Growing up in southern California and now living in Arizona, I’ve been to Disneyland nearly every year of my life. I dread the parking, the ever-rising ticket prices, and the long lines, but the second I cross the entrance on to Main Street USA all of that is forgotten. It truly is the Magic Kingdom, and I feel a sense of childlike wonder every time I visit.
Walt Disney was a visionary and believed in making the impossible possible each and every day. One of his most iconic works was Disney’s Fantasia. It captured a little bit of that magic and paired it with incredible animation and some of the most beautiful classical music ever made to create something the world had never seen. The team at Harmonix must feel a bit of that wonder as well as they’ve paired up with Disney to try to bring this beloved world of wayward sorcerer’s apprentices to life in a way you have to feel to believe.
Clearly inspired by Mickey’s frantic and impassioned conducting of the rising ocean waves and shooting stars, the team at Harmonix aimed to bring that scene to life with the power of the Kinect. But this is the team that brought you Rock Band and Dance Central, so you know they have something else up their sleeves. With current hits and classical music from the past, Harmonix has put their own spin on the music genre once again.
“I don’t know if its art, but I know I like it” – W. Disney
Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved begins with some basic tutorials, but I can’t even begin to express how easy this game is to play. Kinect was meant to use natural human motion, and Harmonix has used Kinect better than any company that has embraced the technology, but Fantasia takes it to an entirely new level. Thankfully you can see what I mean for yourself — there is a demo available for Xbox One and Xbox 360. Once you try it for yourself I think you’ll agree – Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is the most intuitive game I’ve ever played.
Once you get past the tutorial you begin to dig into the story of Fantasia. You find yourself in familiar shoes – you are the young apprentice to the powerful sorcerer Yen Sid, the same sorcerer that charged Mickey with the mops and buckets work way back in 1940. After learning the basics, he bestows upon you the iconic hat that Mickey once used to conduct the easily recognized and titular song, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Unlike Mickey, your music is a blend of the classical and the contemporary. As Yen Sid (that’s Disney backwards for those playing the home game) steps out of the workshop, you run into his previous apprentice Scout. A bit impatient, she helps you learn a few more techniques and just in time – The Noise has infected the worlds of Fantasia and it’s up to you to help save the day!
“If you can dream it, you can do it” – W. Disney
Mechanically and from a distance, Fantasia looks somewhat complicated. Swiping in all directions, holding notes, pushing on spots, and literally conducting the music at high speed looks like an incredible amount of practice and memorization. It’s not. It’s not unlike catching a baseball – if you aren’t familiar with the concept you might think there is a ton of math to figure out trajectories and angles, but in reality you just operate by feel and your hand will end up in the right place.
Similar to other Harmonix products, the songs are split by difficulty level. Harder songs might ask for more complicated hand movements like sweeping motions, faster rhythm, or both arms moving in different directions. After each track you’ll get a percentage rating with a bonus based on your longest streak. Also similar to their Dance Central efforts, you can’t fail the song as missed notes simply become muted for a moment. It’s what happens when they aren’t muted that makes this game amazing.
Periodically in the song you’ll have an opportunity to remix it by changing the instruments in several categories. By hitting the transition you can mix in rock, brass, synth, orchestral, jazz, and other musical instruments (that I won’t spoil for you) to the original mix. Hearing Message in a Bottle as performed by a string orchestra while still having an electric guitar wail away may seem like it’d be discordant, but it isn’t. In fact, there isn’t a single song in the 30+ tracks in the game that doesn’t sound fantastic when remixed in another style – a testament to the incredible musical pedigree at Harmonix.
Playing a track again and hitting the goal point value will unlock other mixes. With names like “Neon Sabbath”, “Alt Rock”, and “Spartacus”, these mixes really change the feel of the track, making each playthrough of a song fairly unique.
In the interests of music creation, there are five Composition Spells that you can uncover. These let you create your own track additions by simply touching or sweeping certain instruments or rhythms to create your own track additions that can be neatly folded directly into other songs. For example, the Rhythm Painter spell lets you use two hands to touch gems that represent snare, bass, or cymbals. Tone Twister on the other hand lets you change the melody of the sample by spreading your hands wide to speed up the rhythm, or pushing forward or back to change the applied effect. If you are worried that you won’t be good at this, don’t be – it does all of the hard work for you, giving you a song loop snippet that somehow sounds great every time. Once you’ve unlocked some compositions and made a few samples, you’ll be able to select an option to save the performance you just made. This will then be uploaded to YouTube, allowing you to share with your friends the unique mix you just created.
When you are exploring realms you’ll occasionally find blue outlined objects in the environment. They are curiosities like a big cute monster that can turn invisible but likes to play hide and seek behind the snow covered trees, or little robots hidden in the factory. There are 70 magic fragments for you to find, with some of them coming from exploration and the bulk of them courtesy of unlocking both remixes in each song.
If you are a long-time Disneyland attendee you might remember the old Main Street Electrical Parade. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait for what was essentially colorfully lit parade floats full of flashing lights, but it wasn’t the colorful visuals that pulled me in. The music was quirky synth that put a never-ending smile on my face for days after. As I write this I’m smiling just as wide, remembering some of the fantastic remixes I’ve created here. Harmonix has captured the magic, but better yet – they gave it to me to play with.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” – W. Disney
Harmonix have become masters of the Kinect, and this time around they are offering a new feature – seated play. Since you don’t have to use your feet like you would in Dance Central, you can direct your music from a seated position, opening this up to people who can’t stand in place for longer periods of time. Congratulations – you just added older folks to the roster of players as well!
Multiplayer is initiated in the best way possible. Exactly like the statue of Walt and Mickey in front of the Magic Castle, you’ll shake hands. At this point the game will recognize that you want to join the selected song from the playlist, highlighting one player gold and the other blue. The prompts will also be marked that color, asking each player to hit their matching sequences for points. It works very well, allowing players to cooperate to mix their track and create a collaborative song.
My only complaint about Fantasia is that there are a good number of loading screens during the story. You would think that Harmonix could hide a bit loading in the background, but it really is a minor nitpick. The loads are short, thankfully.
Outside of the story you are free to access the full roster of songs. Given that this game was built by the same team that brought you Dance Central and Rock Band, you can bet that there will be some strong DLC. You can check out the full roster of songs here (LINK), but it’s great to be able to report that nearly every song in the game is fantastic. Throwing in remixes makes the songs fresh, even if they might be familiar.
Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is the most creative and accessible game I’ve ever played. A completely fresh experience and unique in every way, Fantasia is a fantastic game for the whole family. Walt Disney said “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever”, and games like this wrap all three together with a little dash of magic.