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Game Music

Soundtrack Review: Epic Mickey More "Mischief" Than "Epic"

Soundtrack Review: Epic Mickey More “Mischief” Than “Epic”

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A few months ago, I heard an interview on NPR with Jim Dooley regarding his work on the Wii action adventure title Epic Mickey. The interview was extremely interesting and informative; I suggest you read and/or listen.

However, hearkening back to the recurring question of game music’s contextualization, how does the intricacy of the music and the sound design impact the listener who isn’t playing the game? Is it still enjoyable? And can it truly be described as “epic?”

To answer these questions, I decided to pick up the digital-only Epic Mickey Original Game Score (available on iTunes or Amazon). You’ll find my impressions after the jump.

For the uninitiated, Epic Mickey isn’t some sort of Kingdom Hearts-esque crossover title. The focus is on the character Mickey and those characters related to him. Players of Kingdom Hearts II might remember the black-and-white old-timey area, and that’s about as close as Epic Mickey gets to Kingdom Hearts.

The studio behind this game, Junction Point, incorporated many of the old, forgotten characters in the Disney vault who had some relation to Mickey in his early years. In a very real sense, the game marked a revival of Mickey as he was first dreamt up by Walt Disney: more mischievous and less goody-two-shoes.

Composer Jim Dooley ran with that idea in writing the music. But let’s face it: “mischief” doesn’t jive with “epic.” I don’t understand the nature of the name, other than going with a trendy buzzword of the current youth’s generation. Dooley’s work here is mostly an emulation of classic Disney work, including some very intentional and enjoyable references to the music found in Disney’s “Fantasia” and other early works. Very clever, very well-executed musical allusions. This pleased me greatly. In truth, they are far better than Shimomura’s note-for-note transcriptions of Disney themes that feel forced in the Kingdom Hearts titles.

Many of the musical numbers on the soundtrack are surprisingly long, running six or seven minutes apiece. But the experience of listening doesn’t match the impressive work that went into incorporating the music in the game. The smart “switch” in music, transitioning from happy to mischievous depending on Mickey’s actions, is really cool. It’s a simple thing to program, but to make the music work with what happens in-game must have required a lot of study and re-writing throughout the game development. I have to salute Dooley on this.

And truly, comparing Dooley’s work here to previous works (see list on Wikipedia), I wasn’t expecting this. Dooley’s “in” for the industry came when he started working with Hans Zimmer. But now he’s crafting a name for himself, and in my opinion, the work on Epic Mickey gives him strong footing to continue on game music. He captures that old-school “animated feature” sound perfectly, while adding a touch of the most current production techniques to give it a fresh sound.

A few of the darker themes can get to a point one might truly consider “epic.” Of course, of course of course of course, PIRATES get us there! “The Pirates of Wasteland,” track 10 on the digital score, follows a pattern I would associate with the final battle music from Donkey Kong Country, though not in a strict melodic or harmonic sense. Start light and silly, get a little moody, and then go all-out awesome. That’s the pattern. If I had to pick a favorite track on the OST, this would be it. Clocking at 7 minutes, it is one of many substantial pieces of music on the soundtrack.

Not everyone will appreciate this score, and while I do think it fits much better with the game than as a stand-alone experience, it is certainly possible to enjoy this music without having invested hours into Epic Mickey. My personal hope is that more developers would take note of Jim Dooley’s accomplishments with this score. He, alongside the performers and audio engineers, brought Disney’s mascot to life in a way that I simply couldn’t have expected or predicted.

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