Disney Epic Mickey Preview

The Scrappiest Place on Earth.

"There have been games before that allow you to remove geometry, change geometry, destroy geometry; but there's never been a game, that I know of, that lets you bring it back. Because this is a cartoon, we're letting you wield the tools of the Artist—you can paint things in, and bring them back to glorious life.” That's Warren Spector, giving an admirably succinct run-down on the paint-or-erase mechanics of Disney Interactive's forthcoming Wii-exclusive action platformer, Disney: Epic Mickey.

[image1]The first time—the very first time—you see thirty seconds or so of Epic Mickey gameplay, it might not be totally clear what's happening. All that is certain is that, whatever it is Mickey Mouse is doing as he runs and jumps around, it's energetic and colorful and world-changing and… well, kinda messy, actually, all swipes and double-jumps and brightly-hued splatters (of blue 'paint' or green 'thinner').

In fact, watching Mickey onscreen for the first time in this game is a little like watching the work of well-known speed painter David Garibaldi (who was actually on hand at E3 to literally slap some of his patented performance-painting act onto a canvas or two): He moves and jumps around frantically, often splooging brightly-colored streamers of paint around, seemingly at random, either creating or obliterating things – sometimes both at the same time, before he picks a lane and sticks with it. And suddenly, after you've watched for a while, you start to get a coherent picture of what he's doing. And it's pretty freakin' cool.

The setup: All-around animated superstar Mickey Mouse has managed to land himself in the Cartoon Wasteland—a sort of Disney-themed purgatorial repository of forgotten, back-burnered, rejected, scrapped, or otherwise abandoned animated characters, cartoon worlds, and even theme-park attractions. The various inhabitants and realms of the Wasteland have fallen into the animated clutches of some twisted, unpleasant characters—literally, characters—and it's up to Mickey to set things right, by any means necessary. With paint, to restore the places and forces opposing him to some sort of happy order, or with thinner, to simply make the bad stuff go away. The mantra here is 'playstyle matters'.

[image2]Epic Mickey allows gamers to play the game the way they want to. It's not that painting or erasing are inherently good or bad—it's what you choose to do with them. As Mr. Spock—another popular made-up guy with funny ears—once said: “As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.” When faced with one of the Wasteland's minions or abandoned/dilapidated environmental features, now twisted by a 'Phantom Blot' bent on using the Wasteland to destroy our hero, Mickey can take the direct, brute-force route and spray the offending character/object with deadly Thinner, eliminating ('scrapping') it… or, at the cost of a little extra effort and danger, he can use Paint in an attempt to restore the said character/object to something like its former animated glory.

Of course, there are many in-between steps and alternating approaches utilizing both Paint and Thinner, too: 'Toon' objects are indicated by their bright colors and are susceptible to the forces of Paint and Thinner, while non-'Toon' (Inert) bits of the landscape are unaffected. In the course of twenty seconds, Mickey could spray a 'Toon' boulder with Thinner to remove it temporarily, collect a hidden object from the Toon-space where the boulder used to be, re-Paint the boulder into animated existence, turn around just in time to Thin a cartoon suspension-bridge out from under a charging enemy (sending him falling, of course), and then use his magic Paint brush to spruce up the ruined hulk of an old pirate galleon to something approximating ship-shape. Whew!

Further, the game tracks the player's tendencies—how generous Mickey is with the restorative Paint, or how cavalier he is with the corrosive Thinner, just for example—and the sum total of his actions will soon begin to attract non-player 'Guardians' who will help the player play the game the way he/she wishes… even better. Do you try to use Paint to restore an animated realm, or turn a Foe character into a Friend? Or do you play the role of the dreaded 'Scrapper', relying on Thinner to knock down that realm's barriers, and to literally erase troublesome characters from the ranks of your enemy? Choices of such actions will determine how characters react to you and may open side-quest doors… or close others.

[image3]All the while, the efforts of Mickey's foes result in robotic abominations called Beetleworx—odd, dangerous mix-and-match creatures cobbled together from various extant Disney characters. In fact, some 80 years of Disney creativity are showcased throughout the game—from the exploration area called “Venture Land”, (populated by some of the piratical cast members—albeit somewhat changed versions—from Peter Pan) to side-scrolling, black-and-white/'Technicolor' game areas honoring the look and feel of Disney classics like Steamboat Willie or Clock Cleaners, as well as instantly-familiar theme-park locations such as the Swiss Family Treehouse and the ever-popular Tiki Room. There's some obscure stuff in here, and those versed in or simply interested in the history of Disney endeavors have a lot to look for. Show of hands, no Googling: How many people even know who Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Disney: Epic Mickey is exclusive to the Nintendo Wii, and is slated to ship in time for the Holiday Season. M-I-See you real soon!