It’s been a bit of an interesting year for Disney games, featuring a lot of titles that are sort of off the beaten path. Disney Magical World was great fun, but unusual with the idea of living forever in a Disney universe of sorts. Disney Infinity 2.0 was fun, but again, not a prototypical adventure game with the collectibles and integration of the Marvel Universe. Now we have Fantasia: Music Evolved, which is a spiritual successor to the two Disney films, and something that’s been in the works as long as the Infinity concept was. It’s finally landed, and Microsoft gamers see this one come exclusively to their consoles.
Please note that this game requires the use of Kinect for either console.
There’s one pretty indelible mark that this is going to be a rhythm game – It’s developed by Harmonix, the very people who scored literally hundreds of my dollars back in the Rock Band days. All 3 versions and nearly 500 songs later, I think I finally retired the mic for good last Christmas, though I think it’ll remain a family favourite for years to come.
Fantasia: Music Evolved essentially has you filling the shoes of Mickey Mouse as the wizard Yen Sid’s new apprentice. Yen Sid, I should add, looks much more friendly and approachable than his appearance in the original film. The first thing I should mention is that you need a LOT of room for this game. I started by standing about 5 feet back, and my arms still kept disappearing over the Kinect’s range, and I was breaking combo left and right as a result. The game has added left-right movement in the area stages, which means you need a clear path on either side of you too.
You’re going to go through a tutorial, where you learn the 4 basic hand gestures while you play. It may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than enough. Eventually, as you progress, you will also learn the other basic commands, like switching between mixes, zooming and creating your own synthesized mix beats (through a “composition spell” feature,) which play out in your songs (or as mini-games in each realm.)
Protecting the various realms of the world from the Noise is the basic premise of this game with the help of another apprentice – Scout. In order to defeat the noise, you much travel to each realm (featuring their own setlist) and play songs to collect musical fragments. Fragments are obtained simply by playing songs and reaching their goals. You can also claim 2 fragments per realm by interacting with the environment as you finish songs. To dispel the noise from that realm, you just meet the number of fragments and then counterattack with your own sound.
Rock Band gamers may simultaneously find comfort and disappointment in some of the tracks. Numerous tracks in Fantasia: Music Evolved are Rock Band holdovers, right from the very first (Message in the Bottle from the Police.) Some of the holdovers are downright puzzling (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots?) but some work perfectly with the game (Bohemian Rhapsody.) The soundtrack itself is a mixture of classical music arrangements from the original Fantasia film and songs from the 70s to today. The classical song choices include Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9 New World 4th Movement and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. One of the neatest things, however, is the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker medley, which features the mixture of songs that appeared in Fantasia, including Trepak and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Each song in the game features the original + 2 remixes, the musical genres of which vary. You’ll also find names like Symbion Project (aka the Duke from Freezepop) and Steve Porter lending talents to these remixes. Considering I thought Steve Porter only did parody videos on Youtube before this, his work is pretty outstanding. The remixes also add (or decrease in some cases) the difficulty of each song, allowing you to map out how you want your scores to flow. You have the ability to switch to unlocked remixes through breaks in songs when prompted. You simply place your hand to the centre of the screen and then swipe in the direction of the mix to play.
Easy Learning Curve
The game has a really easy learning curve and ease-in and then it gets hectic in a hurry. By the time you get out of the introductory realm, the difficulty ramps up and you find yourself flailing like crazy. Those are only the medium difficulty songs too.
You’ve got to really concentrate as well, especially with your timing. Everything is basically the same colour, and there’s no distinction in telling you whether something is coming up on a ¼, ⅛ or 1/16th note. You don’t really face these sorts of things until Rihanna and Drake’s song, but if you’re not ready, it will throw you for a loop.
As I’d mentioned, you need a lot of room to play this game, or else you will miss notes and break combos. The Kinect only has a limited range in which it can recognize you and your movements, so if you go too far right, left, or wave your arms too high, you’re done for. The songs themselves don’t require you to walk around or move, though you may find moving about is easier. The movements don’t require a ton of interaction. As long as Kinect can see your hands and you’re doing it to the right side of the screen, you should be ok. If I can offer one tip, it’s that you should learn not to alternate hands early, and condition your movements to that side of the screen. It’ll be tough sometimes, but you’ll find yourself in bad positions soon enough where you’re hitting something on the left side with your right hand, and a hold bar comes up on the other side and your left hand involuntarily jumps toward it.
