Game Rant's Jeff Schille reviews Disney Universe.
Into the comparative void of high-profile console games aimed at younger players this holiday season pops Disney Universe, a brightly colored action/platform romp for one to four players. Does the game, developed by Eurocom (GoldenEye 007: Reloaded), deliver a galaxy full of fun, or is this Universe mostly empty? Read on for our full review of Disney Universe.
Disney Universe sets itself up as an online, Disney-themed playground for gamers around the world. But, wouldn't you know it, just as the service is launching for the first time, things manage to go inexplicably wrong. Now, it's up to the player(s) to enter each of the game's six worlds (Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Wall-E, Monsters, Inc., Alice, and Lion King) and set things straight with light puzzle solving, simple platforming, and lots of smashing things.
If the formula sounds familiar, it should: it closely mirrors the recipe for success that Traveller's Tales has long used for the tremendously popular LEGO games. That said, even small kids who struggle with the LEGO games should have no trouble with Disney Universe -- the game is clearly designed for young players.
Disney Universe gets off to a strange start with its character designs. Rather than assume the role of any iconic Disney or Pixar heroes, players are depicted as squarish, squat, plastic-y cartoon children wearing Disney costumes. As a conceit, it makes sense, but given a choice between playing as Mickey Mouse or some kid dressed like Mickey Mouse, who wouldn't pick the "real" Mickey? On the plus side, unlocking, collecting, and powering up new costumes is a major goal in the game, and will keep players busy for at least a couple of complete playthroughs.
Disney Interactive has been responsible for some great looking games lately, including last Summer's fantastic Cars 2. Disney Universe continues that trend. Character issues aside, the stages are occasionally striking, particularly the Aladdin levels. Careful color work and an abundance of film-specific details make each stage a fun game of "spot the reference" that won't go over the heads of young Disney fans. Areas are small and easily navigated, and should players ever be at a loss for what to do, a glowing blue arrow points the way forward.
While Disney Universe delivers on the technology front (in addition to looking and sounding nice, DU is refreshingly free of game breaking bugs and glitches), its competing goals -- solve puzzles to exit levels, smash everything and everyone to hoard currency -- aren't well integrated, and the game never finds a good way to bridge them.
To its great credit, Disney Universe adjusts its puzzles based on the number of people playing. Players are actually all alone in single player mode, with no computer controlled characters around for assistance. In multiplayer mode, cooperation is the only way to succeed, as most puzzles absolutely require, for instance, one player to stand on a switch while another fetches a key item.
Because Disney Universe can't provide a compelling reason for players to fight one another (beyond simply encouraging them to do so), it constantly throws wave after wave of easily dispatched enemies at them. The enemies are a nuisance in the most literal sense of the word, serving no real purpose other than to slow progress through the short levels. Combat itself is appropriately flashy though simple to master, and is likely to put a smile on the faces of Kingdom Hearts fans. Players should expect to die again and again, but failure never impedes progress.
The muddled multiplayer design means that Disney Universe actually works better as a single player game, where its simple, classic platforming charms come to the foreground. To be clear, the game is capable of keeping groups entertained, but players who actually want to make progress are apt to go it alone.
That progress could take some time. Disney Universe includes a generous number of levels: each of the game's six worlds are divided into three stages that are in turn sub-divided into three chapters. The problem is that the chapters are often very slight variations on one another, and players are tasked with completing the same objectives over and over again. While that repetition ensures that the game remains accessible to its intended audience, it also means that adults invited to play along are unlikely to be entertained.
Despite a solid audio visual package and a wealth of content, Disney Universe never quite comes together as a seamless whole. Even transitions between different worlds require that players exit all the way out to the game's main menu. While the young players who are clearly the game's target audience may well be swept away by the combat and the collecting, more seasoned players will find that Disney Universe's tricks have been performed before -- and better -- by other games.
Disney Universe is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PC. Game Rant reviewed the Xbox 360 version of the game.
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