So much friendlier with two.
Well, it seems the Disney Imagineers have been at it again. This time, they've re-imagined some of Disney's top-grossing flicks into immersive worlds where tasks abound. Disney Universe is a sometimes frustrating adventure through familiar settings where the goal is to free characters and win lots of gold. Popular productions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Wall-E, are just two of the game's jump-off points. No matter the venue, I had a lot more fun with this than I thought I would, and I'm not even the target audience. That being said, I did my best to channel my inner 8-year-old while reviewing Disney Universe, keeping an eye out for pitfalls, of which there are a few, but they have easy workarounds. Given the right set up, Disney Universe will allow kids to get maximum joy out of playing in its kingdom.
From the outset, the guide in Disney Universe hints that it should be played with teammates. Heed these suggestions. The antagonizing bots that appear are both numerous and impossible to avoid. Once they show up, you can forget about accomplishing the current challenge until they are all dead. Just drop whatever you are doing and kill them all. It only takes one of those sneaky so-and-so's to get you, so be thorough; you have endless lives, but it's never fun to die. Killing all the bots is easier said than done, and would be ever so much easier in multiplayer mode. My 8-year-old self hasn't made many friends lately, so it was all up to her. She nearly gave up and declared the game stupid, but then the grown-up me took over and skimmed the manual.
If you give this game as a gift, you will want to do the same for yourself. Open up the manual and commit the special attacks to memory; they're simple—the most complex is a 3-button combo. Learning the Double-Jump Ground Slam Attack is essential. Although the game will pop up hints along the way, and how to perform the slam attack is one of those hints, it comes too late and in the middle of a melee brawl when you may not have time to read it. Perhaps this was a strategic decision on the game designer's part to make things more challenging and extend replay value, but it's also a big risk.
I've purchased more than a few perfectly enjoyable games that my real child dismissed after five minutes because the game was “too hard”. When a game is frustrating, kids tend not to want to play. It would be a shame to have Disney Universe relegated to the heap of untouchables, because it is really well-done, visually impressive, and fun (as long as you can kill the bots). Without the slam attack, you may as well save yourself the trip to the store and throw 50 bucks directly into the trash.
Another thing the gift-giver may want to consider, at least at first, is playing with the child. I know you probably want the game in order to get the rugrat out of your hair. The distraction capabilities of this game are very high, but only after you give your kid the tools to be successful. Once he has the controls down, he can pass on his knowledge to his peers, or if he's really good, he can defeat the bots on his own. Playing with a partner will really cut down on the frustration level early on. You might even find yourself enjoying the game. Remember when you had to sit through Aladdin (not the video game) and pretend to like it? The Imagineers pay you back with Disney Universe. This time you won't have to pretend.
If you've ever vacationed at one of the Disney parks, the next pitfall won't come as a surprise. Things are really expensive in Disney Universe. You start off in an “arrr”-duous setting: The Pirates of the Caribbean. There are so many things to accomplish that you may be inclined to simply go about doing what you are directed to do. This would be a mistake, because in order to advance you'll need gold. Lots of gold. Unlocking the next world will cost you 2000, so remember to break open every cask and crate you see along the way.
The last pitfall may be as unavoidable as it is inevitable: Disney Universe gets repetitive. Kind of like standing in line for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland for the fifth time... somewhere among the fake hanging vines you'll wonder why. Sure, it's an exciting ride, and maybe you have a fast-pass, but why subject yourself to the torture of standing in line over and over? The answer is clear. It's all about presentation.
Imagineers make standing in line fun. In Disney Universe, they do the same. Even though every level has some form of a crank and a cannon you have to assemble and most have collecting tasks, the Imagineers make it new in each world. In the Lion King world, you collect bones; in the Pirates world, mermaid tears. The universe of Wall-E and Monsters Inc. invert the playing field while the Aladdin world speeds up the intensity. The things you have to collect or assemble meld nicely with the world you inhabit and the creativity will not go unnoticed. Even with all the flash, the repetition shows through the veil of presentation, especially to older players.
All of this is not to say Disney Universe is not a top-shelf pick. Creativity covers up many of the imperfections, the artwork in the backdrops is unrivaled in a kids game, and best of all, it's extremely entertaining. You don't have to be a kid to enjoy Disney Universe. Heed the pitfalls and choosing this game off your shelf will be an easy decision for any member of the family.
Review based on X360 version. Copy provided by publisher.