One fateful day in the forgotten cartoon dumping ground that is Wasteland, a huge earthquake shakes the land to it's very core. With a tinkle of a piano and a suspicious four bar intro, a Mad Doctor then rises from the ground, evil moustache still intact, and starts... to sing. And stranger still, it's oddly infectious...
This is Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, the sequel to the Wii exclusive from 2010, which has spread its wings to formats new - the 360, PS3, and, for the first time, the newly launched Wii U. And as you may be able to tell from the title, one of the biggest changes for the sequel is the addition of co-op play. With one player using the GamePad taking control of Walt's famous Mouse, a second player can drop in at any time with a Nunchuck and Wii Remote, and play as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The new kid on the block (and one of the villains in the first game), Oswald comes armed with his own remote control, which he can use to shoot out electrical impulses to stun or reprogram enemies, jump-start machines and hack his way into locked doors. And, for some reason, he can also take his leg off and use it as a boomerang. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse has the same powers from the other game, coming armed with Yen Sid's magical paintbrush and buckets of paint and thinner, which can be used to fill in and erase the landscape, defeat or befriend enemies and solve (light) moral conundrums, as you choose to thin, or fill, well, something.
As an example of the sort of thing we're talking about, one section saw us exploring the Mean Street rooftops (the game's version of Main Street) where we came across a treasure chest on top of the clothes shop. Unfortunately, we couldn't reach it from where we were - but we eventually figured out you needed to go round the back, and make your way through a hole in the wall that was blocked by this giant metal block. "Fair enough" we thought, as we thinned the platform out from under the block, sending it plummeting into the abyss below, and headed to get our treasure. It wasn't until we happened to head into the shop below that the full extent of our actions was apparent - that metal block had been the poor woman's air conditioner, and to help pay for the damage we'd caused on our quest for booty, we would now be charged double in her shop. Oops.
Mostly, then, the gameplay in Epic Mickey 2 is a mixture of 3D platforming, and fairly basic puzzle solving, not all too dissimilar to the LEGO games. There's usually several ways of approaching a problem, often with an obvious 'good' and 'bad' option for you to choose, depending on the sort of character you want to be. Near the beginning of the game, you'll come across a worn out Goofy, who explains there's been a bit of a cock up with some pumps, and instead of happily sucking up the thinner spillage in OsTown, they've been scattered all over the place. Goofy tells you you need to round up all three pumps in order to suck up the thinner - or you can trust the sometimes-shady gremlin Prescott and just retrieve one, and supercharge it, in order to do the work of three with the help of his machine. In this instance, it doesn't really matter too much who you side with as both options have the same outcome - but later on, things can turn out quite a bit differently depending on the course you take...
There's certainly no shortage of things to do in Wasteland, though, with plenty of places to explore, oodles of side quests to work towards and more challenges and collectables than you can shake a paintbrush at. Challenges, which work kind of like achievements on the Xbox 360, reward you for befriending a certain number of enemies, completing key quests, reviving a friend in co-op or painting in all the stars in the sky of Yen Sid's lab (that's Disney backwards, fact fans). You'll also find many collectable pins hidden in various chests across the land, some of which are fancy, and others that are plain Mickey heads that can then be traded for rarer ones at Mean Street's Pin Trader - and combinations of certain hard to find pins unlock Guardian Spirits, who'll improve Mickey and Oswald's abilities. You'll also come across photo points at various vistas during your travels as well as hidden faces of Mickey and Oswald scattered across the landscape to snap pictures of for a couple of long-lasting side quests.
Unfortunately, though, the game is still plagued by the little annoyances we had with the original game. The camera can still throw a wobbly at inopportune moments and it's still just as hard to pop back to Mean Street to pick up a health upgrade, empty your camera's memory and what have you, as you still have to backtrack through several areas to get there. A fast-travel option would have made things a heck of a lot easier. There's also a strange effect on the Wii U version where the camera rotates faster than the game can draw things onto your screen, meaning if you whizz the camera around, you'll see the buildings pop in fractionally slower than you can scroll around - by no means a game-breaking fault, but probably worth mentioning, just in case you think it's a problem with your console. But what is worth mentioning is that with the addition of another character, Oswald, the frustrations can quickly multiply unless you have a friend willing to drop in and take over the lucky rabbit - trying to persuade the computer-controlled rabbit to come and help you with a puzzle is a Herculean task, as he can often be found wandering aimlessly on the other side of the map, paying about as much attention to your button presses as a child pays to their mother's calls. Why they didn't just take a leaf out of the Lego games and let you switch to being Oswald whenever you need to is anyone's guess - and a large source of frustration.
On the subject of little bugs we've come across, we did encounter a rather strange one in the garden of Clarabelle's house back in OsTown - if you played the first game, you may remember that she was quite into her gardening, but the earthquake totally decimated her nice patch of land. Being the all round nice guy that he is, Mickey Mouse has the option of restoring it to something approaching it's former glory with his paint - except it's awfully difficult to do so, because your aiming reticule is completely stuck in the one position, so you can't aim where you want your paint to go at all. It's obviously not meant to be glued in place either, as we did persuade it to shift a bit the one time - but it is a problem, and perhaps one that may crop up again at another point in the game.
Another odd choice is the control scheme. The original Epic Mickey game was designed primarily around the Wii Remote, pointing the controller at the part of the screen you wanted to paint - and it worked so well, it seems strange that only the second optional player can use the control scheme in Epic Mickey 2, with the mouse himself stuck with the GamePad's dual analogue sticks, to move him and aim his paintbrush. While the GamePad does bring with it a few (minor) benefits in the form of a handy map, we would have liked to use the Wii Remote/Nunchuck control scheme we got used to with the previous game as an option.
In all, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is by no means a perfect game, but it's still a pretty solid romp through a forgotten Disney world. Oswald's AI lets down the single-player a lot, but if you have a friend to drop in and rescue you from his hopelessness, you should be fine. And with so much to see and do, you'll certainly get your money's worth, particularly if you like collecting virtual trinkets.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U