Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) | Xbox 360
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
I genuinely love my Kinect sensor and the musical legends at Harmonix, but I think they might have missed the point here.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band make you feel like a rock god, whether you're shredding on a plastic guitar, smashing the drums, laying down a bass line or howling into a microphone. Rocksmith literally teaches you how to play a six-string, much like Dance Central teaches you a selection of hilarious dance moves. Child Of Eden makes you feel like a transcendent electric death machine. You're only stood in front of a telly with a plastic peripheral or Kinect sensor, but the physical movements feel empowering and rewarding in and of themselves.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is supposed to turn you into the Sorcerer's Apprentice and grant you dominion over music itself... but playing it feels like directing traffic at a busy intersection. Or attempting to guide a light aircraft in to land in your living room. You're just waving your arms about in time to music, more like a weather reporter in front of a greenscreen than a magical orchestra conductor.
It's a shame, because Disney Fantasia is otherwise one of the most fascinating and unique projects ever developed for the Kinect sensor, letting you create crazy remixes out of classic and current music.
At its core, Disney Fantasia is essentially Guitar Hero without the guitar. You'll play through a selection of tracks (some classical, such as Night On Bald Mountain or Vivaldi's Four Seasons, others more current such as Nikki Minaj or The White Stripes) by hitting a selection of timed prompts that appear on a black screen. It's a familiar setup, but instead of clicking a plastic guitar's strum switch, you'll sweep your arms around, punch forwards and trace shapes in the air. Do so correctly and the song plays out, along with big score bonuses, while crazy particle effects dance and swirl in reaction to your movements.
This being a Harmonix game, it works perfectly down to the milisecond, and Kinect 2.0 finally gets to strut its stuff. Sure, the inputs may be simple, but Disney Fantasia correctly interpreted every single one of them both in my living room and much more cramped bedroom, both under natural and artificial light conditions.
So far, so simplistic, but Disney Fantasia eventually reveals its most interesting mechanics. Each song has two new remixes in completely different musical genres -- for example, Night On Bare Mountain has a ridiculous dubstep version alongside a strange synth metal remix -- which you can switch between at preset points, mixing the instruments and layers from each version to create a strange musical hybrid. The fact that you're limited to doing so at only particular moments feels limiting, but discovering how radically a song can change is always an absolute joy.
As an example, Message In A Bottle might be a legendary Police track, but wait until you hear it with a full orchestral backing and threatening foreboding strings backing up the familiar guitar solo. Wonderful stuff, and potentially another fun way to get younger players interested in classical music.
You'll also unlock 'composition spells,' which are a nice idea if slightly limited by design. Occasionally you're able to add your own melody or rhythm to the track in some fun minigames, but again, they're Still, it's always great to give your remixes a personal touch before saving them to the Xbox One's DVR and uploading them to YouTube. The process may be more cumbersome than it should be -- you have to watch the entire track without any interruptions in order to save it, rather than just quickly saving the replay file -- though it's a price worth paying for the ability to freely upload your tracks to YouTube rather than a proprietary web portal.
But as we previously discussed, all of these fascinating gameplay concepts are held back by the fact that you're just waving your hands around like a drunk attempting to hail a distant cab.
Disney Fantasia has missed a fundamental point. If you remember the original film, Mickey used his powers to bend magic and music to his will, but here all we're doing is reacting and waiting for our preset moments to slightly change the mix. The motions don't even feel like you're conducting a choir or orchestra (outside of a couple of tracks), with big exaggerated silly movements that just feel like an out-of-time YMCA rendition. The idea is great and worth exploring for open-minded audiophiles, but the execution doesn't make you feel like a magician. You feel like a semaphore operator following orders, and it's always there at the back of your mind as the music doesn't so much react to you as set the rhythm for your own strange upper body movements.
All of the songs can be played from the get-go by activating Party Mode in the options menu, but you're encouraged to play through a lengthy campaign full of unlockables first. Taking up tutelage under the legendary Yen Cid, you'll help a likeable and well-written supporting character Scout to repair a magical disaster by progressing through different realms.
To its credit, the campaign does a lot right. Each realm is a dormant soundscape that can be brought to life by playing songs and participating in fun audio minigames, such as growing mushrooms or messing about with musical fish. Even singing meat products. These little distractions may be rather forgettable but they encourage playful creativity, and turning a lifeless diorama into a thriving musical canvas feels intensely satisfying.
But the pacing kills it, at least for a good couple of hours. After a ten-minute long tutorial teaches you literally everything you need to know, the first hour of the game then forces you to learn each unbelievably basic individual input again over the course of an entire song, then wastes a huge amount of time explaining and re-explaining things you already know. It doesn't respect your time, leading you by the hand when it should be encouraging you to freely explore, and even kids will probably find themselves tuning out as they're forced to play each track twice to unlock the third remix with no appreciable increase in difficulty.
It's also incredibly patronising and aimed squarely at a younger audience, even though the film released in the 1940s. Sure, there was a re-release, but I'm not convinced that Harmonix identified their target audience properly: twenty-to-thirty-somethings with disposable income who look back at legendary Disney films with rose-tinted specs, and might want to share some of that magic with their kids too.
Speaking of which, where are the legendary Disney songs, exactly? These should have been the easiest to secure the rights to, but it appears that the likes of Let It Go have been saved for... you guessed it... pre-order and premium DLC.
It's not enough to derail a fun and fasinating concept, and an experience that Kinect owners should seriously consider. It's just a shame that Harmonix' own Dance Central Spotlight already connects us to music in a much more satisfying and physical way for a fraction of the price.
- Solid selection of tracks to remix into crazy new forms
- As always, Harmonix nails the timing and inputs...
- ...while Kinect 2.0 delivers on its side of the bargain
- Fun surprising minigames and colourful soundscapes to mess about with
- Flailing your arms around never feels like magic; remixing often feels restrictive
- Painfully sluggish campaign is a patronising tutorial overload
- Limp multiplayer, cumbersome music upload functionality
- Erm, where are the classic Disney tracks? DLC, presumably.
The Short Version: Creating your own crazy remixes makes Disney Fantasia worth considering for Kinect-owning audiophiles, but its core semaphore-based gameplay feels more like glumly directing traffic than gleefully performing magic.
If you're not cut out for Harmonix' superior Dance Central Spotlight and fancy something a bit more creative, make sure to download the demo and see if it grabs you.
6 – CAPABLE: The key thing to remember here is always try before you buy. There'll likely be some rather glaring flaws, but games that earn a 6 will generally be very capable indeed and probably still provide a good deal of fun to genre fans.