Sometimes the choice between good and bad is not black and white but blue and green

When we first got L. A. Noire last year, my fiancé called dibs. Well damn. But since there were about 35 million other great games to play, he sped through the game in a matter days (over a few weeks, that is). During that time, I did just about everything imaginable to distract myself from watching. Oddly enough, gaming on another system did not immediate come to mind; but once it did, finally, I was determined to play something.  Since our Xbox was (and still is ~sigh~) on the fritz, it was onto the trusty ol’ Wii that had been gathering a few cobwebs; and off to the local Best Buy to pick up something fun.

As I perused the aisles, an obvious choice jumped out like colors from a virtual paintbrush: Epic Mickey.

Epic Mickey cover art, 2010 © Nintendo and Disney (source)

Of course, Epic Mickey.  That game I had determined to buy at Christmastime 2010 but didn’t. That game that looked like the most fun thing to happen in Disney/gaming mashups since Kingdom Hearts. Yes, that game. And it was on sale (score)! Off the rack, in the bag, and home we went. I started playing that evening.

***I’ll probably sorta spoil the ending ahead…tread lightly if you want to but haven’t yet played this game.***

My perceptions of the game had been formulated from X-Play review that I read in November 2010 close to the game’s release. Apparently, I didn’t read that review all that well, or none of the key points really stuck, because I was fairly confused at the game’s opening scenes. What I thought was a straightforward platformer/RPG turned out to be so strange yet so wonderful.

This is strange, for man and mouse. (source)

Mickey – the version of the mouse with the opaque eyes and buttoned red shorts – climbs through a magic mirror (all Alice in Wonderland-like) and finds a sorcerer (the one from Fantasia), well…um, painting.  Magical painting, that is!  With two magical materials – blue paint and green paint thinner.  Mickey watches the sorcerer bring a colorful three-dimensional-type scene to life; and when the sorcerer leaves, a suddenly very mischievous Mickey goes and picks up the brush and begins painting the scene himself.  Or rather, making a mess.  He’s not magical, you see, so his “work” brings forth an evil Blot. During the commotion, the magical paint and thinner are knocked over the sorcerer’s scene and Mickey becomes trapped by the blot.  (Other stuff happens, we sorta do a little time travel, and there’s at least another Alice reference somewhere.)  The Blot transports Mickey to an alternate universe of sorts called “Wasteland” where black and white cartoons live a sad black and white life and are led by their not-so-nice leader, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Aaah, shaddup!! (source)

In the world of Walt Disney, Oswald, who was created by Ub Iwerks, Disney’s right-hand man before he kinda went the way of brilliant jackassery, pre-dates Mickey but was never as popular as Mickey with the general audience.  In Epic Mickey, this history is played out in the alternate reality where Oswald has made himself famous, as evidenced by his re-creation of the famous Disney-Mickey statute with himself in place of Mickey. One of the key plot lines throughout the game has to do with Oswald’s resentment of Mickey’s fame.

I’ve been to Walt Disney World, and this is as close as I ever want to be again. (source)

Epic Mickey’s story is an odd one, to say the least.  Having grown up with the multitude of beloved Disney characters and cartoons, I never thought there to be anything sinister about them.  But the dark tone to the story in Epic Mickey, Oswald’s hatred of Mickey, and Mickey’s choice to either help or hinder Wasteland’s growth…well, it was all so unexpected, and, as it turned out, quite refreshing. I loved some of the creepy backdrops, the fluid and constant relationships made to paint and ink, the “robotic” Donald, Goofy, and Daisy characters, and other twists that presented our favorite Disney folks in some rather unusual situations and venues. I also really liked to focus on the older style of Disney cartoons – the combination of abstract and “real” worked well overall.

Throughout the game, Mickey had one main tool – a paintbrush, along with the blue paint and green thinner that had gotten sucked into Wasteland.  With the blue paint, he could make the world better, make the citizens happier, and turn his enemies into friends.  With the green thinner, he could make the world uglier, piss off the locals, and kill his enemies.  It was up to the player as to how Mickey progressed.

