For the past decade, developer Harmonix has been dominating the rhythm game genre, first with their Guitar Hero/Rock Band franchise and then with Dance Central. But while those games have been the source of endless fun at parties, they haven’t been as accessible as some gamers might hope.
With Fantasia: Music Evolved, however, Harmonix is taking a more all-encompassing approach to rhythm game development. They’re improving on the general conceit of a Rock Band or Dance Central (i.e. completing specific actions in line with the music), while at the same time pairing down those essential rhythmic requirements for a more family-friendly experience.
At E3 2014, Harmonix gave us a closer look at both the single player and multiplayer for Fantasia: Music Evolved, highlighting what has changed since last we saw the game and giving us substantial time to play it. Up until that point, we had only seen the game in conceptual bits and pieces — vertical slices, if you will — but with the game set to release later this year it was finally time to see what exactly Fantasia is all about.
Much like their previous efforts, Harmonix packages the rhythm game portions of Fantasia around a narrative element. In this case, players take on the role of Yensid’s new apprentice and are tasked with exploring the various worlds the sorcerer has created. Each environment has a different theme – our demo featured a level called “The Neighborhood” – and it is up to the player to breathe life back into these worlds by completing songs. The more songs the player completes, the more vibrant the world becomes.
In addition to changing the environment, completing songs also unlocks special mini games wherein players manipulate on-screen elements to create a “song” of their own, or even to add a little more personality to the world. In essence, players are creating a short 30-second piece of instrumental music that will then become part of that environment’s soundtrack. It’s certainly a tiny gameplay element in the grand scheme of things, but one that adds back into the story.
But make no mistake, Fantasia‘s core gameplay is still rhythm and timing-based, only with players waving their hands in tune with the music. For those that might not be familiar, the main goal of Fantasia is to have players looking like Sorcerer Mickey from Fantasia, but most will develop their own style. Some will immerse themselves in each song, be it Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” or M.I.A.’s “Galang,” while others will flail about desperately trying to keep time. All are valid options, even if they don’t look so great from an outsider’s perspective.
In the end, though, that’s what will presumably make Fantasia a more accessible rhythm game. Any player can step in front of the Xbox One camera and find success with little assistance. It’s much easier to swipe or wave your arms in tune with your music than it is to perform a dance move or hit a series of buttons on a plastic guitar.
That same sentiment is carried into multiplayer, which sees two gamers waving their arms in a rhythmic fashion. There’s still that scoring element fueling the competition, with players trying to chain together the most in-tune actions, but Fantasia‘s multiplayer feels like a cooperative dance more than anything else. And as with any Harmonix release, Fantasia is great fun with a friend.
For as much as Fantasia: Music Evolved is a more approachable rhythm game, it still takes some time to get used to. Obviously, knowing the track’s key beats will help, but it’s ultimately about considering all future motions not just the most immediate one. Once players can do that, though, they should have no problem hitting high scores, and having a lot of fun in the process.
And that’s what Fantasia appears to be: pure family friendly fun. Will it be as deep as Harmonix’s previous efforts? Probably not, but a partnership with Disney should have clued anyone into that fact rather quickly. Moreover, gamers shouldn’t look at the “Music Evolved” label as an indicator of Fantasia‘s challenge. The game features refined rhythm gameplay and motion controls, but it’s much easier to pick up and play. You don’t need a lot of space and frankly you don’t need rhythm, all you need is a love of music.
What do you think of Fantasia: Music Evolved? Does it seem like the type of rhythm game you would be interested in?
Fantasia: Music Evolved releases Octboer 21, 2014 for Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
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