Disney Universe Review

by on October 28, 2011

Disney Universe ReviewGame: Disney Universe

Developer: Eurocom

Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Windows, Mac OSX (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy” is the remarkably apt slogan that greets visitors to Disneyland, emblazoned on a plaque at the entrance to the seminal theme park. When it was opened in 1955, Disney were already a huge deal, veterans of thousands of classic animated movies, with Walt Disney himself the master screenwriter, producer, director, philanthropist; an iconic mogul whose vision helped the company grow into the all-encompassing industry behemoth we know today.

All those years on, technology allows us to virtually leave our mundane lives behind and escape into videogames, something that would have no doubt greatly excited the late Walt had he been around to see it. It was inevitable that Disney would hop onto the gaming bandwagon, and indeed under the guidance of many game studios over the years, there have been reams of tie-ins, some of them good (Aladdin, the early 90’s Mickey Mouse games, Kingdom Hearts, Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers) and many of them pretty poor, borderline shovelware, or just simplistic children’s games.

Recent times have seen Disney return to scintillating form on the theatrical screen, with the charming Princess And The Frog and Tangled garnering excellent reviews, along with the Disney-acquired Pixar Animation Studios, who are regarded as the premier Western purveyors of animated movies, second only to Studio Ghibli in this reviewer’s opinion, and have helped to swell the company coffers and awards trophy cabinet with genuine classic motion pictures like Up and Ratatouille.

The quality of the flicks on the big screen are also finally starting to be matched by their gaming counterparts, with the likes of Epic Mickey and Toy Story 3 receiving positive reviews from gamers. This is why when we learned that the next major Disney Interactive Studios offering promised a Disney-fied action platformer, drawing on over forty different characters from this magical world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy, we started getting a little bit excited. Disney Universe was calling, but was it going to be any good?

Disney Universe - Smug Characters

STORY: Disney Universe doesn’t have much of a plot really, but what thread of a story it does have serves its purpose well, holding together the myriad Disney characters and settings. The token plot involves a likeable anthropomorphic blue cube known as VIC (Virtual Information Cube), a little fella who helps run the Disney Universe, a sprawling virtual world created by robots, and consisting of representations of environments from a selection of classic Disney movies. It is a tranquil and peaceful place, where, as VIC points out at the beginning of the game, nobody gets hurt and nothing bad can happen to you. Unfortunately this warming sentiment no longer applies when the Disney Universe is hacked into by a malevolent outsider. Unlike in real life, where hackers tend to be isolative teenage boys with a grudge against society and an intravenous Mountain Dew drip, the culprit here is HEX, an evil black and red counterpart to VIC.

What this means is that you are charged with taking control of a grinning, LEGO-esque avatar, who, over six sprawling worlds based upon well-known movies (Pirates of the Carribean, Aladdin, Wall-E, Monsters Inc, The Lion King and Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland) has to restore order to the Disney Universe by defeating the bad guys all in the well known platform style.

SOUND: VIC and HEX are constantly talking throughout the game, yet strangely this didn’t irritate me in the way I thought it might. There are sound effects and voice snippets from the huge variety of characters involved, and some excellent reworkings of well known Disney musical scores, so that each of the six worlds feature tunes you will be familiar with from all of the respective films.

GRAPHICS: Big, bright and bold is the order of the day. Your characters are as fun to look at as they are to control, all manner of goofy facial expressions come to the fore, and the many different costumes are all instantly recognisable as representations of the numerous members of the Disney lore. The environments in which the action takes place are extremely evocative of the movies that inspired them. The opening stage, “Pirates Of The Carribean” features a heady romp through the maritime townships, pirate ships and caves that formed the backdrop of the recent Stranger Tides film sequel. The other stages are all excellently rendered with plenty of nods to their source material. With plenty of warm, terracotta hues and stunning purple and red skies, the Aladdin levels are a particular treat.

Disney Universe - Plasma Gun

GAMEPLAY: Not wanting to beat around the bush, Disney Universe does not push the envelope or reinvent the wheel for platform gaming. With its 3D, younger-gamer-friendly action, it is going to be lazily compared to the LEGO game franchise. Similarly, the costume changing elements are going to provoke talk of LittleBigPlanet, or even my favourite costume changing platform character, Kirby. But despite undoubtedly drawing upon a few influences here and there, it is hard to dislike what is a highly playable, competent platformer that features enough trickery and Disney fairy dust to warrant your time and money.

To kick things off, Disney Universe allows you to select one from a limited number of costumes, which will imbue your little cute smiling dude with the abilities and weaponry of the character it represents. You are then plunged into action, which consists of traversing the 3D landscapes, collecting the in-game currency (Disney logos), defeating enemies and solving puzzles. Along the way you can unlock new costumes, upgrade the abilities of your character, and access new levels by completing each stage.

Each of the levels is fully loaded with tons of puzzles, many of them cleverly specific to each area. This means that in Pirates world, for example, certain pathways are unlocked with use of the piratical weapon of choice a massive cannon; in Aladdin there are brain teasers involving magic carpets and snake charmers who can magically manipulate ropes for you to proceed. Some puzzles require certain items and costumes in order to progress, meaning that you have to return to certain areas later on in the game to access previously unreachable areas. The puzzles are simple, but fun and all highly logical, with variety and imagination ensuring you won’t get bored by repetition. Dotted around the landscape are arcade cabinets, which allow you to attempt one of a number of minigames. These break up the action quite nicely, with challenges like defeating a set number of enemies against the clock.

Combat is fairly simplistic and restricted to one button, however there are co-op attacks available when playing with more than one person, and the ability to pick up certain enemies to spin and throw around. There are power up icons dotted around which can either help you by granting temporary super powers or hinder you by cruelly transforming you into a random inanimate object. The enemies themselves are one of the best things about the game, rather than just going all-out to attack you or following predictable patterns, the Disney Universe features critters who intelligently attempt to hinder your process by setting traps and hiding the items you need in order to progress. The cunning little minions are also joined by end of level bosses, which are as imaginative as you would expect given the subject matter.

Disney Universe - White Rabbit

We mentioned co-op, and this is a superb way to play the game, allowing joint manoeuvres to kill bad guys, and even a competitive element as you, and up to three others, clash to see who can collect the most points and collectables.

LONGEVITY: With in excess of forty different costumes to unlock, and six reasonably large worlds to conquer, Disney Universe is a decent challenge, although one that experienced gamers will probably breeze through fairly quickly. Extra replay value comes with the fun co-operative mode, and the ability to “remix” and replay the levels you have completed in order to eke out every last secret and bonus.

VERDICT: Far more than a cynical exercise in making money off the good name of Disney, and doing enough to slap down the comparisons to similar looking games, this is an perfectly good platformer that stands as one of the best family-oriented titles I have played for some time. With gameplay challenging enough to hold my attention, it provides fun single-player, or multiplayer, action and oozes the same charm and appeal I have come to expect from the stellar upper-echelon Disney movies. This is an excellent purchase for parents wishing to give their kids a non-patronising, highly enjoyable present this Christmas.

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