Very early on in Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for the 3DS – which I recently had a chance to sit down with for an hour – Mickey encounters classic Disney penny-pincher Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge was the star of the first movie I ever saw in a cinema, ‘Ducktales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp’, but he isn’t, as far as I can tell, popular anymore. A wealthy duck just doesn’t appeal during a recession, I think – who can get behind a dude that literally swims in a vault full of coins with the economy in its current state?
Scrooge, then, is in the game for my benefit, not for the kids who you’d think would be the primary target audience for a game like this, and placing him at the front of the game is telling. Even more telling is the way the game constantly alludes to Castle of Illusion, to which it is a sequel-of-sorts, right down to its sound effects being lifted from that classic game. Power of Illusion isn’t just about making a new game for kids, or about nostalgia – it’s an act of preservation of characters and experiences (and it’s great, with some of the system’s very best 3D effects).
Epic Mickey 2, which has been developed by Junction Point (headed up by Warren Spector), is an even more overt argument for the importance of archiving. Warren Spector is a big collector – according to a talk he gave recently at Game Masters in Melbourne, he owns extra houses that he bought purely to fill with the stuff he keeps buying – and an avid Disney fan.
Both upcoming Epic Mickey games don’t seem to be concerned with nostalgia so much as explaining why the past is important.
The first Epic Mickey was largely about consequence – a Warren Spector staple – and Disney’s past, but judging from the two hands-on sessions I’ve had with Epic Mickey 2 now, this game is more overt in the way it frames Disney artefacts. At one point, I found myself on the face of a giant Mickey watch – that really old, pop-culturally significant one that’s really hard to find pictures of online because it’s so damn rare – jumping through a canyon of Disney collectibles. At another, I found myself searching for hidden Mickey heads in the landscape, which is a homage to the various heads hidden in the architecture of Disney World. Every part of Epic Mickey 2 seems to be based on something that has impacted Warren Spector somewhere else in his life.
Once again, this isn’t the sort of thing kids care about, necessarily, but part of the goal of the game seems to be to bridge the gap between the Mickey's of grandparents, parents and children. Epic Mickey 2 feels like an extremely personal game, one that harks back to Warren’s childhood. He admitted to me, when I met him back at Game Masters, that he might grow to regret not adding online co-op. That this might be the thing he looks back on and thinks ‘I should have included that’ (with the first Epic Mickey game, it was voice acting). But the image in his head that he described, of two brothers playing and loving his gaming, is such a throwback to childhood gaming that it’s hard not to see it as a deliberate strategy to build a game that wholly evokes a sense of the past.
The game – which is great, by the way, at least based on what we’ve played – reminds me most of the sort of games Rare used to make on Nintendo 64, crammed full of little details and built to be explored. It’s the sort of experience that games rarely offer anymore, based around objects and characters that have long since been forgotten. Both upcoming Epic Mickey games don’t seem to be concerned with nostalgia so much as explaining why the past is important.
By James O'Connor