News Column

Epic Mickey 2: Disney Unites Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Nov. 20, 2012

Steven Ford, Orlando Sentinel

In humankind's shared mythology of the hero's journey, the path to adventure, transformation and atonement sometimes is taken alone -- though more times than not it is completed with the help of a trusted friend.

Such is true of most beloved adventures associated with Disney. Would Dumbo ever learn to fly were it not for Timothy? How long would genetic Experiment 626 last on Earth if not for Lilo? And let's face it: Moving day would come and go without Woody were it not for the helping hand (and retractable wings) of Buzz Lightyear.

Transformational journeys, especially those epic in nature, oftentimes only can succeed by the power of a pair of friends banding together and uniting in a common quest.

Such is true with Disney Interactive's latest console game release, "Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two." A sequel to 2010's Wii-only "Epic Mickey," the game is now available this week and this time is being released for multiple platforms -- Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and even the upcoming Wii U.

Aside from the platform expansion, though, the game is markedly different from its predecessor in multiple ways.

First and foremost, the game lives up to its name in that the true power of its game-play comes from the dual character action of the game's hero, Mickey Mouse, and Walt Disney's other early animated creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Oswald is now a second player in the drop-in, drop-out multiplayer game. He's either a computer-controlled force for single players or controlled by a second player's actions if your partner wants to co-op his actions.

Mickey still has his magical paint brush, of course; Oswald has an electricity-emitting remote controller.

Legendary game creator Warren Spector, creative director of Junction Point Studios, which developed the franchise, says players can succeed more quickly and completely when both characters use their unique talents to work together rather than competing against one another.

"It's called 'Power of Two' for a reason," Spector says, adding this game, like his previous game creations, is based on his oft-stated belief that "play style matters." That concept says that a player might have a greater degree of free will in manipulating his or her game world, but actions do come with consequences.

Spector, of course, is known as the video-game visionary who used this concept to chart new territory for the medium with creations such as the first-person adventure "System Shock" in the mid-'90s and later "Deux Ex," among other titles. Rather than making video games that required regimented steps toward a completion of scores and levels, Spector's games became known as complex role-playing adventures in which users could take various paths through the game environment.

Such principles continue to guide Mickey and Oswald in this latest title, as well, as the two characters try to bring peace and stability to the Wasteland and its multiple environs of long-forgotten Disney characters and theme-park attractions.

"I think it's much more interesting when players interact with players and the world ... and deal with the consequences," he says, adding that "Epic Mickey" has the power of turning players into authors of their own narratives as they choose how to proceed through the game.

"I'm really big on story," Spector says, "which is really convenient when you work for Disney."

It's also convenient to work for the House of Mouse if you love the power of musical storytelling, too. Especially if you want to cover new ground by using that artistic medium within a video game to help advance the plot or enhance the environment through which the characters are traveling. Spector has defied video-game tradition again by doing just that and having the game's characters break into song at several points in the game.

Spector admits he's not sure how some gamers will react to this aspect of "Epic Mickey 2," but the musical numbers are more than just tunes and do serve a purpose in the game by offering vital information to the players.

Besides, he says, it's not a stretch to think that anyone playing a Disney game won't be accustomed to experiencing a musical arrangement as part of the work. It is, he says, a deep part of the company's heritage and culture.

He's probably right. After all, we're talking about the same company that taught the world Swahili with "Hakuna Matata," how to easily sing a tongue-twisting "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and, through music and visual artistry, how to enjoy anew Goethe's "Der Zauberlehrling" and its effect on one precocious little Mouse.

"Every single Disney classic [film] features song," he says, pointing out the obvious about the company's culture and history.

And that history is important, Spector says, because this game, like its predecessor, pays homage to Disney's past as much as it uses it for new experiences for today's gamers.

"I hope that [game players] come away with a great appreciation of Mickey as a hero," Spector says. "Back in his early days, he was quite adventurous."

One thing that hasn't changed musically in this game is that composer Jim Dooley is back to score the action, just as he did in the first "Epic Mickey."

Spector said Dooley was the only composer who could take the Sherman Brother's renown "Small World" tune and get to the heart of it, turn it inside out and reinterpret it as a musical exercise to demonstrate an understanding of the intangible way a Disney tune can withstand the test of time. He actually performed such a feat, Spector said, when he sent in a demo CD.

"Jim's amazing," Spector says, and proved to be the right choice because, "we had to capture the 'Disney sound.' "

In thinking about sound and the test of time, there also is another way in which "Epic Mickey 2" stands apart. Because, in this version of the game, the characters finally talk. For generations accustomed to hearing the voice of Mickey, the decision might seem like an easy one to make and one not too difficult to pull off.

Yet consider that Oswald has never before spoken, and you get a better idea of the monumental importance of getting the right voice actor for the part and for getting it right the first time. Spector says he's confident they've accomplished both. (Revered voice actor Frank Welker voices Oswald in this game.)

"For Mickey and characters that had voices, it was easy," Spector said. "For characters that never had voices ... we gave those characters voices ... which says a lot about how Disney feels about video games."



Source: (c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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