‘Epic Mickey’ makers toon up sequel

Spector's vidgame follow-up addresses criticisms

By most accounting methods, “Epic Mickey” was a success for Disney.

The title, which reintroduced the company’s famous mascot to the vidgame world, sold 1.3 million units domestically in its first month, grossing more than $64 million. It was the fastest-selling single platform game in the company’s history and an international hit.

But critics thumped the Mouse House for leaving money on the table, drubbing its decision to release the game exclusively on the Nintendo Wii and after Thanksgiving, missing out on a prime shopping period for consumers. Others were annoyed with the title’s surprisingly difficult gameplay.

Now Warren Spector, the developer overseeing the franchise, is hoping to silence those critics with “Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.”

For starters, the new game will be available on all platforms — Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3 and the Wii. And while Disney hasn’t announced a version of the game for Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U, out this fall, it appears likely there will be one. The game’s release will be optimized as well, with “Epic Mickey 2” hitting shelves Nov. 18, just in time for the Black Friday sales rush.

The game will return Mickey to the Cartoon Wasteland, a world that’s home to all of Disney’s rejected creativity. Armed with a paintbrush and paint thinner, he will once again interact with the environment, creating and destroying areas and items as he goes.

This time around, gamers will be able to play cooperatively — with one controlling Mickey and another controlling Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the cartoon character Walt Disney created before Mickey, but lost the rights to in 1928, when the financier and distributor of his films fired him. Rights to Oswald were re-secured before the original “Epic Mickey.”

The in-game camera, which many critics panned, is being improved, says Spector. Also in this version of the game, characters will speak (in the 2010 game, they were mute). Disney has enlisted its stable of character voice actors to participate in the project and hired v.o. talent Frank Welker to give Oswald a voice for the first time.

Perhaps most critically, some of Spector’s signature development styles, which have made him one of gaming’s most respected developers, are finding their way into this version. Key among those is the ability to solve puzzles in more than one way. Games like “Deus Ex” and “System Shock” gave players the opportunity to be a gun-blazing action star or a more stealthy protagonist. The original “Epic Mickey” really didn’t offer that.

“Once you’re through with the intro level, you can get through the entire game without using paint or thinner,” Spector tells Variety.

He acknowledges the original game wasn’t perfect, but says he’s quite proud of the final product, which incorporated long-forgotten Disney characters and sketches.

Not all critics hated the original “Epic Mickey”; some heaped praise on it. He attributes the shortcomings of the original to the learning curve that comes with starting a new franchise.

“With the first game, we built a team, a studio, a world, a code base, created characters and figured out how to work with Disney,” he says. “Now, we know who Mickey is. We know who Oswald is. We knew we wanted to do co-op multiplayer. And I know what the next (game will be) — if we get to do it.”