Disney Universe is a game that there seems to be a little confusion about. Is it a game based on celebrating the entire Disney spectrum and paying homage through a new cast of characters? A ride through the tropes of Disney in a comedic parody of the entire world of this special brand of kid-fiction? An attempt to bring the Disney cast to a new generation of youngsters to discover the magic? Well, the answer is none of these. It’s a straight puzzler/beat’em up with an extremely loose Disney motif, hearkening back more toward side-scrolling platformers and beat’em ups of the nineties and offering a refreshingly simple experience.
Is this loose base and relaxed setting worth a trip to the happiest place on earth? Or is it a poisonous regurgitation of a forgotten magic? Check out the HOTs and NOTs of Disney Universe!
Simple Gameplay, Easy Controls
There are games for the whole family where anyone can hop in and enjoy themselves, where even a grown-up can fight past a little embarrassment and pick up the latest Kirby game, but make no mistake, this is a game for children. In that respect, it’s a fairly decent game for children in the way the gameplay conducts itself. Utilizing only a few buttons (and completely doing away with gimmicky controls on the Wii), this game won’t take too long to learn, or in that case, start playing. It’s not a fantastically unique control scheme, a jump button, an attack button and a grab button. The levels are fairly small and linear, which suits the control scheme well. It’s not revolutionary, but in lieu of innovation is a very sturdy base on which the game can run with relative ease.
Suitable Level Design
Much like in older, retro beat ’em ups, the players can and will move from the left of the screen to the right down a somewhat narrow corridor. While not entirely two dimensional, you won’t find yourself moving forward or away from the screen more than the allotted distance to move down the horizontal hallways. This may seem like a complaint, and for fans of big, free-roaming environments, it will be, but in a multiplayer game, the camera never has to zoom out too far, progression is streamlined and simple and it allows each player a common goal to reach instead of searching aimlessly for their next objective. If you can’t move right, go activate the mechanism that allows you to move right. If that doesn’t move you any further right, then you’re probably fighting a boss battle.
And to further allow for simplistic, streamlined progression, if one doesn’t see the shiny, big, blue arrows pointing them to the level or key or device that allows them to continue, then it’s as simple as pressing a button and, without stopping gameplay, the screen shows the next objective or goal. While the game sacrifices expanded environments and huge, open worlds, it does allow for a well-realized sense of game flow.
While some may have seen the animated trailers and been turned off or overwhelmed by the insincerely cute nature of the entire game, this doesn’t hold true for the game. While it may not have the beauty, grace and polish of its Disney animated contemporaries, it has a strangely anarchic sense of style and humor. The story goes as such… a bright blue cube introduces you to Disney Universe, a place where people can play and frolic in virtual Disney settings, with a strange, foreboding emphasis on the safety of the park. Your virtual guide is then corrupted by HEX, a virus bent on turning the world into a devilish danger-zone for some self-evident reason.
While this storyline won’t turn any heads, the way it’s able to poke fun at itself and you, the player, is strangely endearing. Enemy animations are solid and may even get a chuckle out of anyone who hasn’t entirely lost their child-like humor and the color, writing and settings have a definite richness about them. The trailers were misleading, this is not a game trying to convince you it’s cool. This is a game that, in multiplayer mode, will turn you into a basketball or a shoe or a chicken for no other reason than it feels like it.
Kind Of A Mess
This is a game that wants you to play it multiplayer and even adds content when you do, but when you do enter the game multiplayer, it can often be difficult to keep people on the same goal or train-of-thought or even the same screen. The set up is clunky and cluttered when 3 or 4 people join and is just manageable enough with two people. It is also very easy to lose track of your character mid-brawl, especially with multiple players. The game does it’s best to remedy this, but could have benefited from a more polished and well-realized visual design.
Disney Motif Feels Arbitrary
While, yes, you’ll visit the Queen Anne’s Revenge or Agrabah, but the levels are levels like any other. Despite a few interesting little tweaks, i.e., touching the cursed flame and turning into a zombie in the Pirates Of The Caribbean world, for every little touch that is added to make the worlds seem familiar and like well-tread ground, it is drowned out by a anachronistic slurry of remedial puzzle-solving and baddie busting. This is only a complaint if one should go into the game expecting a retread or re-telling of classic Disney stories. Otherwise, the sheer madcap nature of the game should cover up this complaint quite nicely.
Without any wow moments or great innovations, this is a game that time will quickly forget. The puzzles can feel redundant and the fighting never evolves past leveling up whatever Disney-themed suit you may have on, and there aren’t any appreciable differences between each suit, so the game will necessarily feel roughly the same the entire game and through to the end. While the game must be congratulated for earnest efforts to mix up the formula, a few of which actually do the job fairly efficiently, it only distracts from the games inevitable tedium, never fixes it.
When put under the cold, critical spotlight, this game will wither and die like a baking ice cream sandwich, but when put into the hands of a child, Disney fan or anyone of the right mental age to enjoy a fun soundtrack, charismatic animations and a generally chaotic atmosphere, it serves its job well. It could not be recommended to anyone with a higher expectation for the medium, but it’s a study in simplicity and just barely rises out from mediocrity to serve as a functional, and often giddy, E-For-Everyone family game.
[Editor’s Note: Disney Universe was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii and slightly on the PS3 hardware. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Disney Universe Review,