Wii | Disney Interactive Studios / Eurocom Entertainment Software | 1-4 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk; Wii Remote (sideways)
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18th April 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
By the way the costume-wearing characters are portrayed and the props used to tell the different stories, Disney Universe's premise can be described as a series of unending dress rehearsals. Eager young fans of familiars like Buzz Lightyear and Mike Wazowski attempt to put on this expansive play as more of a substitution than a tribute to their heroes, never to experience the real thing of being a part of the actual worlds inhabited by those same heroes. It might seem more accurate to just spell out what the goal of the game actually is -- trying to preserve this Disney-themed digital world as evil creatures try to lay siege to everything -- but the former depiction is a superior way of describing the game as the substance-lacking recreation that it is.
Disney Universe can be played either by using the Wii Remote on its side (recommended for young players who may have a bit of trouble remembering what each button does) or holding the controller in an upright position with the Nunchuk plugged in. Controls basically involve jumping, interacting with objects, and attacking, with the most "complicated" move being when you hold down the B Button and try to drag objects into place. Combat is also very simple, so for the most part, it should be easy for a young player to understand how things work. We'll touch on combat more later on.
What stands in the way of children comprehending all that's required of them is the fact that the controls aren't always up to snuff. First, for simple tasks like going up to a ladder or some climbable ropes, your character doesn't always interact with these elements perfectly, and you may find yourself fumbling for a second or two just to get where you need to go. Second, there are times when you need to control a form of transport like a moveable cannon or a robotic duck to get past certain obstacles, but the controls here feel clunky every single time and kids will surely have a hard time just moving the darn things in a semi-straight line. And third, the game will sometimes ask you to press the B Button at somewhat random moments, like in the middle of a confrontation with a beefed-up enemy, and for some reason, the controls just aren't the most responsive in these scenarios either. The developers didn't make any terrible mistakes here and the game's controls aren't broken, but they still could've been better in this department.
The entire adventure is hosted by a computer system known as VIC who likes to provide occasional words of encouragement as well as temporary power-ups that will, for instance, turn your character into a tornado or stick a bee hive on your head. While I did think some of these bonuses were a smidge more original than expected, I would love to know whose idea it was to prevent affected characters from interacting with the environment -- not the destructible crates and whatnot, but the triggers. I admit that in some of these situations, it made sense, but the fact that I was forced to drop an item in my hand as soon as I picked up a shield was stupid.
VIC's evil doppelganger, HEX, is responsible for the enemies running amok in the different worlds who attempt to impersonate Disney characters just as well as the main cast try to pretend that they are their favourite heroes. Like his counterpart, HEX also likes to drop bonuses but these are of a disruptive nature with a bit of comic relief thrown in (like getting turned into a giant). I thought this character's voiceover and his introductions made him sound pretty scary whenever it was his time to shake up the gameplay in the rather trivial way that it does. Perhaps a little too much for the really young folk to turn a blind eye to. Repetitive announcements come from both of these characters; probably just as well since you already have constant notifications on what to do next. On the same note, there are some laughter sound effects both on menus and in the middle of gameplay that become really annoying when heard again and again, so that's something to be aware of also.
Disney Universe focuses on six familiar properties with the likes of classics such as The Lion King and more recent hits like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Each world won't take very long to complete as each contains three main levels with three (usually) short segments. These form a structure that admittedly doesn't always mesh perfectly. Although these smaller levels are tied together by the main setting and the world at large, the brevity often associated with these levels results in a slightly disjointed execution; the 'Universe' component would indeed be much better served by a stringing together of missions across a large space. At any rate, the individual levels are based off scenes taken from the movies the game pulls from, just acted out in the Universe "style" -- which, as it happens, gets lost in amongst all the Disneyfication, if you will. So for example, in one of the areas for the Pirates of the Caribbean world, you'll need to use Cursed Fire to transform your character in a Zombie that can get beyond underwater segments. Also, in the Monsters Inc. world, you'll scare children using switch-activated cardboard cutouts and collect scream canisters to power through to new areas. Honestly, it's a natural fit but again it comes back to just how much of the game's core is really standing out.
