Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Platform: 3DS (retail and eShop)
Release Date: November 18, 2012
ESRB: E for Everyone
A retail copy was supplied by the publisher for this review
It's been some time since we last had a 2D side-scrolling platformer starring Mickey, as the last big one was likely Mickey Mania back on the SNES and Genesis in the '90s. Thanks to the success of 2010's Epic Mickey, though, Disney Interactive and Warren Spector have brought on developer DreamRift (of Monster Tale fame) to help develop a 3DS counterpart to Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. Unlike that game, however, Power of Illusion for 3DS is its own game and story, and it's a direct sequel of sorts to the classic Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse for Genesis/Megadrive.
Power of Illusion's story has Mickey returning to the Wasteland from his previous adventure in Epic Mickey after receiving a distress call from Oswald The Lucky Rabbit telling him about a mysterious floating castle that has appeared in the sky. Oswald tells Mickey that an evil witch has been kidnapping Disney characters from all over and holding them captive in her castle. Mickey immediately puts things together and discovers that the evil witch is Mizrabel, the antagonist from Castle of Illusion, and that the titular castle of the aforementioned game had appeared in the Wasteland because everyone had forgotten about it, as is the case with all of the characters that arrive there. Thus Mickey must stop Mizrabel, as she plans to capture enough heart power from the different kidnapped Disney characters in order to return to the Cartoon World.
The game primarily plays as a classic 2D side-scrolling platformer where the objective is to rescue a few Disney characters that are hidden in each level and then make your way to the exit, which is often on the far right hand side. Right off the bat, Mickey is a bit slower than you'd expect while walking and feels a bit floaty when he jumps, but it's something you become accustomed to over time and don't notice as much later on. Also, much like previous 2D platformers that Mickey has starred in (and most in the genre in general), the main method of defeating enemies is by bouncing off of their heads, but DreamRift also used this mechanic interestingly in that timing the bounce right before you land on the enemy will result in a boost jump of sorts; this move is built into the level design in order to reach higher areas and such, and there are some interesting uses for it in later levels that require you to use it skillfully in order to proceed.
Of course, Mickey's magical paintbrush can be used as well, as you fling paint and thinner at different enemies from afar. You'll also be using the paintbrush quite a bit in other ways throughout each level as the touch screen will show a layout of where you are in the level and what objects you can interact with. There will either be markings to indicate that you'll be able to draw a platform or other object you can interact with, or you'll be able to erase certain obstacles that are already present in the level with paint thinner. In theory, both uses are great ideas and concepts, as there are certain levels that make good use of them in some puzzle platforming segments. For example, in one instance, you'll have a maze of cannons to navigate through as you continuously auto-shoot out of them, but you must erase certain cannons in your path and create a few others in order to correctly proceed and reach the next area. Another instance might give you the opportunity to paint in the outline of a certain Disney character so that they will pop up and occasionally help you defeat enemies.
These designs are well and good in theory, but they are unfortunately hindered by one simple fact: whenever you want to create an object with paint or erase it with thinner, you'll be directed to a prompt on the touch screen where you either have to trace a simple outline (whether it be an object or character), or scribble over the existing paint in the outline in order to erase it. And when you have to do that ten to twenty times in one level, it gets old and repetitive fast, especially when you're working with the same outlines over and over. Another thing to consider is that since you need the 3DS's stylus for these touchscreen segments, it means that you'll need it handy and ready to go at all times, which creates an awkward situation for holding the 3DS as you play since you'll literally be holding it in the hand that you'll also be pressing the handheld's face buttons with.
Outside of the platforming aspects, Power of Illusion's levels are interconnected by a menu-driven world map of sorts. The main area of the game is the Fortress, and this is where each rescued Disney character will go. Furthermore, each character will receive their own room within the Fortress and you'll be given the option to do sidequests for the character which range from simple fetch quests to painting them an object on the touch screen. Whenever you complete a sidequest, their room will gain a star, and after it receives a certain number of stars, it will level up and then more closely resemble a scene from the Disney character's world. Unfortunately, other than the simple interactions between some of the Disney characters, the sidequests aren't all that interesting, especially since most send you back to a level you already played through only to fetch a character or treasure chest that wasn't there before; in fact, you might have to play through a level multiple times as you keep doing the sidequests.
The other type of fetch sidequest is almost even more ridiculous, simply boiling down to going and talking to another Disney character in another room who has an object that the sidequest-giver wants. Basically, it amounts to watching discussions unfold...and that's it. There simply isn't enough depth to keep them interesting. About the only redeeming part of this is watching how different Disney characters react to Mickey as a character, especially the human ones like Aladdin, Cinderella, or even ones based in a realistic setting and location, like Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. The only real reason to do the sidequests, however, is because you'll either get E-tickets (the game's currency), an upgradable stat, or a new object you can paint to help you during levels upon completion of the quest. Unfortunately, none of those things really have a marginal impact on the game, meaning that you could get through the entire game without doing any of the sidequests. In fact, the E-tickets you collect throughout levels should be enough to buy a few upgrades at Scrooge McDuck's shop (which appears early on), which should get you through the later levels.
It's a shame that the above mentioned pet peeves drag the experience down because Power of Illusion is actually a very nice looking game from a visual standpoint. Everything looks sharp and like an old school 16-bit Mickey game, and the layered backgrounds often have a lot of detail to them. The soundtrack isn't half-bad either, with a simulated orchestrated-feel to it which often lives up to the game's "epic" name in some spots. It's pretty obvious that DreamRift had some talented artists and musicians during the game's development, which just makes it all the more disappointing that not everything pairs up as well in the end.
Ultimately, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion has a solid idea behind it, but it fails to live up to its premise by virtue of the painting mechanic becoming monotonous and being used more often than it should. The level design as a whole is often pretty decent, with a few levels that show that DreamRift almost reached their aspirations with the game, but it just isn't enough. Add to that a mediocre fetch-quest system and a short overall experience (some 12 levels or so across three worlds) that can be completed in a few hours, and Power of Illusion ends up being a barely decent experience; nothing more. If you're a huge fan of Disney, you might get more enjoyment out of the game than most, but if not, you might want to think hard as to whether this is an investment that you'll enjoy.
+ Visuals and art style are highly appealing
+ Some intuitive puzzle platformer areas
+ Music is pretty good
- Paint and thinner mechanics are incredibly mediocre and repetitive
- Sidequests boil down to simple fetch quests and repeating certain levels
- Game is short and can be beaten in just a few hours
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion means well and has some redeeming qualities, but ultimately stumbles in its attempt to achieve something creatively unique and is hindered by repetitive touch mechanics and dull fetch quests.