We’ve had Disneyland, Disney World, and now there’s Disney Universe. I guess it was only a matter of time before Uncle Walt went interplanetary.
Not the name of Eisner’s next frontier into space, Disney Universe is actually the title of the up-coming Disney multi-player, multi-character platformer-cum-action bash-em-up; coming to Wii, PS3 and digital download at the end of this month. If that sounds a bit chaotic, that’s because it is.
In recent years, Disney have been embracing the meta-textual. Whether it’s seeing Belle stood next to Mulan in the Disney Princesses merchandise, or having Captain Jack Sparrow fight alongside Goofy and Donald Duck in the Kingdom Hearts game series. Disney have obviously taken note from the Superfriends series and have realised every kids’ dream of creating a fighting team of their favourite heroes and villains. Aladdin and Mufasa and Hades all in one troupe? Yeeeeah!
Except no. Sorry. There’s a limit imposed on this inter-story interaction. Take a look at the front of your Disney Princesses lunchbox (don’t worry, I know you have one and it’s OK) and notice how none of the characters are looking each other in the eye. It’s all a bit Stepford Wives, isn’t it? But according to Disney, it’s so they don’t “spoil the magic” of the original stories. I kind of see the point – as a child of the eighties and nineties I know my Maleficents from my Gastons but if they start mingling together, how are future generations going to know who’s who and what’s where?
So how are Disney going to keep both parties happy? The answer is simple: Cosplay.
In many ways, the game has already drawn comparisons to Little Big Planet. You get to pick your character from a roster of 40 (most of which you will obtain by completing in-game challenges), ranging from relative newbies like Wall-E and EVE to familiar faces like TRON and Simba. There are six worlds, each inspired by the Disney/Pixar universe to explore. It certainly has the same cute, fantasy charm of Little Big Planet series: when you consider that the last major Disney game was the startlingly dark Epic Mickey, Disney Universe seems like the perfect antidote.
But is it enough? On my search for screenshots, I’ve spotted avatars of a few of my favourite characters, but underneath every article or YouTube video there’s always the alternative view. “Why isn’t there a Hades one?” or “Where’s the ‘Under the Sea’ level?”. I sort of agree – how are six worlds considered a ‘Universe’? Kingdom Hearts had more worlds than that – granted KH wasn’t a short game, but it was more RPG than Action-Adventure. How long do you expect players to find collecting coins and bashing scenery fun in the same six areas before they get a bit bored? You can’t please ’em all, can you Disney.
While speculation is still rife about the game’s content, Disney Interactive have been dangling a juicy prospect in front of cynics such as I: downloadable content. Suddenly it all makes sense! How perfect! It’s like a less fiddly version of The Sims: you set up in a relatively small world and then add to it over time. Over exactly how much time is yet to be known, as DI are keeping famously tight-lipped.
The game looks like a lot of fun, and it might just snatch the title of “Most Played Casual Party Game” from under Super Smash Bros. Brawl nose in my household, but I can’t help but stress the emphasis on ‘casual’. Just as I would recommend Twilight Princess and Donkey Kong Country to fans of SSBB, so would I recommend Kingdom Hearts or Epic Mickey to those unsure about Disney Universe‘s longevity, or those thinking it looks a bit ‘young’ for them. Keep an eye out for it later this month: it’s sure to be the stand-out title in casual Action-Adventure games until long after Christmas.
(Released October 28th for Wii, PS3 and PC digital download.)