Friday, February 15, 2013

Mediocre Mickey

With the collapse of Junction Point Studios the saga of Epic Mickey has come to an end. To say that the name of this particular series is a misnomer would be a sever understatement. Yes, legendary game designer Warren Spector was at the helm of the project (In case you don't know he was the producer for a number of high profile titles such as, Wing Commander, Ultima, System Shock, Des Ex and Thief), but he, for whatever reason, was unable to call up his previous greatness. Strange considering the resources at his disposal. Over one-hundred employees backed by funding from Disney Interactive and access to the archives of the biggest animation company in the world. Despite having more support than a developer could ever realistically hope for, both Epic Mickey and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two were lackluster games at best. Neither had particularly engaging story hooks. The pacing was sluggish and the gameplay antiquated. Technical issues plagued both titles and the second entry suffered especially grievously from frame rate drops.

So, all this got me thinking about what a goldmine of material exists in the vaults of the Disney empire. I can't understand how a talented veteran of game design could squander such a virile opportunity. Now, I know what some people might think. Disney, outside of Pixar, is just a bunch of kid's films, right?  Well...yes...the majority of Disney's stuff is cartoons, but there's some real gems that you might have forgotten about, or possibly never heard of.

Starting with animation we got the classic "Fantasia" (not the one with the gimmicky "2000" attached to it).  At the theater this collaboration of symphony music and elegant imagery has many evocative moments.  Ultimately, it was a financial failure, but Walt Disney himself said that he did not regret making the film.  As far as I'm concerned he was right because there is something timeless about the scenes as they are presented.  Regardless of how you feel about the film, some of these locals would have been incredible fun to explore in a video game setting.

Another overlooked entry is the "Black Cauldron". Originally a series of novels, this story has also been made into a adventure game by Sierra. Aside from having an usually grim look and feel there were a number of edited scenes including a sentient cloud of flesh devouring mist. The undying "Cauldron Born" and pain-wracked Horned King, in particular, are truly frightening advisories.  Especially when compared to many of the comical foes in more recent Disney films. Sufficeth to say video game villains don't get much more antagonistic than these guys.

 On the flip side there is a live action sci-fi Disney film that comes to mind. No, not "Tron"...although that might make for a fun game too. The movie I'm thinking of is the "Black Hole". Somewhat corny by modern standards, it still has a lot of video game potential; a brainwashed crew led by a mad genius, killer robots, laser gun fights, a massive cathedral-like starship on the edge of a maelstrom in space and time...what's not to like? The designers of the original Dead Space even specifically mentioned the look of the USG Ishimura being inspired by the Cygnus. 

Moving on we have Dragonslayer, a co-production by paramount and Disney featuring virgin sacrifices and one of the best pre-CG dragons to be put on film. Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular piece of IP is it's de-constructive story which in some ways weakens the film, but ultimately would be repeated with much greater success when G.R.R. Martin began writing his landmark series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire.  Plus is there, or has there ever been, a dragon with a cooler name than Vermithrax Pejorative?  Literally the dragon's name is Latin for "The wurm that makes things worse."

All these resources and more existed for Warren Specter to use. He had the entire Disney library at his disposal. Yet neither him, nor anyone else working at Junction Point Studios were able to do more than crank out a pair of dull third person platformers. Even worse still they were given a second chance and still ended up producing another utterly forgettable product to toss on the junk pile of Mickey merchandise. I would like to call it an "Epic Fail Mickey," but the truth is both games aren't really that bad, just bland and unremarkable. I can't even say they overreached and fell because it's really more like they never even tried to live up to anywhere near their full potential. Bleh!
Now this is epic!


No comments:

Post a Comment