Fantasia: Music Evolved Review

Lee Abrahams

Every now and then I stare at the bonus dust catcher that came with my pristine new Xbox One and wonder why Microsoft even bothered naming it. I mean Kinect is a weird name for something that helps to keep your house clean. Ooooooh, maybe it’s connecting dust motes together or something? Think about it. It totally makes sense. Obviously that big old brick has a secondary purpose for playing games, allegedly that is, as there has been a severe dearth of Kinect-only titles since MS first decided we ALL should have Kinect and then reasoned we might not want it after all. So is Harmonix's Fantasia: Music Evolved the game to finally break the mould? (And by mould I mean the fungal stain that was Fighter Within).

A rhythm game from Harmonix can’t ever be a bad thing, as they are the undoubted masters of the genre, and Fantasia tries something a little bit different from the get go. Instead of the traditional singing, dancing and instrument playing you take on the role of an overarching conductor, directing the musical melody as it happens. Just like a certain mouse did in the film/bizarre musical montage of the same name, though mercifully I didn’t spot any of my household cleaning equipment springing to life and causing a big damn mess everywhere.

Time for some orchestral fireworks.

The controls are fairly intuitive and, considering it's the first Kinect game I’ve played on the One, the sensor managed to pick up each and every move with no major issues. If you miss a cue then it’s on you, rather than the equipment, which saves a bunch of frustration. Simply put, cues will appear on screen, arrows need you to sweep your arm in their direction, circles need you to punch forward, a sweep with a circle is a sweep and hold and so on. The first group of songs are designed to guide you through all of the basic moves and familiarise you with what's going on. All the moves merely require your arms, so it’s also a very handy Kinect game to have even if you are low on space as it managed to pick me up quite nicely even in a smaller room (though for some reason it still got annoyed if I strayed too close to the camera). However, be warned that, as with most Kinect games, it can feel like a bit of a workout after a while.

One early gripe is that the loading screens are fairly intrusive and lengthy (for a console game) and tend to pop up far too often. Head to a new zone and it’s a loading screen, followed by a ten second musical intro to the area and then another loading screen. Head into the nearest song for, you guessed it, another loading screen. It’s a pain and not helped by the fact that the first bunch of them are just blank screens, to be replaced by blank screens with the odd tip. Even restarting a song mid-game sees yet another load too, which is a bother. Hardly the Disney magic at work here.

Still, once you realise that every song has a moment of blankness before it, then you can continue, and it honestly becomes less noticeable the more you play. Heading into the main game sees you tasked with becoming the new apprentice to the Sorcerer Yen Sid (WE ALL KNOW THAT IS JUST DISNEY SPELT BACKWARDS!), and being guided around by the rather vocal muse Percy – who comes across as a low budget version of Wheatley from Portal 2. Once you’ve learned the ropes then you can hop into various regions and take on songs to unlock new mixes, composition spells and secrets.

The resident DJ likes to……..monkey around?

What, what, what? I hear you cry. Well, here is where the fun comes in. Each song has three mixes available: the original version that you may know and love (plus Drake), plus two other ones that jazz things up bit with the latter being unlocked by hitting a set goal for each song. Once you have new mixes available, then each track can change dramatically. You can set up a medley of mixes before you start a tune, but then after a series of notes you can switch to a new mix and drastically change the sound of a song as well as the oncoming cues. A successful switch also nudges up your score multiplier to boot, so the possibilities for finding high scoring combinations of mixes can lead to the best scores and sounds. If you feel things are getting a bit much then you can switch back to a beat you are more comfortable with at the next opportunity.

The composition spells work in a similar way too. You can unlock one in each area by successfully completing songs and, once available, you can work them into songs by completing set cues to unlock them. Once they pop you can record you own short ditty and have it loop over the sound of the track as you go. Once again opening up a bunch of possibilities means no two attempts at a song should sound alike, at least if you are the slightest bit adventurous. Though it has to be said that it's a bizarre choice that none of the songs are from Disney classics, which would have been amazing. The game works, and works well, with Queen, Lady Gaga and especially the classical music that makes you feel a real part of Fantasia, but with such a strong catalogue of Disney music to go at, it's a mystifying decision to ignore it. Brace for the inevitable horror of DLC I guess.

Creating a composition piece for the ages.

The other obvious boon is that the little worlds themselves are full of musical interludes for you to explore, from random instruments, to musical objects and larger items you can interact with for fun little events. Hot spot zones open up when you proceed to complete songs, and these let you make smaller recordings via fun little interactions and events. It makes it feel like a fun world to explore and enjoy, especially for younger players. Though at the same time you do seem to get an odd difficulty spike on certain songs, that makes it hard for an uncoordinated adult such as myself to keep up, so hopefully the youth of today will fare better than I did when the pressure is on.

It’s good that there are a bunch of things to keep you entertained outside of the songs themselves as with only thirty three songs to choose from, it won’t take long to go through them all. Outside of the main quest you can play any songs you like via the library, either by waiting to unlock them through the story or doing so via the options (which in turn locks achievements for those songs). Sure there is plenty of variety to be had if you tinker around but it won’t take you long to see and do everything even if you are achievement hunting, though getting all of the objectives and 100% accuracy on five songs could take a while depending on your mad skills.

Fantasia: Music Evolved is still not quite the killer app for Kinect, though by now I’m wondering if there will ever be such a thing anyway, but it is a very charming game and one that is immense fun to play and even to watch. The more you play it then the more natural the movements feel and the better you’ll become, and nothing tops the very first time you hit one hundred percent on a song. The loading screens and lack of Disney songs hurt a bit, and some tunes may be a touch too tricky for younger players, but the fun interactivity and hidden nooks help to make up for that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more remixes to swirl together.

Despite my reservations the track list is actually very good indeed, and each song is cleverly tied to its cues and mixes. A few Disney numbers would have been nice but it’s a minor gripe.

The worlds are bright and breezy, and the fireworks style displays during each song are fun to watch, but some areas and animations seem a touch bland and become overly familiar.

After a shaky start, mainly due to my flailing arms, things soon pick up and you get into just one more song mode. The mixes help keep things fresh, and each song has numerous objectives and layouts to keep you coming back.

A few too many loading screens, and perhaps a bit tougher than it should be for younger players, but it’s a great alternative to dance games and far easier to pick up and play.

A solid list that encourages you to try everything, explore the hidden areas of each realm and then has a few tasks for those seeking to max out every objective and song.

Fantasia: Music Evolved is a pleasant surprise and one that I’ll happily rope family and friends into playing. There are a few niggles, but the gameplay is immensely satisfying and the tracking spot on. When you nail a tricky section and see the explosion of colour and sound that follows you can’t help but smile. Give it a whirl, as this has enough Disney magic to pull you in, but perhaps not quite enough content to keep you there forever.

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