Games 12/7/10: Disney Epic Mickey, The Shoot, Marvel Pinball

Disney Epic Mickey
For: Wii
From: Junction Point Studios/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

The gift of your patience is requested in “Disney Epic Mickey,” which asks you to accept some baffling game design decisions in order to experience what might be the most ingenious merger ever between a studio’s icon and its dormant vault.

“Mickey” begins with a slightly mischievous but very clumsy Mickey Mouse accidentally bringing untold destruction to a world, known as the Wasteland, where forgotten Disney cartoon characters reside in retirement. The Wasteland was something of a utopia in spite of its dispiriting premise, but Mickey’s screwup has reduced it to a grey, monster-drenched mess that finally earns its name.

“Mickey” mostly plays like your typical 3D platformer, with players (as Mickey) running and jumping through non-linear levels to complete various objectives, sometimes a few at a time. The hook here is that, while running and jumping, players also must hold the Wii remote like a pointer and shoot paint and/or paint thinner at enemies and other objects in the environment.

As a tool for restoring and destroying the Wasteland, the paint/thinner idea works great. “Mickey’s” levels are intricate and full of secrets, and Mickey can use paint and thinner to alter those levels on the fly and access areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. Most of the rewards are trivial, but the intuition and dexterity needed to find them makes for a fun elective challenge.

The paint/thinner trick also lets “Mickey” take the story down two different paths without basing Mickey’s morality (or lack thereof) around boring good/evil answers. Mickey can complete objectives by using paint to turn enemies (even boss enemies) friendly, rescue allies and restore the environment, and he can use thinner to destroy everybody, ravage the environment and coerce a way to safety. “Mickey’s” opening levels make the means to each end plainly obvious, but the lines between hero and scoundrel increasingly blur as the levels and tasks develop complications.

It’s too bad this isn’t all there is to “Mickey,” which has more than enough core game content to avoid depending on needless filler. But it leans on filler anyway, interrupting stretches of action with story-mandated fetch quests that, beyond the opportunity to meet additional discarded toons, offer nothing in the way of stimulation. The quests never challenge, not even intellectually, and when they ask players to backtrack between areas, they’re as time-consuming as they are dull.

“Mickey’s” other big issue — a camera that regularly needs babysitting — is a bit more predictable given the demands placed on the Wii remote, and its inability to keep up will almost inevitably sabotage your progress in harder levels with heavy combat demands. It’s annoying, but it isn’t a deal-killer, and the quicker you master the auto-center button, the less harmful it is.

The aggravations are worth it because, as stories go, this is the best one Disney’s iconic characters have told in ages. “Mickey” transforms Mickey Mouse back into the morally unpredictable rat he used to be before Disney neutered him, and the respect the game pays to Walt Disney’s past creations — Oswald the Rabbit, Horace Horsecollar, Big Bad Pete and so many more — is surprisingly moving. “Mickey’s” core levels are a similarly stirring mess of discarded theme park rides and toys, and the game connects these levels with short 2D levels that send Mickey running and jumping through scenes from old Disney filmstrips.

The level of care in every drop of this celebration makes “Mickey’s” missteps even more puzzling than they would be in a more careless game. But if those missteps are the price one must pay to witness one of the most imaginative stories told in a game this year, so be it.

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The Shoot
For: Playstation 3 (requires Playstation Move)
From: Cohort Studios/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, fantasy violence, mild language)

Against all odds, the light gun shooter has survived 25 years of gaming advancements that probably should have rendered it obsolete. And thanks to the advent of the Playstation Move, it finally, against even greater odds, gets a chance to ever-so-slightly evolve.

Even before that becomes apparent, “The Shoot” makes a pretty likable first impression. The game is set on a movie studio lot, and each four-pack of scenes takes place in a different genre — western, alien invasion, mob shootout, horror story, deep sea plunge — of movie. Players (either alone or with a friend via local multiplayer) are the star of the film, and a director barks instruction and expresses satisfaction or scorn depending on how the scene is playing out.

The clever premise pays off by letting “The Shoot” throw out a more diverse variety of environments than most rail shooters get, and it also gives the game a degree of levity that, outside of unintentional humor from bad storytelling, rarely shows up in this genre anymore. The graphics are nice and colorful, and while some will scratch their head at the game’s decision to present enemies in prop form — enemy mobsters, for instance, are wooden cutouts rather than actual people — it’s a surprisingly good look in motion.

The appetite for props also lets “The Shoot” better show off how destructible everything is. Levels are full of optional bonus targets that award points, alter the environment and even open pathways to “deleted scenes” that award additional bonus points. But even completely inconsequential backdrop pieces break apart nicely when you miss your target and hit them instead, making the game a lively experience even when played incorrectly.

Clever gimmick notwithstanding, “The Shoot’s” core concepts and objectives remain as pure as those of any other arcade shooter. The primary goal is, as always, to score as many points as possible, minimize mistakes, and hit targets in succession without fail to boost the score multiplier and achieve gold-medal (career mode) and five-star (score attack mode) scores. Blowing through “The Shoot’s” five films won’t take more than a few hours, but nabbing every medal, star and hidden bonus is a legitimately fun challenge that, for the right crowd, gives this game plenty of legs.

Where “The Shoot” moves the needle a little is through an assist from the Move’s ability to do more than just mimic a light gun. Made of wood or not, the enemies regularly fight back, and the game gives players a chance to dodge the projectiles they fire. Sections with more dangerous enemies occasionally call for players to duck behind cover, duels against special enemies play out like quickdraw shootouts, and a special power-up that temporarily slows down the action only activates when players perform a spin move or wave the Move wand overhead like a lasso.

During the most frantic stretches of the game, when all these parts are in play, “The Shoot” becomes a surprisingly active game. Better still, though, it remains a responsive game. Mastering the timing of the dodge takes practice, but the game does a good job of reading dodges once you figure it out, and it’s similarly proficient with ducking, spinning and dueling. (The lasso motion is hit-or-miss, so be prepared to spin instead of trying to take the easier way out.)

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Marvel Pinball
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (requires free Pinball FX 2 download)
Also available for: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network (sta
ndalone game)
From: Zen Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $10 for all four tables (both platforms) or $2.50 per table (Xbox 360 only)

Zen Studios set the table for something special in October when it rolled out “Pinball FX 2” as a free and endlessly extensible Xbox 360 pinball platform instead of a standalone game, and the first batch of add-on tables provides some serious validation for all that excitement. “Marvel Pinball” features four tables, with Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine and Blade each spearheading a machine. The inclusion of Blade in that foursome may raise eyebrows, but “Pinball” seems to have picked its heroes with pinball design instead of popularity in mind, and one playthrough of the Blade table — which features, among several other surprises, a day/night cycle with different opportunities in both phases — overwhelmingly justifies his inclusion here. The pinball version of Stark Industries, meanwhile, becomes a maze of ramps, side rail decoys and upgrades with which to turn a dancing Tony Stark into Iron Man, while the Spider-Man table’s idea of multi-ball comes in the form of bombs lobbed by the Green Goblin. Both the Spider-Man and Wolverine tables feature a satisfying roster of iconic villains, and skilled players who rack up bonuses can watch Wolverine fight on the table while the pinball action continues. The PS3 version of “Pinball” rounds up the tables as a perfectly enjoyable standalone game, but for those with a choice, the tables’ integration into “PFX2’s” overriding achievements, leaderboards and score structure make the Xbox 360 versions the better value for now.