Disney Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion is a game that wears a lot of hats. Not only is it a companion piece to Warren Spector’s Epic Mickey series of console games and the first 3DS game from cult-favorite developer DreamRift (whose founding members were responsible for 2009’s infamous Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure), it’s also a spiritual successor to Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, the beloved Sega-developed platformer released for the Sega Genesis in 1990. So what happens when you mix all these disparate elements and boil them together in a pot?
Artwork from the Sega Genesis classic: The Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
The game’s title is much more than a nostalgia-invoking ploy to entice older gamers, from the beginning moments of the game it becomes apparent that DreamRift was dedicated to creating a true-to-form sequel to the Genesis classic. Power of Illusion shares a surprisingly large amount of it’s DNA with it’s 16-bit predecessor, everything from Mickey’s standard stomp attack to the basic level structure are reminiscent of Mickey’s previous adventure. The story and set-up are also similar: once again the Castle of Illusion has appeared, and the unrepentant Mizrabel has kidnapped Minnie Mouse (along with a whole score of other Disney characters or “toons”) and it’s up to our rodent hero to save the day by jumping and fighting his way though a series of sidescrolling levels filled with a multitude of dangers and obstacles.
The most significant addition to this formula is the paint and thinner mechanic from the Epic Mickey series. Just like in the console adventures Mickey finds himself wielding Yen Sid’s magic paintbrush which he can use to deliver either paint or thinner based projectile attacks (this replaces Mickey’s fruit-tossing antics from the previous game). The kind of items enemies drop will depend on which attack you use, so choosing between paint and thinner isn’t completely arbitrary.
Trace that cannon!
Beyond simple ranged attacks the paint and thinner can also be used to either create objects within the game world using paint, or erase them using thinner. This is where the touch screen comes into play, at any time during the game player’s can freeze the action on the top screen and initiate mini-game on the bottom screen that requires players to trace simple patterns with the stylus. It’s a design very similar to the platforming/match-three mash-up of Henry Hatsworth, but unfortunately unlike Henry Hatsworth the activities on the bottom screen aren’t nearly as interesting as those on the top screen and the momentum of the gameplay comes to a screeching halt whenever it becomes necessary to get out the stylus and do a little tracing. DreamRift attempts to ratchet up the tension by adding a rudimentary scoring system that rewards you with more paint or thinner for tracing the objects more accurately, but since there is no real way to fail at the kindergartener-friendly tracing game and no real penalty for running out of your constantly-regenerating paint supply, it never feels like a challenging or worthwhile activity. The result is a game that plods along at a sometimes miserably slow pace, which can become very frustrating on the more difficult stages considering that the penatly for death is being sent back to the beginning and losing all progress (including treasures collected and characters saved).
Even if you can disregard the banal tracing portion of the game, it quickly becomes apparent that Illusion’s 16-bit roots are both a blessing and a curse. Mickey’s standard animations are lovingly recreated sprite-for-sprite based on the Genesis original and he moves with a flowing grace that does justice to his beginnings in hand-drawn cel animation, but unfortunately all that smoothness comes at the cost of speed and responsiveness. Compared to similar games like Nintendo’s own New Super Mario Bros. 2, Mickey seems to run, jump, and turn in slow motion, which saps much of the fun and excitement out of the core gameplay. This isn’t to say that the core gameplay is completely broke, in fact I quite enjoyed it despite the decidedly slow pace, it’s just that while playing the game one can never quite shake the feeling that everything is moving too slowly and taking just slightly too long. This problem is compounded by the fact that in order to complete the game 100% you’ll need to traverse most areas at least two or three times, scouring the world for optional treasures and toons.
The level's are designed well, with the correct amount of exploration and secrets, and just enough multiple paths to make things interesting and provide a healthy bit of challenge even for the seasoned gamer. However there are a few instances where the platforming can become frustrating, especially when trying to reach high, out-of-reach areas, and all too often the game requires the player to bounce off of multiple air-born enemies who don’t respawn if you accidentally dispose of them (this resulted in more than a few suicides and resets during my play-through). This frustration can be somewhat alleviated later in the game as you unlock more helpful “sketches” (objects that you can paint anywhere into the world at any time), such as a handy floating platform, but that doesn’t alleviate the sting players might feel in the beginning of the game.
The charmingly animated enemies are plentiful and fun to engage in battle, although there isn’t a whole lot of variation and you’ll find yourself encountering the same basic types of enemies throughout the game’s twelve stages. Furthermore, many of the baddies that stand in Mickey’s way are what I started thinking of as the platforming equivalent of bullet-sponges, and will take several attacks to kill, often resulting in grueling battles of attrition when the player is faced with many foes at once. In addition to the rank and file, Mickey will also encounter four bosses, and each of these will require some sort of painting and/or thinning “trick” to defeat, in conjunction with normal attacks. None of the bosses are particularly difficult but they do provide some of the games coolest moments and are fun to go up against.
Graphically the game is quite gorgeous and everything from the character portraits to the stunning backdrops sparkle with painterly details and Disney charm. The game word is broken up into three main sections, each representing a different Disney property, and all of them do artistic justice to their source material. The stages devoted to Peter Pan, which finds Mickey hopping along rooftops and clouds above a moonlit London, I found especially breathtaking. Unfortunately the stereoscopic 3-D is underwhelming with only one level of depth to separate the foreground and background despite there being many layers of traditional parallax scrolling in some of the more grandiose stages. I found the toning-down of the 3-D effect to be an odd choice and a lost opportunity. As a musical complement to the beautifully painted environments, the developers have added a rousing orchestral score, although the sound quality is slightly compressed and flat sounding, and the ditty that plays during the tracing sections never varies throughout the entire game and can become grating after a few hours of play.