I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m not a terribly observant gamer.  Though I do take notice of a game’s surroundings, I often miss secrets or elements that make for easier/better play.  However, Epic Mickey forced players to key into the backgrounds – painting them or thinning them out were as much a part of the game as side quests and beating bosses.  I really spent hours (of joy) examining and discovering each level.  Unlike in other games where I tried to push past difficult spots, in Epic Mickey, I lingered and drew out my stay in each spot, I didn’t rush to beat the main bosses…though I did die…a lot.  But it was cool and fun and not at all as curse-provoking as other games.

Epic Mickey also brought out my, well, “evil” side.  Each time you beat a stage, you were rewarded with either more paint or thinner.  If you used more paint, you got more paint; if you used more thinner, your supply of thinner increased.  I mentioned that paint turned your enemies into friends. Once they were your “friends” they also helped beat or distract other baddies for you.  I knew this going in; and despite my own sense of friendly tendencies, I still found myself using more thinner than paint against enemies.  Oftentimes, it was just easier or it felt necessary to eliminate them.  I ended up with about a 60/40 ratio of thinner to paint by the end of the game (and this included using paint and thinner in each environment generally).  I’ll admit, that surprised me.  In a game where I could choose to “make friends” and make the world a better place, I instead mostly chose to kill or make the world ugly.  I know, I know, it’s not really that black and white, but it still makes me a little sad to recall.

That might be why I didn’t enjoy the ending as much as the game itself.  Even after triumphantly beating the biggest and most annoying of Blots and making Mickey and Oswald friends (and helping to improve Oswald’s life by bringing back his one, true love), I thought the ending was a bit of a letdown.  This was partially driven by my own sense of shredded self worth (the thinner-loving cad I had become!); but the rich storytelling and incredibly fun play that pervaded the game just sorta fizzled into a curious and general “happily ever after” norm in the end.  There really weren’t any moral ramifications, and there wasn’t a chance to continue playing in the world you had created.  (Or, at least, when I went to replay, the only option was starting over.  Phooey on that.)

Thanks, Epic Mickey, for making me feel kinda bad about my actions.  You made me question something of the essence of being a gamer.  We want to enjoy our games, become better at them, get achievements, beat the bosses, and triumph over evil.  All that usually involves killing our enemies, or at least making some one/thing/planet/population suffer.  I mean, did Mario ever try to befriend a Bob-omb or Koopa?  No, they got stomped.  In how many games is a player given the chance to make his or her enemies their friends?  Maybe lots?  Maybe some that I’ve played before?  I’d like to know.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes the choice between good and bad is not black and white but blue and green”

  1. The good and bad stuff reminds me of “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”. I only played once, and I decided to be good (next time I play, I’m gonna be bad), but I still ended up close to neutral by the end. It made me rather sad. I started off pretty righteous at first, but later on, I’d try to help people, but I ended up failing them and getting more on the dark side even though my intentions were good. It wasn’t fair. Sniff.
    Anyway, that Mickey game sounds a lot more interesting than I expected. I don’t know what I’d choose. Good is good, but I’m so used to killing enemies in games, not being buddies with them.
    I don’t like when games make you start over to keep playing. Okami did that. I wish they had warned me. Now I have a file where I start over and one where I’m trapped in the final level and can’t leave. I wanna go get the things I missed, but I can’t.

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    1. I think it’s nice that video game creators want us to be good people, but in the end, even “good” characters have to kill the “bad” guys (and usually a few innocents along the way). It’s just the way things are. And as you said, sometimes it’s even more difficult trying to make the “right” choices in gaming, not matter how hard you try. I had the same problem in L. A. Noire – even when I tried to make Cole do “good,” it just didn’t always work out in the end. In Epic Mickey, as much as the choice between paint and thinner might have been good vs. evil, sometimes, I just didn’t enough of one or the other to do what I wanted. I guess that’s just poor decision-making, and probably bad aiming.

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