Publisher: Bandai Namco
I always try to approach reviews without preconceptions, but every once in a while, you just know that a game is going to suck at first glance. Disney Magical World. Even the name screams shovelware, while the blurb and screenshots looked suspiciously like an Animal Crossing clone on a budget.
But there's an old saying about assumptions, and it always holds true, because on rare occasions these games can turn out to be legitimately great!
Disney Magical World is one of those welcome surprises. Here we have a game that goes far beyond what Animal Crossing offers, blending management, adventure, farming, exploration, dungeon crawling, crafting, a cast of legendary characters and a bit of... am I really going to write this?... Disney magic into a confident and competent thief of time. Seeing as it's a personal adventure, it's only fitting that I accompany the article with a selection of my own MiiVerse-shared photos!
Proceedings begin slowly and predictably as you -- or more accurately your Mii, imported effortlessly from your 3DS -- are invited to live in
Disney World Castleton. Upon arrival you'll meet Mickey and the gang, who introduce you to the magic kingdom's basic selection of activities. You'll run about the Disneyland-themed hub collecting items, trading items, cards and clothes, chatting with classic Disney characters and performing favours for them. You'll customise your outfit to your specifications. You'll go fishing, then shopping in Scrooge McDuck's department store. Time-sensitive events (such as nightly firework displays), seasonal holidays and replenishing stocks of quests and items encourage you to fit Disney Magical World into your daily schedule.
It's the same familiar fare you'd expect from any light life simulator, but great dialogue and voice acting makes it a blast to interact with your favourite characters, while the wealth of outfits and items will keep you busy for a while. A less ambitious game would have stopped there and called it quits, but Disney Magical World uses this framework as a springboard for something much more exciting.
See, everything you do factors into an achievement system, unlocking 'badges' as you go about your daily routine. Once you've collected enough, you're then able to unlock new and profoundly wonderful things that add new dimensions to the experience.
Such as a cafe. After a while, you'll find yourself running Castleton's main eatery, which acts as a regular source of income and an expanding home base. You can decorate the establishment to your heart's content, customise the staff, pull in the punters and concoct new delicious meals from resources gleaned from around the world. It's not as in-depth as the likes of Hometown Story, but it's a consistent and addictive thrill to return to your restaurant after several hours to collect your earnings and prepare new dishes, then equipping new tables, wallpapers and furniture from items you've made yourself.
For there's also a crafting system. Daisy Duck and Chip & Dale run boutique workshops where you can combine your resources to create an enormous number of clothing items, furniture pieces, fishing rods and useful gadgets. Infinite inventory space and helpful recipe menus remove the stress of balancing your supplies (a relief after years spent slaving away to Tom Nook), while what would have been throwaway collectibles can become important ingredients for exciting new outfits. It's a thrill to constantly create and combine, especially when you discover new items, ingredients and recipes in each new world you visit.
Ah yes. New worlds. Every once in a while, your badge limit allows you to unlock a portal to a new Disney dimension, including Cinderella's castle, Wonderland, Agrabah and the Hundred Acre Wood. All of these environments are packed with classic characters, perfectly observed as if they've been written by their original authors, with their own storylines and narratives to pursue on top of new items to collect as you explore. However, still not content to stop there, each new world you discover continues to expand on the gameplay experience in surprising new ways.
The Hundred Acre Wood, for example, provides you with a field to grow your own crops, flowers and plants, which can provide crafting components, quest objectives and even create new types of delicious honey depending on what variety of bee they attract. Once again, it's simple and stress-free, but the real-time mechanics mean that you'll get into the habit of planting crops on the way to work and harvest them on the way home. There's a whole gentle questline to pursue too, as your badge total increases, unlocking new areas and dialogue.
Then there's dungeon crawling. Yes, dungeon crawling. Whether exploring Wonderland's darkest corners or running errands for Aladdin, you'll be able to access brisk action-RPG episodes as you delve through sprawling catacombs, blasting ghosts with one of Yen Cid's upgradeable wands and constantly acquiring new items. It's simple stuff, but incredibly enjoyable and surprisingly robust, underpinned by responsive movement, dodge dashes and shooting mechanics that could have powered an entire capable iOS title by themselves. Your rewards feed back into a selection of craftable mission outfits that grant extra stats, not to mention cosplay opportunities.
There's more besides. Cinderella's stages let you attend regal balls, a surprisingly enjoyable touchscreen dance minigame with its own scoring system. Dozens upon dozens of collectible cards are on offer, which also serves to unlock new gestures and greetings. Equipping full themed outfits rewards you with 'likes' from passers-by to spend on cute sparkle effects. And I'm still just scratching the surface. Though none of Disney Magical World's systems are as advanced and in-depth as fully-fledged games in their respective genres, they're perfect for a more relaxing casual audience and younger players, acting as a wholesome thief of time or as a way to introduce young fans to gameplay basics that will serve them well later in their gaming careers.
Eventually Disney Magical World hits a wall as the badges start to dry up, but it does so more gracefully than most. Crucially there's always something different to do, whether it's a fishing quest for Donald, a dungeon crawl to unlock ingredients for a new dining table, new crops to harvest or checking in with your cafe. Factor in the seasonal events, such as the current Halloween festival, and it's easy to get lost in here for hours at a time.
My gripes -- of which there are a few -- are largely technical. Disney Magical World is no looker, with relatively primitive visuals optimised for stereoscopic 3D, and suffering from marked frame rate hangups in the Castleton hub zone. Loading times are also frequent, and though not too lengthy, can break up the action rather annoyingly. Perhaps worst of all, the numerous photos you'll take throughout the adventure can't be saved to your SD card or uploaded to Twitter/Wii U, rather you'll have to use MiiVerse to grab a screenshot.
But, when all's said and done, Disney Magical World is addictive, entertaining and totally on-message; just a nice place to be whether you're stopping in for a quick chat or hanging out for the long haul.
- Addictive lite-life simulation with varied and surprising gameplay elements
- Badge system constantly unlocks new and exciting things to do
- It's a blast to interact with classic Disney characters; great well-observed dialogue
- Plenty of content to dip into little and often
- Can get repetitive once you've grabbed a decent number of badges
- Nowhere as in-depth as other life simulators and dedicated genre titles; does hit a wall eventually
- Mediocre visuals, frame rate issues in hub zone
The Short Version: Disney Magical World blends Animal Crossing-style life simulation with cafe management, crafting, dungeon crawling and farming into a surprising, unique and compelling experience. Perfect for younger players, but even more demanding Disney fans will find a relaxing and worthwhile new place to hang out.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.