There are few situations in which we find ourselves yearning for the delineated review scores of yesteryear. You know the sort: scores separated uselessly into categories like 'gameplay', 'sound' or 'length'. Perhaps the most damning thing we can say about DreamRift's handheld Disney spin-off is that it deserves to be appraised that way.
That's sad, because we've been excited for this game for some time. The promise of a Mickey title that takes the 'museum curator' approach of Warren Spector's main series, but switches the focus from showcasing forgotten films to forgotten games - namely the Castle Of Illusion series from the early 1990s - was huge.
Quite apart from capitalising on the addled, nostalgic brains of nerds raised on that particular generation of pretty sprite platforming, the scope for design - both artistic and game-focused - offered by a franchise with a history like Disney's had us wondering: would we be getting the best of both worlds?
Could this be a Super Meat Boy, or a VVVVVV, a self-consciously retro game that makes use of the kind of technology never dreamed of by those brilliant, impoverished programmers two decades ago? Could this be a Holy Grail, El Dorado, or regenerative unicorn made of jelly tots: a classic, made more so?
No. Although we were almost fooled. Power Of Illusion is a game that lives by its title, pulling the Wizard of Oz's trick of presenting you with something outwardly impressive to stop you noticing what's beneath. But the more a game draws you in at the outset, the sadder you are when you peek behind the curtain. This game is hamstrung most by how lovely it is at first glance.
Paint It cool
The hand-drawn sprites are wonderful and the orchestral music does its huge, sweeping, Disney thing all over the place. As beautifully realised environments scroll past in front of and behind Mickey, we realised, again, that the 3DS does its best stereoscopic work with 2D games.
Even the meagre story, a tale of Castle Of Illusion's antagonist, Mizrabel, being drawn into Epic Mickey's world of forgotten Toons and trying to bring everyone down with her, works perfectly to set up the connection between past and present. It's fantastic.
That is, until you play it for a while. It's the two games that wrestle uncomfortably for the title that do it. Castle Of Illusion lends its weightless 2D platforming, complete with Mickey's posterior-focused slam attack, while Epic Mickey's paint and thinner mechanic acts as an action-puzzle element, enabling you to draw certain objects in and out of existence to fight enemies or access new areas. It's a nice idea and it works as you're learning the ropes.
The first time you realise that drawing something more accurately makes it more beneficial, or after meeting the first boss, Hook, and using the environment and your skills to beat him, you'll be engrossed.
The problems creep up when you're a few hours in. You'll suddenly realise that you're beating the same enemies in the same ways, that any vestige of intelligent puzzling has been replaced by simplistic tactics of attrition, and that the initially inconsequential three-second gap between drawing an object and its appearance in the world has become massively irritating a hundred paintings down the line.
Then it ends. After worlds based on Peter Pan, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, you wonder where you'll be taken next. You wonder because you've been rescuing kidnapped Toons from across the Disney timeline, from Tinkerbell to Tiana, completing their tiresome fetch-based side-quests and upgrading their rooms in The Fortress, a mix of trophy room and hub area. You might, despite the backtracking and the huge lulls as you talk to every single character just to see if there's a quest forthcoming, hope for some reward.
You won't get it. Sadly, all this seems to be set dressing and artificial game extension because, after the introduction of the game's first new idea in the undersea section, it seems like DreamRift just gave up. After that third world, you're led to a simple boss fight and then it's over. It's the final, oversized nail in the cartoon coffin. We might have forgiven the mismatched play-styles if we'd had more of a look around, but without even that, the game becomes just a veneer of charm stapled brutally onto an uninspiring platformer.
That's the greatest sin. If it was awful, we could turn it off, but it isn't. It's just samey and that was enough for us to keep going, hoping something better was around the corner. For there to be nothing behind that glossy exterior somehow seems worse than any Disney villain.