Harmonix returns to the music genre this week with Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, a fresh take on their trademark focus. Bringing recognizable Disney characters together with tracks both classic and contemporary (and everything in between) presents players with a multitude of interesting observations to engage and delight.
The main draw here is color in every range and shade. Every level is bursting with hints from the rainbow that draw the eye and pull you into the environments. As a Kinect only title, every menu is navigated via motion gesture and it delivers. Arguably one of the most accurate Kinect titles to date, Harmonix has managed to utilize the peripheral expertly in this iteration. Everything in the world responds to your touch and movement whether in light or sound; later parts of the game these efforts serve to unlock additional songs and remixes.
Level designs are fun and eye-catching, whether it be The Shoal with its vibrant sea life or the bustling atmosphere of the city in The Neighborhood there’s plenty to see and touch in Fantasia. Exploration is fun and rewarding as you’re tasked with unlocking sounds to gain access to each remix. The game is also devoid of any HUD or menu system, taking advantage of the lack of distraction to immerse players into vibrant worlds of sound and color.
This is where Fantasia really puts the fun back into Kinect games – and it’s no slouch about physical exertion either. Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is entirely played through arm gestures in various directions and styles much like an orchestra conductor, charging players to lead their digital symphony where they desire it to go. The first few songs are almost misleadingly easy as it builds confidence quickly but don’t worry, there’s plenty of challenge to be had. And for those of you thinking – how rough can some classical music get? Oh boy. You’ve been warned.
And while we’re talking about music, let’s derail the myth that it’s a bunch of old Victorian classics. Granted, there’s a few of those in there for good measure. And some Disney classics like “Night on Bald Mountain”, (And Frozen’s “Let It Go” for early adopters). There’s also Queen (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Missy Elliot (“Get Ur Freak On”), Lorde (“Royals”) and many other recognizable contemporary talents. And the basic versions of all these songs are just cost of admission, the real charm here are the remixes.
Harmonix don’t mess around when it comes to music – they couldn’t just toss a few tracks down and go home. There’s the standard song as you and the radio know it – version one. There’s two preprogrammed remixes that are unlockable, unique to every song. Your favorite hip-hop track may have a Southern or Classical remix built on – something worth hearing. And those remixes alter not only the sound but the difficulty as well. And you can change version in real-time swinging from regular to twang with a gesture. The third and final version relies on remixing as well – but uniquely as a player. Using the unlocked patterns you create your own sounds that you can build into the track and fashion a custom build of your favorite songs. This aspect alone builds hours of additional entertainment for the budding musician or DJ. Mix up something you’re really proud of? Save and share with friends to compare mixes and try to one up each other. The sound aspects are hidden in the campaign environment – so completionists take note.
The story of Disney Fantasia follows the disappearance of Master Yen Sid, who some may recognize from his foreboding role in the classic Sorcerer’s Apprentice short in the original Fantasia film.
As his apprentice you’re taught by the Master how to find and manipulate sounds. When he vanishes without a trace you’re left to use your newfound skills to uncover clues and unlock the worlds with the help of his wayward previous apprentice, Scout. She teaches you how to navigate worlds with the Muse and works with you to defeat a mutual enemy – the Noise. It creates static and sound waves that distort the natural beauty of sound in the world and you must work together to defeat the cacophony and find your Master.
You can skip those arm days at the gym – Harmonix has you covered. Between sweeping gestures and punching motions, faster songs especially will keep you on your toes. The game doesn’t give you difficulties to choose from as you play campaign, instead songs naturally ramp up and push you further given the skills you already have. It’s not built for marathon gameplay as your arms are sure to give out, which may feel like a detraction to some. However, the heavy arm gestures are complimented by the lack of other bodily movements so players can get their music fix seated or standing – a rarity for most other Kinect titles.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved makes excellent use of the Kinect at a time when seldom else does. Be warned – it picks up everything you do, and some things you don’t, so be sure to maintain a clear playing area with plenty of space. If anything you remember from this game, it should be the clever remixes and not the accidental black eye you gave your parent or sibling. Definitely not a game for everyone, it’s got a very specific focus for music fanatics, Disney lovers and motion players so I dinged it a few points for a lack of general appeal beyond a few markets. However for people in those markets they’re going to find themselves thoroughly entertained, brutally sore, and with a selection of fantastic tracks running through their head (Standalone soundtrack release anybody?). The campaign might be a bit short for the diehard gamer but the real charm here are the ability to remix and create something unique at every pass outside of campaign. Harmonix has something unlike anything else on the market, especially in the limited Xbox One category, and is definitely worth a peek for the curious parties while a must-have for Disney or Music fans.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is available now exclusively on Xbox 360 ($49.99) and Xbox One ($59.99) at all local and online gaming retailers.