In Disney's "Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two," melody and lyrics move the plot points and narratives. (Junction Point / Disney Interactive)Link
“Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two” brings the animated Disney musical to video games. But does it go far enough in its merger of interactivity and song-and-dance? Developer Warren Spector would say no.
Though the game opens with a rousing musical number sung by the game’s villain, with composer Jim Dooley (“Pushing Daisies,” “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning”) and lyricist Mike Himelstein channeling Disney films of yore such as “Pinocchio” and “Mary Poppins,” the 12 or so songs of “Epic Mickey 2” appear only during the game’s cinematic sequences. A player, in fact, can go hours without hearing one of “Epic Mickey’s” silly symphonies.
It’s Spector’s hope that songs will eventually take on a much larger role in games than they do in “Epic Mickey 2,” which is now available for all major consoles.
“What I told Disney is we’d do a little experiment,” Spector said by phone recently. “We’ll make [the songs] non-interactive and we’ll see how people respond. If they don’t respond well, then I won’t push it anymore.”
He paused and then added, “That’s a lie.”
In fact, while reviews of “Epic Mickey 2” have been mixed, most everyone has been unanimous in their praise of the game’s songs. If anything, early reaction to the game seems to be calling for more songs.
GameSpot wrote that the “toe-tapping musical numbers … give this adventure a cheery, happy-go-lucky vibe,” while IGN wrote that the songs were sadly “too sporadic to leave a lasting impression,” concluding they were “nice” but not essential.
That’s exactly as Spector predicted. “To be frank,” Spector said about two weeks before the game was released, “I think people are going to say, ‘Why didn’t you go further?’ That will be music to my ears.”
This game, said Spector, is just the first step toward full gaming and musical integration. “This was kind of an experiment, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t care if the experiment succeeds or not, I am going to do musical games, where we actually integrate songs into the gameplay in interesting and innovative ways down the line. I don’t care how people respond. I want to do it and I’m going to do it.”
So … how?
Plenty of games put music front and center. “Sound Shapes,” designed primarily for the PlayStation Vita, acts as part side-scrolling platformer and part musical instrument. Mobile game “Beat Sneak Bandit” sees gamers playing a thief who must slink around by listening closely to the rhythmic sounds of the game. Even the dance-focused “Just Dance 4” added a story-mode this time around, forcing players to save the world by shaking their booty.
“I think there are ways to do it that don’t involve beat-matching and performance but involve selection and choice,” said Spector. “What song am I going to perform here and what effect do I want to have on this character? Songs have an emotional impact on listener. Why couldn’t they have a similar emotional impact on character? Why couldn’t they have a literal impact on character? Like the beat of a song affecting the behavior of a character in the game world, or the emotional tone of a song having an effect on characters or situations?”
Spector’s Junction Point studio is owned by Disney, and he’s keeping mum on what games he’s next working on for the studio. But songs will likely continue to play a role. As to how exactly, Spector will say only that he wants to take the “experiment” of “Epic Mickey 2” further.
“If I knew how to do it, I would have done it already,” he said. “I tell my wife that my tombstone better read ‘Failed gloriously.'”
“It’s better,” he said, “to fail at something you don’t know how to do than to succeed at something you do know how to do.”
— Todd Martens