Mickey is one of those timeless, loveable characters, standing for the wholesome and white bread and all that good stuff. I have been hearing an outcry from Disney fans to make him a playable character in a big game since the first Kingdom Hearts. With the release of Epic Mickey fans got their wish, but underneath his usual, innocent portrayal was an unexpected layer of darkness and complexity.
The story of Epic Mickey is largely influenced by the Disney Company’s reacquisition of the rights to Walt’s first successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, whose loss made way for the creation of Mickey himself. So Oswald’s major role in the game seems like an attempt to welcome him back as part of the Disney family, which is depicted as an uneasy reunion in the game. The plot boils down to a rivalry between Oswald and Mickey, who is essentially Oswald’s younger and more successful brother. Oswald, who is shown to harbor some resentment toward Mickey, lives in the Wasteland, a world of discarded and forgotten Disney characters. Mickey comes upon some magic paint and thinner and through his careless mischief, unleashes the Shadow Blot, who spreads corruption throughout the already neglected Wasteland.
So not only has Mickey stolen Oswald’s fame, but now Mickey has destroyed the home he was exiled to as well. To top it all off, we find out later in the game that a Blot attack caused Oswald to lose his girlfriend, Ortensia, presumed lost for good. This casts Mickey’s image under a less than favorable light. Despite this “misunderstanding,” Mickey is still a likeable character because, well, he’s Mickey Mouse after all.
The game further plays with Mickey’s reputation through the morality dependent aspects of gameplay. Upon entering the Wasteland, your guide, Gremlin Gus, informs you that the paint thinner which has corrupted the world, has “changed” Mickey as well. This essentially frees up Mickey, and the player, to act out of character, to be bad. With the paint brush and thinner tools, players have the option to convert enemies to friends that will fight for you, or obliterate enemies outright. Obstacles in the environment and side-quests also pop up to test your moral fiber. There’s usually the right way to do something and the evil way, which isn’t necessarily wrong.
As far as I can tell, there aren’t any major consequences playing as “Evil Mickey.” How you choose to play only effects the characters around you in the end. The different endings either depict how you’ve helped or ignored the Wasteland residents, but both show a triumphant Mickey. He comes out untarnished because of the type of character he is. He is a character that everyone wants to see win. The image of Mickey is epic and his appeal overshadows all else.
This reliance on Disney charm is what ultimately saves the game. The gameplay is plagued with tedious side scrolling sections and a horrible in-game camera that will become your most irritating enemy. If it were any other game, without classic Disney shining through, Epic Mickey would be pretty mediocre, but as frustrating as these issues were I still managed to love the game. Much like the flaws pointed out in Mickey’s character, the game redeemed itself with its story and spirit. After all, to have a story about redemption, Mickey has to do a little screwing up first.