Captain Hook is the first boss battle.
Mickey will meet and rescue many Disney characters along the path to his ultimate showdown with Mizrabel, you don’t need to rescue every character in the game but you won’t be able to progress to the subsequent levels until a minimum quota is met. Unfortunately most of these characters won’t really do much besides standing around waiting to be rescued, but occasionally they will actively aid Mickey is his battles by attacking enemies or setting off environmental traps, and these rare moments are some of the best in the game. Characters that you have successfully saved will be spirited away to a place called the Fortress, which you can visit at any time to talk to characters, purchase upgrades to your skills and abilities, and receive “quests” that will require you to find treasures or additional toons hidden throughout the game. Some quests can be completed simply by talking to a sequence of characters within the Fortress, and the game does a very good job of letting you know where you need to go and what you need to do by placing clear symbols next to the desired destinations. All of the Fortress activities are completely optional, but you’ll want complete at least a few of the quest because the rewards (such as those sketches mentioned earlier) are often very handy.
Power of Illusion is not a long game, it will take you only a few hours to complete the main objectives and get to the ending, but Fortress completionists will find there is a lot more to do once the main game has been beaten. I’m nearly at 100% completion and my activity log reads about eight hours, your mileage may vary but for a full-priced retail game I found myself wanting just a little bit more content. Overall I found Mickey’s first 3DS outing to be an enjoyable adventure despite some very serious flaws, namely the momentum-killing tracing portions and the overall sluggish feel to the platforming. Once I adapted to the speed of the gameplay and accepted that I was going to be stopping for a bit of rote tracing, a lot, I had plenty of fun exploring the beautifully realized worlds, beating up bad-guys with a paint brush, collecting treasures, and rescuing toons. I would cautiously recommend this game to 2-D platforming enthusiasts and Disney fans alike, although be prepared for something a bit more mediocre than the games’s impressive pedigree might suggest.
I was super interested in this game as it is from the Henry Hatsworth people but you know... finally got around to Monster Tale and that wasn't as good as Hatsworth, and this game seems even... less good?
I do think though that Monster Tale and even Hatsworth both felt a little "too slow" as well, as far as running around the environments is concerned.
Great review, very descriptive and well written. It's unfortunate the game turned out the way I did, what with the very slow pacing, the stylus stuff bringing everything to halt, the lack of good 3D for the different graphics layers, etc. I was not sold on the game after playing the demo, and it sounds like the final version of the game didn't change much. Glad to hear you still enjoyed the game for what it did offer, despite its shortcomings.
(And unfortunately, it sounds like the console version Epic Mickey 2 didn't turn out so well either. Yeah, completely different game and development team, I know, but you would think somebody could nail it.)
Aww, man! I was hoping this one turned out better. Sluggish gameplay is killer for an impatient twerp such as myself. Some of the backgrounds (eyes Captain Hook pic) are very nice and your take on animation make me wish they'd try again without paint and thinner. Regardless, I enjoyed your thorough and well thought out review!!!
The demo was especially poor, the actual game is a lot more fun once it progresses past the first couple stages. It's unfortunate that they couldn't have streamlined the drawing portions somehow, like maybe just be able to tap something on the bottom screen and have it draw in or erase automatically, because the platforming is actually pretty good once you get used to it, and it's definitely one of the best looking 2-D games in a while, makes me hunger for a new 2-D Castlevania. Sprites rule!
@GameDadGrant I've seen this game for $30 around town, I assume it won't be long until it drops to $20.
Okay, I *think* I finally maxxed this game out at 100%, at least every chamber of The Fortress is upgraded to the highest level and the characters have stopped giving me quests... there was no fanfare or congratulations, everything just shut down. Time on the clock: a surprising 11 hrs. 49 minutes, there were a lot more extra characters and sidequests that I first believed (although none of the extra challenges incorporate new content, you're always traversing the same levels).
@Mr_Mustache It's not exactly like Kid Icarus, saved characters won't help you against the bosses, they'll show up at predetermined times and kill a couple enemies or set off a trap. For example Peter Pan will appear and slice a rope holding up some barrels which will fall on some baddies, or Tinkerbell will fly into a dark area of the screen and light it up to reveal treasure.
@Anand This game could easily be ported to Wii U, there could even be a co-op mode where one person could handle the drawing with the gamepad and the other controls Mickey. That would actually be great because it would speed things up.
Yeah... when they said they were going to do a tribute to Castle of Illusion, I sorta worried that it might end up a bit like you describe, DH. I do love Castle of Illusion, but that love comes with a few caveats. First, it's a kid's game. It can get hard, for sure, but it's generally a simple-pleasures sort of game. Also, it was mind-blowingly beautiful for its time. In fact, a bit of a style-over-substance affair. I feel that's ok, from time to time, but a game like that doesn't really lend itself to the "make a spiritual sequel, 25 years later" sort of treatment.
Still somewhat interested, but bummed they didn't solve the problems of the original game for this sequel.
100%'d this last night, and I really don't know why. I stopped enjoying it after the final level, but I was so close to completely finishing it that I just decided to finish all of the quests. I scored it the same as DH, but I could go lower. The game had a lot of potential, but it fell flat with its repetitiveness. That and the constant painting and thinning mechanics got old quickly.