The legacy which Walt Disney so lovingly crafted is one which will never be forgotten. His vivid imagination and keen business sense led to the creation of many wonderful animated movies throughout the years. Growing up, films like The Lion King, The Rescuers and The Jungle Book were instrumental in establishing my love of film. Their created worlds transformed into dream-like wonders, with incredibly entertaining and well-written stories focused upon. There really isn’t anything like a classic Disney animated movie, which is a true testament to the brand and its library.
With the release of Disney Universe on all three of our favourite video game consoles, the teams at Eurocom and Disney Interactive Studios have attempted to bring some of the company’s most popular worlds to the interactive medium. In a nod to past successes, it combines stages based on six different films: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King, Wall-E, Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin and Monsters Inc. Each well-known dimension must be conquered through the use of platforming agility and melee combat proficiency. The nice thing is that up to four friends can tackle the action together, though it’s not at all mandatory.
Within its fictional subject matter, Disney Universe focuses on issues at a newly-formed theme park. According to the game’s fictional storyline, the media giant has just opened up a brand amusement park somewhere on this blue and green earth. Its focus isn’t on the company’s entire history like Disneyland and Disney World, with the draw being its lovingly-crafted worlds based on popular movies (those mentioned above, in fact). It’s a scenario where the tagline, “If you loved the movie, then why not live it?” certainly comes into play.
Although it’s not specifically stated, I took it for granted that this game is set in the future. Why is that? It’s the only idea that makes sense, considering that robots run the park. Not only that, but a super-intelligent and incredibly joyful cube overlooks the entire operation. This is a very important factor to note as a hostile virus takeover of these artificial intelligence creations acts as the basis for the title’s campaign. For some reason, the infection is able to set-in on the theme park’s opening day, turning peaceful and friendly robot workers into environmentally-themed evil minions.
Having flipped a peaceful situation into a nightmare, the digital infection sets its sights on taking over the entire area. The first goal of the occupation is to capture and lock-up every single attendee. Somehow, the robotic controllers overlook a small amount of colourful alien guests, who decide to take up arms in defence of their fellow patrons. Their action and puzzle-packed quest to free the imprisoned is a secondary goal which piggybacks on a larger goal: Wiping the virus out of the park.
From start to finish, you’re looking at approximately six hours of content within Disney Universe. Its several unique worlds each contain approximately three different locations for players to battle, platform and solve their way through. Those aforementioned areas are once again divvied up into a few stages each, with average completion times ending up in the ten to twenty minute area. The varied landscapes are a blessing to fans of the showcased animated pieces, however the game’s core mechanics do not take full advantage of them.
Upon waiting for the game disc to load, I thought about how fun its contained adventure could possibly be. I’m the type of gamer who likes to give just about everything a shot – even the much-maligned licensed game genre. There have been some pleasant surprises in the past, with the Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 video games coming to mind. Unfortunately, Disney Universe didn’t live up to those hopes, including mediocre and dull gameplay that lacks an individual identity. There’s a decent amount of game time to be found within, but what’s there isn’t all that fun. It’s a shame.
This four-player adventure through colourful worlds takes the form of a platform action game. Think of it as being a LittleBIGPlanet style title, though one that is made for a younger audience. A main selling feature found within is the ability to dress-up as different Disney mascots, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and quite a few others. This brings memories of the above-mentioned series to light. Your assumed alien character’s choice of dress doesn’t make a huge difference in the way the game plays, but it provides a chance to showcase your personality. Each one can be upgraded through the discovery of hidden stars found within each stage, allowing melee weapon enhancements.
Attempting to save each of the trapped guests is done by solving basic switch, turnstile and lever puzzles. All of the movies have their own variations of these, with an example being how The Lion King world utilizes fire, water and agriculture growth in its puzzles. Solved puzzles allow progression, though themed enemies will do their best to make sure that it is an arduous journey. Players will become swarmed by the robotic minions, who come in varying types and sizes. Basic, swat-based melee attacks become your only offensive attack. It can become repetitive but, at least the development team thought to add in occasional varied power-ups which can momentarily change your weapon into freeze rays, muskets, and one-hit kill batons. The only issue with these ability changers is that they prevent the characters from being able to use switches. I can’t comprehend why that design choice was made.
Boiling down the game to brass tax, it’s extremely easy to realize that gold collection is its main objective and driving force. Sure, the overall objective calls for rescue, but it isn’t the most important thing to take note of. Destroying every individual pot, plant and item in the environment will reveal hidden currency tokens. Those must be used to purchase new worlds. Two thousand individual gold pieces is the set price for each film world, providing players the choice of where to travel next. One good thing about this is that you can play through it in any order that you’d like. This is furthered by the ability to set-up custom level playlists, which can help if you’ve missed one or two hidden concept art pieces in select stages.
The quest to collect gold and find secrets can become a multiplayer competition, as individual players attempt to pick-up the most loot. It all goes towards the same cause, but that doesn’t mean friendly competition is a bad thing, especially when each playable character’s stats are graded at the end of each stage. Unique challenge kiosks also pop-up throughout the game, allowing for some traditional yet relatively amusing mini-games. Four players can compete to collect a certain amount of gold, kill a set number of enemies or attack an allotted total of chickens. Checkpoint race opportunities are also presented by these arcade cabinet challenge givers.
Some of the ideas found inside of Disney Universe are decent, but the overall experience is mediocre, lacking and ultimately forgettable. Playing through it in short bursts is recommended, as its gameplay elements tend to become overly-repetitive quickly. If there was more attention paid to creating a varied experience, the game could have been a much better romp through interesting fiction. In the end, a title which can only be recommended to die-hard Disney fanatics or parents with small children. Those two camps will be able to overlook the noted deficiencies much easier than a core gamer or an older child could. However, parents purchasing the game will want to pick up a second controller to help out at times, as some of the combat and puzzle challenges may prove to be too difficult for very young kids to complete alone.
In my humble opinion, the best thing about Disney Universe is its presentation. Colourful graphics, detailed environments and themed characters add some nice visual variety to the several-hour long adventure. Upbeat electronic music and some solid original songs complement the title’s colourful visuals well. Considering that my game time was spent with the Wii version of the experience, these factors have become even more of a commendation factor. It’s nice to see that the full experience wasn’t squished or compacted, in order to fit onto Nintendo‘s motion-controlled system. Thankfully, shoehorned physical motions are not needed to complete the game, as it uses the system’s controllers in a more traditional way.
To conclude, Disney Universe is only for the hardcore, or those with small children who are just getting into gaming. It’s an unfortunately formulaic game, which doesn’t do its creative subject matter justice. There are some nice visuals to look at and a chance to digitally dress-up as your favourite mascot, but the core gameplay doesn’t carry the same creative tune. Overall, this is a lacking and repetitive game which hovers over the average line, sometimes going towards negative space, although there are a couple of previously-mentioned redeeming factors which keep it from being a bad game.
Disney Universe was released on October 25, 2011. This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.