In line with this direction, the game utilizes soft mixes of themes from the movies to help immerse players into the world in such a way that feels familiar in an "Oh, I know that song" kind of way. They've also attempted to be quite consistent in the different locations you find yourself in, which is something that greatly shapes the level designs. I found the Agrabah levels, for example, were quite good aside from a couple problems I had with the scope of obstacles. There are some aspects to the environments that help push the concept's ties in driving the game's core. This is mostly seen in the different traps and structures, triggers you can interact with, and even some of the themed get-ups that the enemies are seen in. But these observable attributes are purely from a presentation standpoint; a dress-up if you will. When you look at the game for what it actually is, all the attempted throwbacks prove to be a moot point; a feeble distraction to gameplay that neither reflects the class of the properties the game references or even the standard conventions of a working adventure game worth its salt.
There are an abundance of places where Disney Universe shows itself to be a poorly-designed game even despite the attributes you may be inclined to accept as positive inclusions. First and foremost, it's a good thing you're not limited to lives in this game because the number of times you'll unavoidably get knocked out is ridiculous. Again, what you would normally lose in life points is replaced by a loss of Coins, not to mention an obstruction of progress that quickly gets irritatingly old. The presence of glitches is one thing -- yes, there's quite a bit of that as well -- but this is just poor design. Take the following example of traps set up by enemies. Now, in addition to setting up turrets, some of HEX's minions can construct strips of spike traps if you fail to catch them in the act. There were multiple instances where I had no choice but to run into these traps because there was simply no way around them, despite the fact that, in an open area, the enemies can choose to set up shop anywhere they like. In one level, I had to cross a bridge while riding a cannon and I literally had to go right through the trap and suffer damage. In another instance, a trap was set up right behind a stationary cannon I was manning on one of the Pirates of the Caribbean stages, which resulted in me getting pierced as soon as I tried to jump off. In truth, though, this doesn't even begin to cover the number of times you "die" in this game because of idiotic causes.
What's far more aggravating is the behaviour of the enemies when you're trying to carry an item or operate a trigger like a spinning wheel. It becomes difficult to hold onto items while there's tens of annoying enemies cluttering your vision and attacking you mercilessly during your defenseless state. Picture that same situation but in a room where the gravity has changed and everyone is on the ceiling as you try to figure out the reversed controls while holding onto a keycard and subsequently activating a switch. Needless to say, problems do arise. I can't tell you how many times I was faced with this predicament where my ability to make progress was impeded because of enemies that would normally be easy to defeat. It quickly turned me off and I could easily see kids wanting to cave under the surmounting pressure as they start to lose Coins just for trying to make progress and do what the game asks!
And speaking of combat, as you try to get into the experience, it'll be so quick before you realize just how incredibly shallow the gameplay really is. As stated before, combat is indeed rather simple, and that's fine. But it sure says a lot when things reach a point where you feel tired attacking enemies and just want it to be over. This becomes a powerful force that overrides any fun that might be realized by working co-operatively in a team, simply solving a puzzle, or just reliving a scene from a Disney movie that you remember quite well. The game doesn't feel totally soulless, though. In fact, when you put aside the core basis for this game's comprisal, you just might be able to say unflinchingly that the game is a tad original in one or two areas. But it's just plain stupidity and bad design that gets in the way of any kind of immersion, lightheartedness and memory-making fun that the developers were likely striving for in these situations.
The game also suffers from a lot of ill-placed, even incoherent obstacles and challenges. Uncovering a tiled picture with a man-made cobra spinning 'round and round in the center? Constantly carrying Triton's sword and sticking it into marked holders to be allowed into a new part of the level? As exciting as these little puzzles sound, the third area in each level is almost always even more unappealing than the normal stages. Some of these are actually bosses where you may do battle against Jafar (or at least, Universe's version of him) or collect crystallized tear drops from a crying mermaid. If you thought that last one sounded like a lot of fun, there's plenty more where that came from. Whether you're trying to clear a winter lodge of enemies or lower a tower of doors, these levels are marked by a special guest encased in a prison at the end. Clearing the main challenge that comes before it will free them, but instead of them instantly getting added to the roster of selectable characters, they still have to be purchased from the Shop, believe it or not. Talk about a slap in the face. This is such a stupid excuse to try and get players to keep collecting coins so they can unlock costumed characters that should really be accessible immediately.
Seriously though, there are some exceptions to these groups of levels that are actually kind of enjoyable. Like, for example, in one of the Aladdin stages, characters need to make their way out of a cave as a wave of magma rushes forward from behind. And just to backpedal a bit for the sake of argument, the platforming isn't all bad, so it's not like the game's level designs add greatly to the flaws associated with the gameplay. However, as has been shown above, these present their own set of issues that, when put together with everything else, leaves you feeling like a cranky child who finds reason to whine even when given the chance to meet their hero in person.
