For a period in the 1940s, Mickey Mouse was given ears that worked properly in perspective. It was a concession to shifts in animation styles and the increased fidelity that could be brought to contemporary cartoons, most probably, but it looked weird. It looked awkward, in fact, and it made Mickey look awkward, too. Barely a mouse in any meaningful sense by this stage, the studio's star was having trouble transitioning from the primitive, scribbled energy of the early short films into something a little more elaborate. He was a 2D doodle struggling to cope in an increasingly complex world.
Plenty of those sorts of growing pains were apparent in 2010's Epic Mickey. Comfortable in the lavish, pleasantly straightforward 16-bit classics from the 1990s, Disney's mascot was suddenly thrust into an intricate 3D landscape, and delivered into the hands of a design team who were encouraged to think big. He'd deal with morality, with all its choices and consequences! He'd wield a magical paintbrush that would allow him to create or destroy huge chunks of the environment using blasts of paint and thinner! He'd battle an enemy, in the shape of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who was a spurned Disney headline act yanked from the archives! He'd navigate an adventure that was as much about an unusually clear-eyed deconstruction of a historical license and an examination of the tattered human craft that goes into creating fantastical confections - and of the casualties that litter the path to success - as it was jumping, fighting, and collecting things!
It was a game with plenty of problems, but from the vantage point of Epic Mickey 2, it's hard to look back on with anything but wistful nostalgia. During previews, Junction Point's sequel often sold itself as a musical. Ultimately, however, the finished product's more of a tragedy. That's not to say it's a buggy wall-to-wall botch: it's certainly wonky and annoying to play at times, but its worst flaws are textural. Mickey's second Wasteland adventure is a tragedy because it's a missed opportunity. Two games in, and there's a great experience hidden somewhere inside Disney's jumbled series, but it refuses to emerge in full. Worse yet, this sequel sees Epic Mickey's strange promise slipping further away. The echoes of clever, imaginative fun grow distant, while the compromises - and the odd failure of design nerve - begin to really pile up.