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Mickey Mouse is getting a fresh coat of paint as a cartoon character. And this makeover is taking place not in a film or a theme park, but in a video game called Disney Epic Mickey.
The game is inspired by the early years of Mickey’s 80-year history, when he was a more mischievous character. Created by the Junction Point studio founded by Warren Spector (pictured), the game blends different genres of games: action adventure, role-playing, and platform gaming. The game, due for launch on the Nintendo Wii this fall, is a calculated move to make an old icon more relevant in an age of edgy video games. In this game, Mickey gets to star in a tale that is as epic as the Legend of Zelda games that inspired it.
“We want to make Mickey Mouse as big a hero in video games as he is in other media,” Spector said. “Mickey Mouse deserves no less.”
Epic Mickey is part of a series of games that Disney has undertaken with its internally owned studios to show that it is a real player in the video game business. Disney Interactive Studios is several years into a long-term plan to become a major player in video games, said Graham Hopper, executive vice president in charge of the studios. Like its rival movie maker Warner Bros., Disney has been buying game studios left and right, including Spector’s studio.
This year, Disney is also launching big titles such as the racing game Split Second, Toy Story 3, Tron Evolution, Guilty Party and Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. I’ve gotten a good look at them all, and Disney has definitely improved its production values so that its games are much more in the same class as its movies.
They’re family friendly for the most part, but they all reflect a certain edginess that helps make Disney more relevant to modern game audiences. Toy Story 3 went through an elaborate pitch process in conjunction with Pixar’s movie producers that resulted in a much more ambitious movie game than might ordinarily have been done. Armada of the Damned is an action role-playing game set in an open world of the Caribbean. You can choose different actions in that game that make you either loved or hated. Tron Evolution is a bridge between the 1982 film Tron and its sequel, Tron Legacy, coming out this year.
But Disney Epic Mickey is perhaps the flagship title coming out of Disney’s game business. It’s an unusual title for Spector to tackle, as he is known for hardcore Ultima fantasy games and sci-fi titles such as System Shock and Deux Ex. The common thread in those games, Spector says, is that whatever the player does matters in the outcome of the game. You can change what happens in the world. The goal is to make you feel like you’re inside a cartoon.
It’s hard to predict how well this will do, based on what I’ve seen of this cartoon game. You play Mickey and use a paintbrush to create things in the environment of the game to help you get through different kinds of puzzles. You can also use “thinner” to erase things. So if you need to get past a wall, you can use thinner to punch a hole in it. Or if you need to create a bridge, you can paint it. It’s a very physical game, where you’re always swinging your hands around to get something done. It’s cool that the world is dynamic, which is a pretty cool effect for a Wii game. But it’s not always easy to do simple things, from what I saw. With more polish, I think it could be a very good title.
Spector says he wants to find the core of Mickey Mouse as a character and bring that out. Inside the game, we see snippets of old Mickey Mouse cartoons that remind us of what he was like in the old days. Mickey is mischievous and gets himself into trouble. As the player, you have to get him out of it. It’s clever thinking, and I hope the game turns out to the way that Spector envisions.
Here’s our interview with Spector below.