The sequel's third major improvement is it's greater sense of "choice and consequence." For a developer whose entire catalogue, from Wing Commander to Thief, is about player choice, that's not much of a surprise, but it's encouraging to know that the sequel will take those concepts even farther. Where the original game often reset a player's choices each time they returned to a level, this time around the team is making sure that any decisions a player makes persist throughout the game, until that player intervenes to undo those choices.
Sadly, the hands on demos didn't give us enough time to really appreciate the improvements made by the voice actors or the greater feeling of persistence. It did show, however, that the team still has a long way to go in terms of controls and cameras, particularly on the 360 and PS3 versions, which are being developed by separate studios. I'm always willing to view problems in these pre-release demos in the proper context, but the earlier comments about having solved the camera problems left me feeling a little discouraged when faced with some of the same issues in the demo.
That said, exploring Yinsed's Workshop was genuinely fun. From first creating the iconic walking brooms to hopping across floating golden planets in a sort of magic orrery, the whole setting not only gets you in the mood for the rest of the game, but also serves as a bit of a tutorial or refresher on the basic mechanics. From there, the demo led to one of the interstitial side-scrolling levels, where Mickey and Oswald have to work together to solve a variety of environmental puzzles.
Mickey's still able to use the paint and thinner to change the world around him, but there are some problems he just can't solve. That's where Oswald's abilities come into play. He has a remote control that interacts with certain mechanical or electrical obstacles and can even use his giant ears to help Mickey glide through the air and reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
To make the most of these new mechanics, the new game offers drop-in-drop-out, splitscreen cooperative experience, which accounts for the abundance of "twos" in the title. It's like double the twos of most other sequels, just so gamers don't miss the point entirely. The number 2 is the one that says it's a sequel, while the written two means you should get a friend. But even if you're hopelessly alone in the real world, Oswald will also be with you in Epic Mickey 2. Driven by the AI, he'll intervene as needed to help you move Mickey past whatever obstacles he's facing.
I play lots of cooperative games with my kids, from Lego Star Wars to Kirby to Skylanders, so I'm particularly interested in how this dual mechanic works, particularly since each character has exclusive responsibilities in the world. The trick, according to the designers, it to recognize that play style matters and offer up multiple ways to solve problems and present multiple clues that point to those solutions. This moves beyond simple puzzle design to infuse the entire philosophy behind the game, that the player is free to use creation as well as destruction to face whatever challenges the game throws his or her way.
When asked if he struggled to design games that appeal across generations, Spector dismisses the idea altogether. "I make games that entertain me," he told me, "and hope that there's a large enough market of people like me."