The Kinect is an interesting little gadget. It simultaneously has the most potential of any of the weird peripherals we’ve seen in the last generation or so of consoles and is also the least supported. The new version of Kinect that accompanied the Xbox One for the first seven months of its existence is capable of taking in so much interesting information that the possibilities are limitless for ways it could be used.
Gamers, however, didn’t take as readily to having an all-seeing eye atop their television sets, and the negative view of the device kept developers away from it. At most, a few integrated voice commands that sometimes kind of worked, but most didn’t even bother. That left the device in the hands of the few who were willing to go all in, Harmonix among them.
This fall has seen the release of Dance Central Spotlight and Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, just months after Microsoft released a Kinectless version of the Xbox One to better compete with the PlayStation 4’s lower price.
Disney Fantasia is, more than likely, the last big Kinect game we’ll see. So is it a last hurrah, or a final death rattle for the troubled peripheral?
Step Up to the Rostrum
In a perfect world, this would’ve been a launch game. Maybe even a pack-in. The Xbox One’s menu system does a good job showing what the Kinect can do with voice recognition, and Disney Fantasia is a great way to show how well it handles gesture and skeletal tracking.
In short, Disney Fantasia works, and it’s a fun game.
Mechanically, Disney Fantasia works better than I could’ve hoped. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but the few times it didn’t recognize a move weren’t enough to really interfere with the fun. The game isn’t handled like some of its plastic instrument-fueled predecessors that linked your self-esteem directly to the number of notes missed, so it’s easier to shrug off the occasional drop.
In Disney Fantasia, you play as the conductor. This is both the literal description of your role in the story – you’re the successor to Mickey’s legacy – and a good way to describe how the game is played. At first, it feels like you’re just flailing to the beat, but once you get used to the moves the game asks of you, you start to feel like a conductor. When you move accurately, the instruments play as expected, and when you miss a few strikes, the music fades.
The sounds you end up creating with all this surprisingly tiring work are the best part of the experience. Each song has two remixes and, as you play through the song, you choose at various points which instruments should be pulled from which remixes. Some of the remixes are genuinely good, and the combinations of classical, electronic, and rock tunes can end up being really memorable.
During each song and throughout each of the different areas of the campaign, you are given the chance to compose a short sample yourself, created by moving across different on-screen elements, manipulating a line, lighting up gems – that kind of thing. This allows you to make your own small contribution to the song.
When it works, this is a neat idea, but this part was, to me, the only noticeable trouble with the motion control. As much as the songs themselves worked quite well with the motion control, these segments were more trouble than they were worth. Once you’ve composed your beat, you set your hands down to let the game know to record what you’ve created. The only problem is the sensor didn’t recognize three or four times out of five when I’d set my hands down, and it just continued to record motionless silence. Even after finishing the campaign, I still haven’t figured out the exact secret for making this part of the game work. It’s a small part, but it’s present in every track, so it can be aggravating at times.
The Wrong Kind of History
All of this conducting action is framed through a cute, fluffy story. You, as the newest (and most gifted) apprentice, are tasked with defeating the shapeless noise threatening Fantasia by – what else – playing songs. You encounter another apprentice named Scout and, as you can’t interact with the characters directly, the story really ends up being about her. It’s a flimsy, unnecessary frame to give you an excuse to unlock songs and remixes.
The requirement that you unlock songs is, hands down, the game’s biggest failing. If you want to play a song outside the campaign, you have to unlock it first. On top of that, you only unlock the first remix of the song on your first time through, requiring you to play through it a second time to use the second remix.
This feels like an effort to pad out the game with extra playtime and an unnecessary throwback to the first round of music games. It doesn’t add anything of value to the game. This is balanced by the ability to toggle party mode on and off, which unlocks all songs and remixes, but turns off the ability to get achievements.
Exploration through Active Listening
One of my favorite parts of Harmonix’s Rock Band series is also what I like the most about Disney Fantasia. Once again, Harmonix has found a fun mechanic that doesn’t lose novelty and gives us a fresh way to actively listen to music. So often, music is relegated to the background, whether in games or in real life. With Disney Fantasia, you’re required to concentrate all your attention on the music – you’re not going to get distracted by your phone, social media, a website, or whatever.
When you’re concentrating on every beat and shift in a song, suddenly other parts of it come alive. You’ll hear instruments singled out that you’d never paid attention to. They were there, but part of the wall of sound a song can turn into when it’s stuck in the background.
The mix of songs in Disney Fantasia is an odd one, but it serves this idea well. There’s a little bit of something here for just about anyone, and even songs or artists you might not like suddenly become interesting. If you prefer the more classical bent of the original Fantasia movie, you have options like Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9: From the New World, 4th Movement.” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” make up some of the classic and 80s rock, while Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” are a couple of the modern tracks.
As you play through each of these songs, remixing them, you’ll experience them in different ways. You get an opportunity to listen to the lyrics of songs in detail, to hear how they might sound in different styles, to concentrate on the different sounds, and to just enjoy the whole creation as well.
Disney Fantasia is a fun, family-friendly way to interact with and enjoy music. It’s a great use of the Xbox One’s Kinect sensor as well, one that shows how much fun the sensor can be to use and how much we’re missing out on as it fades away. This is likely the Kinect’s last big new title – aside from some possible Just Dance and Dance Central updates – but it’s a very good one. If you’re craving a way to use your Kinect or get your Harmonix fix, this is the way to do it.
Disclaimer: We purchased Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved for the Xbox One with company funds, and we played through the single player campaign before writing this review.