One other problem I have with this game is how quickly it runs into a corner that other licensed games have trapped themselves in. Instead of Disney Universe serving as a nice exploratory adventure as the name would reasonably suggest, the so-called secrets in this game are regularly in plain sight and easily attainable! Either that or they can be found in areas where the camera makes it obvious that there's something to be sought after. This completely squashes the game's ability to retain worthwhile replay value, and with there being great potential to extend the gameplay experience beyond the initial playing hours, it's sad to see the developers didn't even try to make advances in this respect. With other unlockables boiling down to such things as concept artwork, there's absolutely no reason why you'd want to make this universe your new home -- as if you had ample reason already!
Although Disney Universe has been positioned as a co-operative experience, the game ridiculously becomes even more problematic when you're not going it alone. I'm really close to saying that I guarantee that many of the multiplayer sessions in this game will have a common trait: players will constantly be asking where one is during gameplay. When I played this with a group of family members, the comments that were heard were often of the same general feeling. "Where am I?" and "What's going on?" were the two most common utterances that were heard in my living room, and this is despite the fact that you can enter your initials to make it easier to identify where you are on the screen. Truthfully, when playing in this kind of setting, there is simply too much going on at once! Instead of shining as a well-oiled machine, the team will most assuredly fail at trying to have a steady pace of teamwork going. What this leaves, then, is the player with literally the most focused eye of the group constantly directing teammates as they themselves try not to lose their place in all the kerfuffle.
It's not even that the game is hectic in these situations to allow that teamwork component to come to the fore. That would, under normal circumstances, signify good game design. No, Disney Universe is just plain messy in its execution, and this fact becomes even more clear when you bring some friends along for the ride. Never mind just the fact that there's this combative element of inaccessibility present in sessions that should be marked with calculated decisions and team-building, the fact that game has been developed with kids in mind makes these issues simply unacceptable. And for me to witness how far the ball was dropped with this game was completely unexpected.
I've touched on this a number of times already, but just to make a full statement out of it: the components used to tie everything together almost feel like an afterthought in themselves. You have to agree this is incredibly ironic for an experiment that relies on the brand to hide its insecurities. If you strip away the attempted atmosphere that tries to hold the game up and remove the Disney nods, you're left with a not-so-classy attempt at a game. Besides that, though, I can't help but feel like Disney Universe started out as an adventure game where the basic levels were designed and the gameplay was put in place, but they needed the Disney brand to allow it to flourish. It's that slight feeling of disconnect that was only made clear after I was exposed to the unexpected cornucopia of problems.
Disney Universe is such a tremendous disappointment, not only for the kids who deserve a quality game, but also for me, someone who saw promise in the concept but has been forced to rethink that original disposition. In all of this mess, filled with frustration, confusion and shallow gameplay realization, I truly struggled to find a shred of fun factor. Even if the atmosphere isn't at all heartwarming or moving in any fashion and the reliance on the Disney brand has led to a situation where the 'Universe' component gets crowded out, I can definitely appreciate what they were trying to do. Sadly, the various executions just don't add up. They don't feel harmonious with the core vision that was backing what was really such a loose concept to begin with, and instead of this being a pleasure to play through, Disney Universe will be quickly cast aside as an inferior piece of entertainment as new Disney tributes come along. More than all this, it's awfully surprising to witness how flawed the game is in so many respects from the inside out, and with the flaws being way too dominant for me to even come close to recommending this, there is just cause to label this contrived experiment as a failure of muddled proportions.
12/30 - Very Poor
Gameplay 3/10 - Not broken but really flawed in many capacities, incredibly shallow and messy, frustrating AI, an abundance of areas that reflect poor design
Presentation 6/10 - Glitches, disorganized at times, problems with their attempt to draw from the Disney brand, music is fine, some good environments
Enjoyment 1/5 - Simply not fun, co-op element overshadowed by messy gameplay, unacceptable issues that kids will have trouble with, ridiculous at times
Extra Content 2/5 - Low replay value, minimal exploration, weak use of secrets and unlockables, must purchase freed guests, absolutely not worth buying
Equivalent to a score of 40% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System