Releasing an original rhythm game in 2014 is a bold move; the age of the plastic peripheral has passed, and rhythm games are reliant on either controllers or cameras to work. Developers have to understand and account for the limitations of those accessories, but rather than concede to the shifting sands, Harmonix took the evolution of the genre in stride with Dance Central, its third consecutive hit series and the first to prominently feature the Kinect.
Now the team faces the challenge of moving into the new generation with a fresh, licensed property. So how did it fare?
Fantasia: Music Evolved is the first major release on the Xbox One to use the Kinect effectively. It shares similarities with other Kinect rhythm games, including Dance Central and Just Dance, but Fantasia is about conducting rather than dancing. Instead of learning a routine, Fantasia wants you to inject your own personality into the music through remixes and handcrafted compositions.
Playing Fantasia is a unique experience. Similar to Rock Band and Guitar Hero, it features notes, but your hands take the place of the instruments. While playing a song, there are two primary methods of interaction: swiping and punching. Arrows dictate which direction to swipe your hand and small circles tell you when to punch at the screen. The other two actions involve swiping then holding a note and punching then tracing a line to the beat. The four are interwoven throughout each song, and despite a few Kinect kinks here and there, they were easy to learn and fun to engage with.
One of the most important parts of any great rhythm game is the soundtrack. Fantasia’s is a bit too slim for my tastes, but Harmonix makes up for it with remixes. Each and every one of the game’s 30-plus songs features two remixes which not only change the sound of the song significantly, but how you play it as well. Overall, there’s a healthy mix of popular hits, classical music and jukebox staples, but the lack of Disney music is a touch heartbreaking.
Fantasia does feature a story mode, but it’s not particularly compelling. As you play through songs in each level, you’ll unlock the song’s remixes, along with additional activities to participate in within the level. Some of these interactive elements are little more than on-screen distractions while others let you construct your own short compositions using clever tools, each more entertaining than the last.
My enjoyment of the story mode was sadly tainted by what might be the most irritating tutorialization I have experienced in 2014. For over an hour, every song I chose, every level I completed and everything I discovered seemed to be prefaced and appended by a “helpful” disembodied voice. I had to listen to him explain every detail of the game ad nauseam to the point where I began to cover my ears like a petulant child every time I heard him revving up for another tutorial.
It also doesn’t help that everything is locked from the outset. You can’t try out the remixed tunes until you play through them once and complete a score objective. If you want to unlock the third remix, you’ll have to play the song again. If you enjoy the gameplay (which I did!), it won’t be quite as much of a slog, but the glacial progression did irk me until the game finally opened up a couple of hours in.
This is partially counterbalanced by the explorable nature of the myriad realms in Fantasia. Each has its own distinct theme, and the ability to step to the left or right to see more of what the realm has to offer is still vaguely magical. When the Kinect really works, it brings something to the table that no other peripheral can offer.
The game features two-player multiplayer, but, as you might have guessed, you can’t access songs in the song list until you’ve played them in the story mode. This can be avoided by enabling Party Mode, opening up every song and remix the game has to offer, but you won’t be able to complete any challenges or achievements in Party Mode.
There’s a lot of fun to be had and plenty of secrets to be discovered in Fantasia, but it’s a shame I couldn’t just jump right in. If the game got out of its own way and celebrated the fun diversions in its explorable realms rather than locking them behind a wall of progression,
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is available now on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Disney Interactive provided BGR with a copy of Fantasia: Music Evolved for this review.