Heart of Hero


The creative process is a funny thing. Success requires failure. The first time is rarely the last time, guaranteeing an endless cycle of creation and reiteration. Take this article for example. You wouldn’t know it by reading it, but this entire piece is a draft of a redraft of an idea for the article’s direction.

So where, exactly, do all the forgotten and rejected pieces that make up the final piece go once they’re cast away? In the case of Disney Epic Mickey, they are all transported to the Cartoon Wasteland, a sort of Island of Misfit Toys for Disney creations that never quite made it to the big time.

According to the game’s mythos, which manages to tie in nearly every aspect of Disney’s history – including the parks, movies and even some strangely obscure items only the most avid of fans would ever know -- the Cartoon Wasteland was created by the Sorcerer Yen Sid (Fantasia). The only way in or out of the Wasteland is a mirror, which Mickey stumbles across while playing around in Yen Sid’s study.

Disney Epic Mickey is a return to the “classic” Mickey of old. He’s a great friend, but has a mischievous streak that ends up getting him into trouble. While in the Sorcerer’s lair, Mickey’s curiosity gets the better of him and he begins to play with some of the paint magic found in the room. In the process, Mickey accidently spills paint on the mirror. He’s able to clean up the mess before Yen Sid returns, but his one mistake causes a whole lot of trouble for the toons living in the Wasteland.

Years later, that one accident manages to come back on Mickey in a big way. He’s literally dragged back into the Wasteland by the Phantom Blot, a malevolent being created by Mickey’s spill. While captive in the Wasteland, Mickey learns that the Blot is at war with the residents of the Wasteland. He also discovers the Wasteland already has a hero, his older half-brother, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

For anyone not “up” on Disney lore, Oswald is essentially Disney’s first “forgotten creation.” Before Mickey, there was Oswald, Disney’s first cartoon star who was unfortunately ripped from his creator’s hands due to contract disputes between Disney and Universal. The relationship between Mickey and Oswald serves as a major center point in Disney Epic Mickey’s tale.

Part of my hands-on experience with Disney Epic Mickey involved the chance to speak with the game’s director, Warren Spector. A few minutes into the discussion, it was abundantly clear that Spector is a fan of all things Disney. However, his fandom goes beyond pure Disney trivia. Throughout the meeting, Spector kept returning to what he considers the core of the story – the heart. The one thing that separates Mickey from the rest of the Disney creations in the Wasteland – Oswald included – is a heart. At the start, Oswald is bitterly jealous of Mickey’s success (though the Blot’s influence may have something to do with his feelings). To that end, Disney Epic Mickey is more about the relationship between the two brothers and how the concept of a heart fits into their relationship.

Disney Epic Mickey’s gameplay is just as unconventional as its setting and themes. At first glance, the game looks like a typical 3rd-person platformer. However, Disney Epic Mickey isn’t anymore a platformer as it is a 3rd-person shooter or RPG. Even Spector seemed hard-pressed to give the game a genre label. But this was by design. Disney Epic Mickey is everything; it’s a mash-up of genres aiming to create one really fun experience.

Within the game, there are three main play components: Quest, Action and Travel. Quest sections resemble hub towns in an RPG. Here you’ll meet other characters, accept quests and even complete a few. Travel maps are the space between Quest and Action segments. These look like 2D platformer areas. Finally, Action areas are where a bulk of gameplay takes place. You’ll fight enemies with your paintbrush and push the game’s narrative further along.

Much of the game revolves around Mickey’s magic paintbrush, which he can use to create and destroy elements in the level. Using paint, Mickey can draw bridges, create walls and add other objects to help him traverse the Wasteland. Alternately, he can use paint thinner to erase objects, granting him access to previously blocked areas. Though it may sound like a “Create and Destroy” free-for-all, both aspects are regulated. Still, there’s enough freedom within each level for play. At no time in the demo did I feel too restricted nor did I ever feel overwhelmed.

How you choose to play through the game will have a direct impact on the game world. Spector wouldn’t go into too much detail about how the system works, though he did emphasize that players should not approach the system as “Moral Choices.” The ideas of good and evil are, at best, opinions. Some acts are accepted more universally as one or the other, but that’s really not for anyone to decide. Within Disney Epic Mickey, the concepts are tied into the Paint and Paint Thinner mechanic. Creating and unmaking parts of the Wasteland will have a direct impact on the residents. Some will like what’s happening, others won’t. Other’s feelings towards Mickey will influence what quests he can take on as well as other big picture ideas, including Mickey’s appearance.

There’s no way to effectively sum up my feelings regarding Epic Mickey. I’ve been trying to avoid the obvious “It’s Epic” comment, but if the mouse ears fit. In the end, Disney Epic Mickey is about more than a mouse. It's about creativity, risk and most importantly, what it takes to be a hero.

There’s still a lot to uncover about Disney Epic Mickey, and still more coverage headed your way in the next few days. Be sure to check back for our one-on-one interview with designer Warren Spector.

Disney Epic Mickey
Disney Interactive