Announced in the Wii's relative infancy, Warren Spector's Mickey Mouse game generated interest and hype based upon both the then-promise of the platform and the not inconsiderable reputation of project lead Spector, from whose Junction Point Studios this is the first effort.
Come 2010, the Wii has seen a dramatic collapse in third-party sales, while Spector's Disney partnership presents a remarkably different prospect to the high-budget action games that often drive the Christmas season's sales. What would reviewers make of a cartoon platform game from the co-creator of some of gaming history's most revered titles? And would they adhere to the House of Mouse's stipulation that the title is only to be referred to by its full name of 'Disney Epic Mickey?'
Scores for this jumping and painting-centric action title range from mediocre to stellar, with criticisms focusing on camera issues and surprisingly unambitious mechanics.
Steve Hogarty's 85 per cent review for Official Nintendo Magazine saw one of the more positive scores. He was impressed by the game's theme, claiming "It's a dark world in which the moral compass spins a full 360 degrees." Unfortunately, "as a platformer, Epic Mickey feels rather average. Location design aims for 'desolate beauty', but the game often simply looks desolate."
In a common complaint, Hogarty is concerned about the "tricksy" camera and inaccurate combat controls. "You'll readily forgive many of its faults though, as its failings as a platformer are only evident during the parts of the game in which paintable scenery is scarce."
Eurogamer's 6/10 review saw Dan Whitehead feeling the Disney game was too safe. "So much of Epic Mickey feels overly familiar and not particularly memorable." It was, he felt, "a 3D platformer that feels very much like it belongs in 1999... It sits awkwardly with the bold claims of innovation made on the game's behalf."
The painting-based puzzles were often "obvious", he argued, while the camera was "fairly wretched." It "blights the more perilous platforming sections... and it's an absolute pain during combat."
Whitehead felt that "graphically, the game does a great job of capturing the distinctive look and feel of Disney's 1930s cartoons" but felt Mickey was a "curiously muted and blank hero."
He singled out the choice to avoid certain encounters as result of how players treated various NPCs as a highlight, but didn't think this ran deep. "Despite the promises, there's really very little that feels new or surprising here," he argued, while the dark, dystopic world meant "Epic Mickey misunderstands what people love about Mickey Mouse."
GamesRadar's 90 per cent review kicked off with an unusual disclaimer regarding Chris Antista's passion for both platformers and Disney. Referring to Epic Mickey as "the last Wii game to give a sh-t", his raft of superlatives included "absolutely breathtaking", "nothing short of a godsend" and "a wonderful, nostalgia-fuelled game."
Much of this was in reference to the game's appeal to animation fans and cavalcade of Disney Easter eggs, but he also argued that "these are some of the most elaborate, well constructed platforming levels I've ever seen."
The "slightly crappy camera" drew an apparently inevitable reference, but he didn't share fellow reviewers' concerns about the other controls. "The incalculable number of ways Mickey can interact with the world is simply staggering... I haven't seen anything on Move or Kinect that leads me to believe that those controls could pull off running at full speed while accurately firehosing gallons of paint with the grace of the Wii Remote."
He didn't like the irreversible nature of some of the game's moral choices, but applauded the potential replay value. In a review almost entirely focused on Epic Mickey's appeal to the Disney and/or platforming devout, he concluded that "It's a life-affirming tribute to both forgotten characters and game genres well worth remembering."
IGN was a little more restrained, with Richard George awarding an 8/10. The "memorable story and concept" offered "strong characterisation" from Mickey and his rival, forgotten predecessor Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. George felt this aspect of the game was "on par with the best of Pixar's offerings... themes that operate on multiple levels for the young and old alike."
He was unsatisfied by the environment-painting mechanic however: "only specifically determined areas can be manipulated, and you can only paint something into existence if it already existed."
Worse still were "fundamental failures that threaten to damage much of its remarkable accomplishments" - yes, camera and controls again. The latter weren't "responsive or accurate enough", while the camera was "nearly unbearable." There were framerate problems too, and some sections were deemed "a maddening test of patience." Given the strength and length of these criticisms his 8/10 score is a little surprising, but George argued that the visuals redeemed the game somewhat.