The Kingdom Hearts game series (Disney-meets-Final Fantasy) undercut dreamy Disney landscapes with nightmarish bad guys, most of which were long-fingered shadows. The result was like watching a really compelling cartoon while half-asleep. Mickey Mouse, the king, was a bastion of badassery who wasn’t around much, but his jolting appearances were heralded with much swashbuckling and authority on the games’ mystery.
The Mickey who fronts Epic Mickey is an early version of that virtuoso, inhabiting an equally chimerical world. The ever-curious Mickey accidentally ruins a peaceful miniature land (created by his former master, Yen Sid) by introducing a menacing inkblot, which drags Mickey into the Wasteland. He sets out to find Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, the world’s central inhabitant, armed with a dual-use paintbrush: He can shoot paint to conjure near-invisible objects, walls, and floors, or paint thinner to dissolve them instead. (True addicts can even buy a special paintbrush-shaped nunchuk controller made as a peripheral for the game.)
Epic Mickey is an open(ish)-world platformer requiring equal parts creation and destruction to complete its puzzles. For example, in order to line up a stretch of platforms, Mickey must paint in the attached gears so each one rotates; once they’re flat, Mickey dissolves the gears and locks the platforms in place, hopping across as he goes. The balance of light and dark—or, in this case, blue and Ecto Cooler-green—extends to every element of Epic Mickey’s universe. When taking out enemies, Mickey can choose to convert them with paint, or destroy them with thinner. The Wasteland is largely an empty steampunk fever-dream, with rivers of sewage and abandoned carnival rides dotting the landscape. Yet painted objects shine uniquely bright, and the civilians, supporting players from “Steamboat Willie”-era cartoons, cheerfully recognize Mickey. (Nothing is ever particularly sunny, though. Even those characters, trapped in the Wasteland purgatory, speak only in eerie grunts.)
Comparisons have been made to Super Mario Sunshine, likely because of all the water-squirting. But Epic Mickey more closely resembles the Super Mario Galaxy games, if the star-shooting element were more central to play. The brush aims as the Wii-mote does, and Mickey must often shoot in one direction while maneuvering in another. This aspect can be challenging, as the scope isn’t an absolute indicator of where the paint will land. Plus, like Galaxy, Epic Mickey includes stripped-down platformer segments to break things up, like when Mickey traverses between worlds. They rarely differentiate much from one another, though, so they eventually become tedious. Still, there are enough side missions to keep the main game feeling fresh, and enough darkness for Mickey to overcome, once again showcasing his badass side.