Two is always better than one, right? Especially if you're trying to form alliances in a cartoon wasteland?
During a media presentation last week in Orlando, the creators of Epic Mickey revealed more about the characters in one of the video game sequels and allowed a lucky few the opportunity to play Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for 3DS. Warren Spector, founder and creative director at Disney Junction Point, and Peter Ong, creative director at DreamRift, were even on hand to describe the new mechanics and classic Disney movies that appear in the game.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion starts much the same way the original games do, with Mickey delving into Cartoon Wasteland, a sort of purgatory of forgotten Disney characters and icons. This time, though, he is trying to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel, who can take on the shape of many Disney villains, in the castle, which has been relegated to Wasteland.
That storyline and the 16-bit graphics are an homage to Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a popular Sega game released in 1990, said Spector. "Everyone is going retro now with 8-bit graphics, but I couldn't wait to get out of the 8-bit era," he said. "16-bit times, those were good times, so that's where we're going."
In his quest, Mickey must travel through different wings of the castle that are based on various classic Disney films. The first wing centers on "Peter Pan" and features such images as Never Land and Captain Hook's ship the Jolly Roger. But perhaps the biggest announcement came when Ong unveiled the second wing Thursday -- scenes from "Aladdin."
"With the levels in this wing of the castle, it was really important for us, as it is with every room in the castle, to make sure that the visuals that we created were as realistic as possible and directly translated from the Disney classic film that we're drawing from," Ong said. "We actually got their feature animation department to give us actual source working images from the original movies."
Players can expect to experience the final battle scene in Aladdin, the crowded Agrabah streets and the magical Cave of Wonders.
Another first for Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is the appearance of the fortress, where side quests take place. The player helps a character, and in return, gets a reward that helps him or her back in the platform level. Plus, as the player helps the character, he or she evolves until into a fully realized character in the platform game.
"I tried to use fortress-building in every project over the last 15 years and it's been the first thing I had to cut," said Spector. "Peter said, 'This time we're not going to cut.' "
The mechanics in Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion are unique, too. Spector and Ong took full advantage of the dual screens on a 3DS, using the bottom half for painting and thinning. These mechanics of Epic Mickey allow players to add (paint) objects and remove (thin) them from the game. Using a stylus to paint and thin didn't seem to faze my 10-year-old son, who was used to performing these actions with the nunchuk on the Wii.
In fact, he dove into the 3DS game with ease. Jiminy Cricket jumps in Mickey's pocket at the start of the game and acts as guide. "The beginning stages of game are tilted to help you learn," said Michael Veroni, art director at DreamRift, who sat down with my son to help him get started.
He said gamers as young as 7 years old can grasp this type of play. If players still are learning to read, there even are visual diagrams to communicate the concepts.
My son liked the classic run-jump-shoot format and the bitmapped graphics, and he appreciated all the perks, as well. Earning currency during the game was a familiar theme, as many of the games he plays online, on a handheld device or at home involve a currency to motivate the players.
It only took about three minutes of play before my son declared, "I want it!"
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for 3DS is a completely different game from the console sequel, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2, which is being developed for Wii, Wii U, XBox 360, Playstation, and PC and Apple computers.
"When you play on a home console, like the Wii, you're kind of sitting there on your couch. You [can] get into something that lasts a long time and is hours and hours of play with a really deep story. When you've got a handheld, at least for me, it's more like I've got 15 minutes and it's quick fun," Spector said.
In my interview with Spector, he revealed more about Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. Among the most noticeable differences is that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit becomes a playable character in the console sequel.
"He's such a wonderful little character with his own personality and his own set of abilities. What I love about Oswald's abilities in the game is that we didn't have to make a lot of stuff up. All we had to do was go back and look at those cartoons that Walt Disney and Ub [Iwerks] made in the 1920s. He used his ears as helicopter blades. He used his ears as oars and bats. He could remove his limbs and throw them around. He could remove his head and use it like a bowling ball."
"We added one thing. We added a remote control. We introduced that in the first game, and that remote gives Oswald control over the animatronic enemies and also sort of lets him reprogram electronic devices. We did that for gameplay reasons. We wanted the player to be able to control those things and not have to destroy them, but actually sort of befriend them, which plays into the idea that you have to decide how to interact with stuff."
Gameplay interaction is nothing new with this franchise. After all, it was a prime aspect of the original game. But there is something markedly unique with this new version: Oswald and other Disney characters will speak in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.
"I made, in retrospect, what was a pretty foolish decision. I decided that in the first game, nobody was going to talk, and it was really dumb. Disney fans really want those characters to talk, and they were not shy about telling us that," Spector said.
"I did it for really silly reasons. I kind of think of Oswald as almost real. It's kind of strange. I heard his voice in my head, and I heard him say, 'I'm a silent film star, and if I can't talk, no one's going to talk.' And I thought that was funny, and so I told the team that's what we were doing. There was no technical reason or financial reason. I just decided no one should talk, and it was just wrong. So, every character speaks every line of dialogue."
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two also breaks new ground in that it uses musical numbers in the story. Spector brought back composer Jim Dooley from the first game to help him create ways for players to sing during the game.
"I've always wanted to make a musical. "¦ We have several songs and they really do advance the story and reveal emotion. It's just sort of the first step toward the crazy interactive musical of my dreams, which I will make someday," Sprector said. "I've got some ideas about how you could use songs as game mechanics in ways that don't involve beat matching or performance in the way that music games now use music."
Musical numbers, talking characters, new Disney lands to explore and conquer - it all certainly makes for great gaming for anyone who enjoyed the original Epic Mickey. But, just as with the first game, there's a sense of creativity involved that makes the game unique compared to so many others on the market today.
"Games at their best should be about players showing off how clever and creative they are. We're the interactive medium. If we limit ourselves as developers to "beat that thing up" or "solve that puzzle" we're kinda shortchanging ourselves and players," Spector said. "Really what we want to do is set up a bunch of problems and let players decide how they want to solve them. Show how clever you are when you play the game, that's what it's all about."
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be released on Nov. 18, 2012.