There’s one last thing I should mention, and it’s 2 more key features of Fantasia: Music Evolved – There is a multiplayer option which allows you to play with a friend with the shake of a hand (literally a handshake) and it’s quite cool. It’s hard to pinpoint whether this is truly competitive or a friendly cooperative competition. Unlike Dance Central, there’s a lot of cooperative moments here where you have to swipe simultaneously, and you have to work together to option the composition spells.
There’s also a musical share option. I like this feature for what it can provide (I’ll be a terrible mixer, so I’ll leave it to fan creations.) Gamers have the ability to compose and share their creations with others, remixing any of the songs available to them. The game has one of my all time favourite songs (Enjoy the Silence from Depeche Mode) so here’s a gamer’s upload of their playthrough and mix of Enjoy the Silence using the Chris Micali mix. This video shows you a lot of the basics of the game, including the player switching mixes, and creating a composition spell (the cube you see pop up in the middle of the song.) When you see the breaks and the option to select a mix, the blue pathway is always the original track, while the pink is a more dance-based remix. Lastly, green is usually a heavier tone, full of bass tones or rock riffs.
Since this might be the best we get to a new Fantasia film, maybe DLC will fill in a few more blanks, as well as maybe bringing to life some of the cutting room choices from Disney’s end. Did you know Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was one of the potential tracks for the original Fantasia? It didn’t make it past pre-production, but it’d be a perfect future DLC title for the game. As it stands, we’ll have to live with either the heartwrenching scene from Apocalypse Now or the slightly less depressing Looney Tunes What’s Opera Doc (aka Kill the Wabbit) for our Valkyries fix. On that note, 18 songs have already been announced as DLC, with the likes of Ellie Goulding, REM and Soundgarden included. It’s essentially 15 new tracks along with the 3 pre-order bonuses that weren’t previously made available to a lot of Canadian retailers including Best Buy.
One thing that I should probably mention – This is a Disney game in the sense that Fantasia is a Disney movie – Essentially in title and creation only, which is probably for the best. Don’t expect the Disney characters to pop out and start greeting you and dancing with you all over the place. In fact, there’s very little going on in the background of most songs so that it doesn’t distract from your cues. You definitely need the lack of distraction, as the game will have you constantly looking everywhere. Gamers on a big screen TV will probably want to be as far back as comfortable. When you get into the tougher stages, you’re going to be moving and looking every which way, and standing a close distance won’t benefit you at all.
This game basically draws from a lot of Harmonix’s old bag of tricks, and that’s definitely a good thing. The freestyle composition spell option reminds me a lot of the beloved classic Amplitude, which was the title that really drew me into their games. Oddly, this game also has something going for it that most don’t: It’s a ridiculous upper arm workout. Consider that I’m constantly holding and picking up a 7 month old, near 18lb wriggly baby. I guess muscle memory has kicked in because holding and carrying her all day is less of a workout that the VERY FIRST song (Message in a Bottle) was. Of course, when you start playing the game, you automatically assume the game will only register if you’re swinging your arms. You don’t need to, and in fact, you probably want to pace yourself a little better.
Most Demanding Rhythm Game?
I’ve read other journalists refer to this as the most demanding rhythm game they’ve ever played. If you’ve gotten heavily into the Dance Dance Revolutions and In the Grooves of the world, you’ll probably disagree, but it IS a good workout for the arms. Rhythm game veterans will probably liken Fantasia: Music Evolved more to the Para Para Paradise and Dance Maniax games of old. There’s no set routines like Para Para, but a lot of upper body movement and invitation to be creative. There’s really no wrong way to you to hit the cues if you’re following along, and you can reach across and use alternating arms a lot of the time too.
I don’t think I will be as addicted to this game as badly as with Rock Band and Amplitude, but this is another fine Harmonix rhythm game. It’s not quite the party title like the Dance Central series is, but it’s still a fun ride.
There is one added benefit, and that it’s that I believe it’s the best of all the Kinect driven XBox One games out there. With all the additional features Kinect offers, you sometimes forget it was originally put out there to compliment motion gaming. If you’re looking for something fun to play for your Kinect, and especially something the whole family can get involved in, this is definitely the title for you.
Gameplay: 4.5 / 5
Graphics: 4 / 5
Sound: 4 / 5
Controls: 4 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5 / 5
Overall Rating: 4.2 / 5 (82%)