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Review: 'Disney Epic Mickey' is not-quite-perfect magic

In "Disney Epic Mickey," players use a magic paintbrush to create or erase parts of the iconic character's world.
In "Disney Epic Mickey," players use a magic paintbrush to create or erase parts of the iconic character's world.
  • "Disney Epic Mickey" is a magic ride, but the camera and targeting fall short
  • Game sees Mickey moving through alternate worlds, changing them with magic paint
  • Sometimes, aiming that paint accurately is hard

(CNN) -- "Disney Epic Mickey" is a fun adventure with everyone's favorite mouse, but a wonky camera and targeting system prevent it from fully achieving Disney magic.

The video game, out this week from Disney Interactive Studios and Junction Point Studios, puts Mickey Mouse in a challenging environment called Wasteland, where finding his way home will force him to make choices that can turn out to be either good or bad.

"Epic Mickey," an attempt to appeal to adult gamers as well as kids, places Mickey in a contemporary setting that also references Disney's rich history. Wasteland is full of Disney characters who have been forgotten or become obscure.

The land is ruled by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney in 1927 and ultimately lost to another studio. Disney would go on, a year later, to create the character that would become the symbol of his company -- Mickey Mouse.

Black and white versions of Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar also return, as well as other characters that never made it to stardom.

Wasteland is also populated by areas that are distortions of real areas at Disney parks like Mean Street (Main Street USA), Tomorrow City (Tomorrowland), and Ventureland (Adventureland).

Game designer Warren Spector said for Disney fans, there is a lot to love and explore. But he wanted to make a game that would appeal to all gamers.

"One of the goals, as crazy as it sounds, was to make it a game for everyone," Spector said. "For gamers, it starts with the mechanic of drawing and erasing, removing things from the world and restoring them back again."

Mickey uses a magic paintbrush in the cartoon world to help him either create with paint or destroy with thinner. The brush works not just on enemies, but on the surrounding environment as well.

Thinner and paint are used extensively throughout the game to get Mickey through different levels, sub-levels and side missions. Painting on an enemy will make it your friend, while thinner will weaken and sometimes kill it. You can also use paint and thinner to create or eliminate buildings, trees and other structures.

Spector was hoping to challenge the player with his unique game mechanic.

"There has never been a game that lets you remove walls, floors, ceilings, objects, characters, and then bring them back," Spector said. "One of the programmers said, 'Why don't we give [Mickey] control over the stuff he's made of?' "

With that control come choice and consequences, something Spector is very well known for in his previous titles, like the Ultima series, "Deus Ex," and "Thief."

How players choose to handle situations is reflected in how they are treated in the game by other characters. Each choice will have its own reward or consequence.

One of the very first dilemmas is choosing between releasing a Gremlin (a helpful character) or opening a chest of E-tickets (the currency of the game). A friend or money -- which do you want more?

More choices help shape how missions get completed or whether the player misses them entirely. With the ability to create and eliminate the environment, the three-dimensional worlds all have dual sides.

Each side can appear either dark and broken down, due to the thinner, or bright and colorful from paint.

Using thinner on a colorful wall might reveal a hidden passage, while paint on an ugly building will garner you rewards from the characters nearby.

Traveling from world to world through projector-screen warps is also fun.

The warps are platforming levels that feature some of the old Disney cartoons, like "Steamboat Willie," which are exciting to see.

The background music will be hauntingly familiar to nearly everyone. It's not exactly Disney music, but it does contain enough chords and melodies to make you strain to hear more and figure out what tune they twisted for each level.

The game is a mother lode of Disney history and memorabilia.

One level, in fact, is dedicated to all the Mickey Mouse merchandise produced over the years and is called, ironically enough, Mickey Junk Mountain.

While this could be a Disney fan's dream game with all the references, Spector said he wanted the game to resonate with today's gamers and the style they have become used to playing.

"Games that allow players to solve the problems any way they want, with consequences and choices to create their own experiences," he said. "That's what the best of gaming is about these days, and I've been making games like that for a really long time. And this is one of them."

The game is not without problems. The camera view is difficult to control using the Wii's directional cross and often creates opportunities that force players to make blind jumps to platforms they can't face.

Mickey also gets stuck looking at walls or corners with no recourse except to blindly walk along a path until he can turn around.

The targeting for paint and thinner also misses the mark. Literally.

Putting the cross hairs on a target and hitting the trigger button may or may not make the stream find the enemy. This can be really frustrating when you try to paint a ledge, keep missing the mark, and get overrun by bad guys before your escape route appears.

There is also a minor flaw with the voice acting: There is none.

The characters verbally communicate through grunts and groans, which are translated by subtitles. While it doesn't affect gameplay, it does affect the atmosphere of the game.

Despite the issues, the game gets high marks for its delivery and the choice/consequence gameplay. Players will enjoy being able to shape the story and play the game the way they want.

The ultimate goal is to get Mickey back home. But players can take their time, see everything and earn extra rewards if they so choose.

Spector said this is a game where your play style really does matter.

"I think gamers are going to find a lot to love here," he said. "At least, I really hope so."

"Disney Epic Mickey" is an exclusive title for the Wii console and is rated E for Everyone.


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