Back when I was growing up, the weekly Mickey Mouse comics by IPC Magazines were a constant companion. While my sister was reading Bunty and Judy, I was getting lost in a world where Scrooge McDuck was either swimming through his piles of gold coins, or protecting them from being stolen by the incompetent Beagle Boys; where Huey, Dewey and Louie were forever trying to get extra Junior Woodchuck badges; and where I would see comic strip adaptations of the summer Disney releases from Pete’s Dragon to Candleshoe before the films themselves had even hit these shores.
The bulk of each issue consisted of a number of short strips, reprinted from various US and European sources, which included some characters who were born from Mickey Mouse’s back catalgoue of shorts from 1929’s Plane Crazy onwards. As a result, the likes of Clara Cluck, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow were characters that I knew well. They may not have been as close to my heart as the likes of Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy, but they were never far away.
As far as the public at large goes, though, I suspect that many of the peripheral characters have long since been forgotten. And that’s part of the premise of the new Nintendo Wii game, Disney Epic Mickey (Wii).
The 3D platformer is set in Wonderland, a tabletop world originally created by the wizard Yen Sid (first seen as the sorcerer to whom Mickey is apprenticed in Fantasia) to house characters that have been discarded by history. After Mickey accidentally spills paint thinner over the world, the evil Blot takes control of Wonderland. When Mickey is transported into the world some time later, he must begin to restore Wonderland to its former glory. Along the way he meets many old Disney characters. But Mickey’s memory is like hours: to him, these are bit players who he may have met in passing, but otherwise does not remember.
The main game world is (as far as I’ve explored so far) a twisted take on the classic Disneyland rides, with flying Dumbos, the Mad Hatter’s spinning teacups and the Small World boat ride forming the basis of the early levels. Where the 3D environment differs from other games of a similar nature is Mickey’s weaponry: armed with both paint and thinners, not only can he squirt enemies with either, but certain elements of the environment – from buildings to cogs and gears, floors and ceilings – can be removed or added to help solve problems.
As is usual with games of this type, gameplay proceeds through a series of short (and some not-so-short) quests. Most of these can be fulfilled in two ways, with the path you take in completing the quest determining how the residents of Wonderland treat you.
The transition from 3D space to 3D space is achieved by jumping through projector screens, in keeping with the film connection. Rather than just disappearing in one location and reappearing in another, though, you must traverse a traditional 2D platform environment. While this switch between 3D and 2D is a tad annoying, the impact is lessened by the attention to detail with which the 2D environments match the look of some classic Mickey Mouse shorts, including Steamboat Willie, Thru the Mirror and Mickey and the Beanstalk. In many ways, reverting to 3D at the end of these short levels is annoying, because the 3D rendering seems staid, almost pedestrian by comparison.
There are several annoyances with the game. The camera position can be eccentric, making it incredibly easy to misjudge jumps as well as meaning that paint and thinner squirts don’t always end up going where they’re aimed at. You’re almost guaranteed to be killed by something which you would swear blind is not your fault – and the more annoying the unnecessary death, the farther back in the gameplay the automatic save point is most likely to be. And the cutscene ‘dialogue’ is presented by onscreen captions accompanied not by voice work, but by short vocal tics. All very Super Mario, I’m sure (and not inconsistent with the early Mickey cartoons that are such an inspiration elsewhere in the game) but they do get annoying.
Overall, though, the quibbles aren’t enough to stop immersing oneself in a world that is a curious hybrid of 3D and 2D animation that draws you in despite its flaws.