Disney Universe Review
Don't judge a game by it's cover. When looking at Disney Universe, it's easy to write it off as a game "just for kids." Despite the light-hearted nature of the game and the Disney backdrop, there is actually more to the game than meets the eye. Yes, Disney Universe can be considered a child's game, and yes, the gameplay is fairly simplistic, but you would you say the LEGO games are just for kids? No sir, you wouldn't. On the contrary, they are charming, interactive games that take our most beloved franchises and make it so anyone with thumbs can understand, play, and enjoy. Disney Universe is no different, except for the fact that it places us in the universes of some of our favorite Disney classics, along with some of the modern ones.
The concept of Disney Universe is as simple as it comes. You suit up in the character costume of your choice and play as your favorite Disney characters as you explore and battle in the worlds of Monsters Inc., Pirates of the Caribbean, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, The Lion King, and my personal favorite, Wall-E. It's about time some Pixar films got some love from Disney.
Guiding you on these adventures while providing power-ups and bonuses is VIC, short for Virtual Information Cube. VIC takes the form of a blue cube that floats around the world, and when picked up, provides the player with a special ability for a short time. These abilities include 1-hit boxing gloves, a ray gun, or a stun gun. Of course, there is also VIC's counter-productive evil alter-ego, Hex. Hex is the game's villain, and is the reason these worlds are now filled with danger. Hex provides negative power-ups, called Curses, aimed at hindering a players progression. These curses take the form of a red "Hex" cube and chase you around the arena for a limited time. If they touch you, you are afflicted with a negative effect for a short time, like turning into a chicken or having your head transformed into a ticking time bomb.
What sets Disney Universe apart from other Disney games is that it is the first game to ever bring together characters and universes from multiple Disney films into one game. It allows you to play a "character" from one film in the world of another. The way they get around this is with the use of character costumes, rather than the actual character. For instance, instead of actually being Aladdin, you are a creature wearing Aladdin's costume.
In all, there are 45 costumes (easily expandible with DLC) in which players can choose from, ranging from the roach in Wall-E to the "Fab Five" (That's Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto for all you youngsters out there). Granted, the majority of the costumes are locked at first. As you play thorugh the game, you'll unlock new costumes for each of the game's worlds. Once you unlock that costume, you have to buy it in the Costume Shop with coins, which are collected throughout the level by breaking boxes and defeating enemies. Each costume has a special tool (weapon) which is upgraded by collecting hidden stars.
The majority of the gameplay consists of entering a Universe and solving straightforwards "puzzles" that are made clear by giant blue arrows directing you where to go next. No one said the game was challenging. Though the levels are as linear as it gets, it's still pretty easy to get lost in the Disney environments of Wall-E and The Lion King. As I mentioned earlier, the game contains six worlds. It may not sound like a lot, but each world contains three locations, and each location consists of three levels. That's a pretty lengthy 54 levels at launch. Granted, the levels are fairly short and pretty simplistic, but take into account all of the hidden collectibles and you can find yourself spending quite a bit of time in each world. Not to mention it's a Disney universe, so you're going to want to soak in the environment for as long as possible.
The game is all about collectibles. Between fighting possessed robots and putting together pieces of the puzzle, you can hunt collectibles. There are stars, coins, rewards, animals, and world collectibles. Stars are collected to upgrade your tools for more powerful hits. They also have an additional purpose in the multiplayer games, which I will get to later. Coins are collected by defeating enemies, breaking boxes, and destroying the environment. Coins are used to purchase items from the Costume Shop and Online Shop. They are also uses to unlock new worlds. If that weren't enough to keep you busy, there are world collectibles, or bonus items for each Disney world. Finding all of the bonus items in a level unlocks new Disney art, characters, and music. As easy as it is completing the levels, it's pretty difficult to find all of the bonuses. Though you don't technically "collect' animals, you can find them throughout the different levels and ride them around. It's pointless, but fun. Lastly, there are rewards. Defeating challenges unlocks rewards in the form of new tools, power-ups, and new unlocked items. Some can be used right away, others have to be purchased in the shops with coins. Though simplistic in design, it's quite time consuming and fun for those who enjoy playing scavenger.
Now, as I said, some of these collectibles have more than one purpose. That purpose is determining the multiplayer winner. While Disney Universe is a fun single-player game, the true adventure begins when you play with some buddies. The unique thing about multiplayer in Disney Universe is that even though you are technically teaming up with friends, you're also competing with them. You're going through worlds on an adventure, completing challenges, but at the same time, you are competing in those challenges with the very friends who are helping you. Furthermore, you have VIC's alternate personality fueling the competitive fires in between each level, whispering an alternative use for the tip that VIC provides. For example, VIC may say, "You can carry a teammate to help them get past an area when they are stuck." Alternatively, Hex will rebuke, "You can also thrown them off the world." Additional mayhem is encouraged through Hex's curses, which can be passed from player to player.
What makes Disney Universe multiplayer so fun is the friendly competition. In multiplayer games, stars are counted toward part of your overall score. Similarly, you are ranked by the number of coins you have. The coins score is combined with your stars score, in addition with other scores to determine the overall winner. Remember, it's a Disney game, so it's hard to get too upset. It's kind of like Mario Party. There's a competition, but it doesn't really mean anything, and the only important thing is that you're all having fun living out your Disney adventures in the films you grew up watching.
My only complaint is the combat. While there are actual special attacks in the game, like an uppercut slam and double-jump ground slam attack, it's pretty hard to see what's going on. The levels get pretty crammed with the rapid spawning of enemies combined with the flashy particles of attacks. It's often hard to see your health below your character and often leads to a lot of "death". Though you don't really die; you simply respawn two seconds later. It is a Disney game, afterall.
To put it simply, Disney Universe is a fun play. It's definitely not the most innovative of games, but it plays as intended. It takes the LEGO approach in the sense that, at it's core, it's easy to get the hang of, but despite it's simplistic design, there's actually much more to do than meets the eye. It's a fun, time consuming game that's enjoyable solo or with a group of friends. Take into account it's lower-than-average $49.99 price point and you've got yourself a pretty purchase. Disney Interactive should not only be commended for a good game, but for the fact that they managed to do what no other company has ever done before, bring characters from one Disney movie into the universe of another. You don't have to be a Disney fanatic to appreciate what they did with Disney Universe.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]