Some games have made me laugh. Some games have made me cry. Games have put me in the shoes of people I would never expect to empathize with, like an 11 year-old girl in the zombie apocalypse or a badass female soldier in the future fighting to save all of humanity. Games let me be a star halfback or a powerful superhero. Games let me focus on myself and enjoy some alone time, or bond with friends and family.
Despite all that, there are only rare times when a game makes me feel truly magical.
Now, I should start by saying, I am without question a Disney fan. Disney is very special to me, whether it was standing in front of my TV pretending to conduct along with Mickey while watching Fantasia as a young child, singing Hakuna Matata (in all the voices) at karaoke as an adult, or dancing to Once Upon a Dream as my first dance with my wife (after we sang Love is an Open Door ourselves, no less) at our wedding. The common theme there? Yeah, music is very important to me, too.
So when I first heard about the premise of Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, a game that let you live out your Sorcerer’s Apprentice fantasy, conducting music and making something new, I was thrilled. I trust Harmonix, they’ve made some of my favorite games, and I trust Disney, they’ve made some of my favorite things ever. I played it a few times at various conventions and press events, and I was even more excited.
However, I wasn’t expecting the way Fantasia made me feel when I fired it up on my own Xbox One at home. From the very first sequence, from the reverence for music and what Disney has created in the past, there was this feeling stirring inside me. I played the first tutorial song, “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, and the feeling grew. I got my first “star,” basically a symbol of one tutorial completed, and it was full-on. I felt magical. It’s the feeling I get when I go to Disney World, when I walk up to those gates, or the wishing well; it’s the feeling my wife and I chase when we go into the Disney Store just to be immersed in it for a little while. And here it is, in my home.
But enough about feelings, let’s get down to the gameplay. The game itself plays wonderfully. Using your hands in front of the Kinect (hey, knew that thing came with my Xbox One for more than turning on my TV with my voice!), you follow on-screen prompts to make conductor-like motions, from lateral and vertical swipes to sustained, slow sweeps, and percussionist punches to bring home the big moments. As you progress through the game, new gameplay additions grow the experience gradually, including the freestyle sections and of course the mixing element, wherein you can create your own unique version of a song by bringing in foreign elements. Add a Jamaican drum beat to a classical piece, or an 80s synth to a modern pop dance number. It really changes the way you hear music, let alone the way you play it, and that’s a remarkable thing for a game to do.
For those confined to a wheelchair, you’ll be happy to hear that this game can be played from a seated position – as long as the Kinect can see your hands, you’re good to go. Likewise those in urban apartments – as there’s not much right to left and no front to back movement, again, you can be closer than most Kinect games – I had no problem from my standard 7 feet, and got as close as 5 to test, with few-no issues. The punching motion is a little off on its sensitivity, but that is something likely to be caught and fixed with a simple patch. The smaller distance even allowed for multiplayer, with two bodies easily recognized, and unique gestures not getting in the way of each other at all.
If there’s one downside here, it’s that you are required to play the story to unlock songs. If you’re looking for this to simply be an out-of-the-box party game, your selections will be extremely limited, unless you know where to look.. The good news to that is that the story mode isn’t just fun, encouraging you to try songs you might not normally pick on your own, but it also has a good, gradual pace to learning the mechanics of the game (in fact, it may be too gradual for some gamers, especially those adept at dance and rhythm games, another slight minus). Regardless, I couldn’t show off my mad “Locked out of Heaven” skills to my wife, having played that song at several events, first thing, and it was a slight disappointment. I later discovered that you can unlock most of the songs temporarily in a Party Play mode which doesn’t record your progress (no achievements here). It’s there, but especially if you download this game digitally there’s not much telling you what each thing holds, unless you actively select or go looking through the modes and options.
As much as the game holds your hand through the actual gameplay elements, there’s very little direction on how to do anything in the user interface. When I started playback on a particularly good round, just to check it out, I found that the only way I could stop it before it had played all the way through was to quit out of the game entirely, back to the main menu, then go back into story mode. I may have been missing something, but that means other people probably will, too.
Regardless, the game quickly and easily became addictive. Despite my arms getting a bit tired (and currently standing on an injured foot), I found myself playing for several hours on my first go, and eager for more. Every new addition to the core gameplay, every new song, and even the slightly cheesy but solidly Disney-esque cutscenes featuring Yensid the Sorcerer (and his former apprentice – no, not that one) kept giving me that sense of magic, that sense that I was a part of something new and unique.
For a Disney fan, there is nothing quite so exciting as being placed inside the magic (part of what makes Disney Infinity so fun). For a music fan, there’s nothing quite so exciting as finding a new way to observe and listen to tones and melodies. For a video game fan, there’s nothing quite so exciting as discovering a new experience in the medium you love. Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved does all three of these things, and anyone that finds themselves whistling while they work, clapping their hands because they believe, or simply wishing upon a star should easily find the magic in this unique gaming experience.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is available now for Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game was reviewed on the Xbox One using retail code provided by the developer.