Mickey Mouse stands as one of the most recognizable icons of all time. Lately, the little black-faced rodent has been eclipsed by Mario, proving that Americans hate anything more complex than a plate of spaghetti and a stupid accent. Even so, Mickey has still won votes in every presidential elections since 1928. In 2008, he beat Santa Claus, Joe the Plumber, and Jesus, and with 11 votes nationwide, he clearly has twice as many supporters as Jill Stein. Perhaps that’s simply America’s attempt at saying they want a leader who’s animated, unlike so many half-dead politicians (and, you know…Donald Trump), but if Mickey has so much charisma that America would follow an animal who literally can’t feed himself or get out of bed without a team of at least 20 people (You know…like Donald Trump), then it’s a wonder that Disney holds the rights to such a famous piece of intellectual property and does nothing more with it than pass out cheap felt-and-plastic hats to kids who coat them with a gallon of saliva and drop them behind the couch as soon as they get home. Other than the short that ran before Frozen, I can’t remember a single Mickey movie or cartoon since The Prince and the Pauper in 1990, and his animated TV appearances reduce him to the role of an MC. However, Disney still allows him to come out of his retirement home every now and then to run around, wreaking havoc in the occasional video game, of all things. And nine times out of ten, as is the case with Mickey Mousecapade, Mickey Mania, Kingdom Hearts, and now Epic Mickey, the theme of that game is remembering all the classic characters Disney has used up and left by the wayside like a futon in front of a frat house.
Kingdom Hearts, turned the lovable trickster scamp into a Norse God, a mighty warrior-king, vanquishing enemies with a legendary sword, clad in his armor of…bright red hot pants. (Because nothing says, “Where dreams come true,” like a story about hearts and souls being torn from a person’s spirit.) Epic Mickey follows that disturbingly dark tone, sending the titular hero into The Wasteland, a gloomy, twisted model of Disney’s theme park built by Yen Sid (Yes…the sorcerer’s name is officially Yen Sid. Because nothing says “Magic Kingdom” like following the naming conventions of the Satanic Church.) to house all of the characters lost or forgotten over the years,
So short version, Mickey spills a jar of paint thinner on the model, which unleashes the Shadow Blot monster. We’re supposed to view this symbolically as Mickey eclipsing all the other characters and literally as the sin he must atone for. However, I can only imagine Yen Sid was planning some Old Testament style rampage, keeping that thing right next to the Wasteland. Mickey gets sucked into the model and absorbs some of the Blot’s aspects, which apparently means he gets a magical paintbrush that shoots out both paint and thinner and lets him hose down the environment like a porn star. Disney apparently decided that Mickey was wasting his potential to be a dick to people, and thought he could use a moral choice at the very least. You have the option to solve most puzzles by either obliterating part of the landscape with thinner or by repairing it with paint. Same option for enemies. You can convert them by slathering them in paint, at which point they swarm the unconverted and beat them with copies of The Watchtower until Mickey can’t get a clear shot even if the Wii Mote didn’t interpret cross hairs over the enemy as the desire to make Mickey ejaculate paint all over his shoes. Or you could straight-up murder them and get the health items and paint/thinner refills they drop. The only difficult thing about that decision is whether or not you want to see Mickey Mouse acting like Dexter. But that’s not to say the game is simplistic. You get to make a whole bunch of moral choices, like whether or not to find the scattered limbs of your animatronic friends and put them back together. Or the moral choice to help or deny the human pirate in his quest to woo the cow of his dreams. Congratulations on the bestiality quest, Disney. (Although it isn’t the first time you’ve swung that way…)
Still, the bulk of your time will be spent spraying your various goos all over the landscape, trying to find the occasional interactive spot. Other than that, any potentially clever gameplay that let’s the player express themselves artistically is pretty much just a way to spend the bulk of the 10-hour game wasting time changing colors from bright to dark. And even though the paintbrush does amount to nothing more than a glorified paintball gun, the enemies seem like a formality more than anything else, as they appear only occasionally and fight back with all the vigor of a severely depressed lemming. The game play isn’t as inspired as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t suck…at least not until the final stretch, when it shifts from “exploring the wasteland and taking on quests” to “avoiding holes like you’re jumping over a gonorrhea clinic.” My old nemesis. Designers who completely missed the point of Mario. These people think, “I like coffee! I’ll boil it down until it’s pure, black sludge, and then it will be awesome!” These are the people who read Harry Potter and then write their own 1000-page novel on quidditch.
It’s not a terrible game, even if it doesn’t know where to end. If it does a saving grace, it’s that it’s actually pretty interesting to view Disney through a darker lens (although maybe not literally. Walking out onto dark sections of floor is more dangerous than Russian roulette.). And while a modicum of interpretation can usually reveal some dark, unintended message behind kids’ stories, Disney actually thought this out, decided “We want to show the misery our beloved mascot inflicted on all these characters by eclipsing them with his fame,” and then proceeded to buy the rights to Oswald the Rabbit, Walt’s very first character, for the express purpose of having him rule over the Wasteland, harboring a resentment toward the mouse. Because nothing says, “The Happiest Place on Earth” like a 90-year grudge held by a cartoon rabbit.