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Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Harmonix
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:

Since I saw its official unveiling at E3 2010, Iíve dismissed Microsoftís Kinect as a shameless attempt to capitalize on the motion control craze, which in my opinion, took way too long to finally die off. And now that the Kinect has essentially been put on life support with the announcement of Kinect-free Xbox Ones, it finally gets its killer app in Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, one of the most unique, magical, and quite simply one of the best music games in years.

An artistic tour de force. Thatís Fantasia in a nutshell. It doesnít quite encapsulate the utter mastery of animation in the way that its namesake did over seventy years ago, but it remains a compelling bit of eye candy in its own way. During a performance, your silhouette is projected at the bottom of the screen; your hands glitter with pixie dust and each successful gesture results in a radiant burst of light from the active hand. This leads to a sense of player involvement that Iím not sure has been so palpably felt. Gesture prompts are illustrated well and timed accurately with the music, and though thereís a slight delay between your movements and those of your on-screen counterpart, the illusion is no less powerful.

In games like Fantasia, in which sound is nearly everything, this is where the game is made or broken. Of course, this is a Harmonix game weíre talking about, so it absolutely makes the game. The soundtrack may be the most diverse Iíve seen since the original DJ Hero, and while a lot of it boils down to personal taste, theyíve done a brilliant job of adapting each song to this particular style of play. More impressive is the two additional remixes that can be eventually accessed mid-performance. I never thought I would be able to appreciate an electronica version of the White Stripesí "Seven Nation Army" or a metal remix of "Bohemian Rhapsody." For me, the low point of the game is to be expected; Disneyís involvement with this game means some of the talent theyíve been pushing for years is bound to show up. Imagine my excitement when I found a series of downloadable songs in the game case only to find out that theyíre from the likes of Demi Lovato and OneRepublic. But whatever. Free is free, right?


Gameplay:

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved isnít the easiest game to describe from a conceptual point of view. But I have to try, so here we go: I would say that this game is a spiritual successor to Fantasia itself. Of course, weíre dealing with a completely different medium now, as well as a new way of involving the player in the music. Just like in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the player is an active participant. But unlike in those games, thereís a more pronounced sense of player agency in Fantasia.

Thereís a story at the heart of Fantasia, but itís merely there to give you an excuse to flail your arms around in the privacy of your own home. Whatís here is charming enough, though: you are Master Sorcerer Yen Sidís new apprentice (sound familiar?). But youíre not charged with cleaning up his quarters; you wonít be using your powers on broomsticks or tidal waves. Instead, your job is to learn to harness the magical power of music and use it to breathe life into the many worlds Yen Sid has created. But not all is well in these fledgling realms. A malevolent entity known as "the Noise" has taken up residence everywhere. And how better to fight it than to take some music from across the mediumís entire timeline and go all Sorcererís Apprentice on it?

Watching someone play Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved might lead you to believe that this is no more than "Conductor Hero." But that description would do a disservice to both the act of conducting and this game itself. Fantasia is at the same time more and less than that. Think of it instead as a reactionary dance set to music. Much like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcererís Apprentice, you create a light and effects show with the gestures you perform.


Difficulty:

This is Disney Fantasia: Music Evolvedís weak point. Not because it is particularly difficult or easy, but because it doesnít feature the incredible flexibility of literally every game from Harmonixís past. Instead of four or five difficulty levels, there is only one, and while it generally does a good job of getting you involved, it could be so much more. Perhaps itís a hardware thing; maybe the Kinect isnít capable of precision detection. But I found the more engaged I became in the gameplay, the greater the emotional high accompanying it; and some of the songs have so many empty spaces where there clearly should not be. It makes me wonder what could have been, but it doesnít really damage my appreciation for what the game already is.

Unlike in most music games, you cannot fail out of any part of Fantasia. Granted, each performance has a certain goal that you must complete in order to progress through the story. All things considered, this is not a difficult game, and that is by design. I would have liked more challenge to the gameplay, but I understand why it is the way it is.


Game Mechanics:

If youíre only looking at the screen, you may not have the first clue what Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved plays like. Each song begins by selecting particular elements from any of the three mixes that eventually become available. By that, I mean you choose the musical instruments that play and the style of vocals. Then, the background shifts into a dazzling adventure through light and sound as stars flash across the screen towards arrows and circles. As the stars reach each prompt, you must perform the gesture that is being indicated. Arrows are simple sweeps of the hands, mimicking the movements of an actual conductor. Circles indicate an open-palmed punching motion. Some prompts require you to hold your hand(s) in place and others require you to slowly move your hand from point to point as you trace the motion as it is illustrated onscreen.

At certain moments during each song, you will have the opportunity to switch between a series of mixes. These fundamentally change the soundscape and often force you to look at them in a much different light. Additionally, they change the prompts that appear, as well as the rate at which they show up. It adds a great deal of replay value to a game that is already quite replayable.

Rock Band had drum fills and guitar solos, but apart from the drum fills, not much of your input really felt like your own. Fantasia tries to help you put your own personal touch on the music by adding in a few interesting musical interludes in which you play with a series of motion-controlled toys that add rhythms and background music. These are well-designed in terms of the music; regardless of how you manipulate these tools, the game will always keep the input in tune with the music. But the Kinect is rarely timely or accurate when youíre doing this, which makes a lot of it feel a bit willy-nilly.

As far as games go, a lot of people have been voicing their disappointment with 2014. We've seen a fair number of games that were overhyped to the point where they could never even come close to fulfilling our expectations. But Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved can count itself among the success stories. If you own an Xbox One with a Kinect, you should seriously consider this game; I can't think of a better family game to support this holiday season.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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