, where she has hidden the kidnapped Minnie from Mickey. Being a good boyfriend, Mickey charges headfirst into the illusion-laden world to her rescue, breaking through everything that Mizrabel has put up in his way and saving the mouse of his dreams. Almost twenty years later, the same thing has happened, and Mickey once again has to save his lady-rodent as well as a plethora of other classic Disney characters along the way.
The 3D is subtle here, giving depth to the environments and little else, and it doesn't give too much extra to the experience, but the fact that it's used in just that fashion instead of forcing it into a tacked-on mechanic is a positive step. The resulting effect looks like a classic SNES/Genesis game that has been overhauled for the modern era, which is the obvious inspiration behind the title (obvious, at least, for those of us who lived through that era). And it does it quite well.
Playing through reminds me so much of playing games on my classic consoles that it's deliriously perfect, with most areas able to be traversed easily enough by jumping, butt-dropping, paint-throwing, or directly spin-attacking anything in sight. None of the enemies are inherently difficult, but as a game really designed for a younger crowd, that's not too surprising… unless you're a classic-gaming Disney player, which then you know just how difficult some of those games were. (I'm still angry about not getting my parade at the end of Adventures in the Magical Kingdom, by the way.)
But what's new are the puzzles; the top screen contains all of the action, while the bottom shows where characters, obstacles, and helpful items can either be painted in or thinned out. In a method reminiscent of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, players shift quickly from the top screen to the bottom to draw something and solve a puzzle, then get right back into the jumping, spinning, paint-or-thinner-shooting action. Sometimes the puzzles are solved by simply drawing in an object or character; other times, it takes quick timing to reach where the offending issue might appear (like a barrel-blasting puzzle that needs pausing at just the right moment). Again, none of it is particularly hard, but it's amusing at times.
As cool as meeting characters from various animated masterpieces might sound, they're relegated to basically pick-ups and unlocking power-ups in the safe zone of the shape-shifting mansion called the Fortress. I really wish more of them could be drawable wherever, like Peter Pan showing up to stun the occasional enemy in a frantic fight or Simba grabbing a quick-moving baddie and slowing them down or something, but instead they can only be chatted with between levels.
On top of that, unlocking their power-ups—health boosts, extra e-tickets (cash), time extensions to the drawing time allotted—is remarkably easy since many of them just have you bouncing between saved characters. Seriously, all I have to do is go up and to the left to somebody else for a sign, then come back? This character wants to share with the character right next to them? It's like managing a group of individuallyisolated ten-year-old children. Maybe I need the health boost, but it feels like a cheap way of trying to include characters that are interesting enough on their own to keep a player's attention.
The levels are designed in such a way that multiple paths might be used to reach certain points, either for saving different Disney characters or to find unique items to deliver from the quests those characters give you, but more often than not there's a single good way of getting there, making the "multiple methods" idea moot. Seriously, it's a good idea, but when one way is obviously much, much easier than another, why bother going down the other method at all? Especially when all of those unique finds are used repeatedly to make trekking back through the same stage multiple times necessary?
And that's where things take an irritating turn—there are just not enough pathways through each stage to warrant my going back over and over again. Without any real incentive, I'm asked to go back and play through the same A-to-B stage to find a single item (sometimes two), go back through the character trees and give their respective stuff back, then I might be asked to go through again? Are you kidding? Once is fine, twice is "meh" unless you're searching for worthwhile loot that were missed. They're really that straightforward, and nothing's seriously "hidden" anywhere.
I guess, since this is more a "tribute" than a companion to Epic Mickey 2, maybe I shouldn't have expected so much. There's no real way I can think of to do multiplayer. Oswald makes essentially a cameo; why he wasn't available to play is beyond me, since he could've opened up some possibilities there with different techniques. The little rooms each rescued character inhabit in the Fortress are made pretty with each upgrade or quest completed but are otherwise throwaway. There are so many possibilities that have simply been ignored, and it's a shame.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a fun, albeit short, romp through the games of yesterday that can be rushed through in a few hours. But it ultimately stands as a game with tons of untapped potential. I could dream up what I would like to have seen with Oswald, with minor characters, the unlocking of other abilities, and different powers, from what's been done in Power of Illusion. Sadly, this is just going to be another slightly-above-average, retro-embracing title that blends into the pack.