Posted Wed Oct 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM PDT by Trevor Ruben
To flail one's arms, cautious only for the risk of bodily injury, is to know the true purpose of Kinect.
The poor, inhibited puritans so attached to the controller ways of old know only the restraints of tradition, not the love we Xbox One owners now share in arm-flailing togetherness. Oh world, had I not the devil of dance inside me I would only find flattening your cruelest fates. Instead I am lifted up by the powers of Disney's Yen Sid, angst-queen Lorde and the all-seeing eye of Kinect 2.0. Praise to the Xbox One, praise to Microsoft's foresight and wisdom!
I'd like to think there's an alternate reality out there, somewhere, with Kinect 2.0 loved unanimously and embraced in full. Yeah, Big Brother might have the advantage, but 'Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved' could matter in that universe. This strange Disney and Harmonix collaboration deserves more than its damned fate in this loveless, 'Dance Central' joke of existence.
Due in full for Kinect-enabled Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles on Oct. 21, 'Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved' has already hit the Xbox One marketplace in demo form. After running through the tutorials, doing the whole embarrassed flailing thing – which transitioned smoothly to the whole unembarrassed, rhythmic flailing thing – and getting halfway through each song before the game prompts me to make a full purchase (which isn't available, of course), I'm weirdly eager to "compose" more songs. This is coming from a 'Guitar Hero'/'Rock Band' fanatic, so maybe I'm just jonesing for something as purely centered on hitting musical beats as those games sought to be. In my mind, that's what Harmonix will always be good for. It's our conventions that screw us, after all.
Mickey Mouse and Kinect 2.0
Mickey doesn't make an appearance in the demo, but his connection to the game is irrefutable. Where he had Yen Sid's sorcerer's hat, we have the Kinect to translate our composer's gestures into song. It's a neat idea, especially for those who daydream about composing massive orchestras to whatever's coursing through the radio in midday's traffic, the bump of rhythm forcing your hand up and down the driver's wheel. And what mischievous icon did it better than the mouse?
Harmonix, though, knows how to incentivize doing it right. They take the lessons in score-tracking and beat visualization learned through 'Guitar Hero' and 'Rock Band' and apply it to hand waiving. The result, a mix of air-punches, sweeps and dual-hand fist pumps coordinated through on-screen indicators, feels pretty damn good.
Little shapes will fly across the screen, allowing you time to track them and perform some kind of gesture dependent on what sort of indicator that shape hits at the end of its path. As simple as that sounds, the small collection of actions you can perform stack up, and in no time you're trying to figure out how best to position your arms to handle the incoming beats. Do I fling with the left and prepare with the right, or do I simple use the left on both of these notes as to prepare for whatever's coming next with the right? General position on the screen seems to dictate which arm you might use and where you might want to put that arm, but the Kinect is capable of picking up just about anything you do, and you'll be rewarded so long as the gesture asked for is performed in any way you can. There's actually a bit of creativity in the way you use your body, in stark contrast to most ofther rhythm games.
To Lorde's 'Royals' and the Gorillaz 'Feel Good Inc.' I found myself simultaneously reacting to what was happening up on the screen and allowing the auditory rhythm of those songs to prepare me for incoming beats. That's the first good sign, the first checked box, for a game of this kind. Harmonix's gesture visualizations do very well to signify what you're supposed to do, but they do lack a certain oomph in the feedback of whether you're doing things right. Hitting a note results in some kind of sparkly little explosion, but missing a note simply fades the indicator off-screen. That coupled with a lowering of the track volume until you hit another beat is meant to instill a "back on track" feeling, which it does, but I'd sometimes feel a little lost in a flurry of notes, unsure if I was hitting everything right. Hits and misses need to be a bit more exaggerated. I'm assuming it was Harmonix's intent not to crowd the already busy screen, but it's a tradeoff, and not ideal. I'm also assuming that, over time, I'd acclimate to the visual language of the game. It's a learning curve.
The Kinect's tracking is more than capable, and, despite some issues, the interface created by Harmonix performs with an elegance unseen in any gesture-based game before it. Even the menus, gesture-controlled completely, are a little bit brilliant. The most important thing - an outline of your body is displayed on screen at all times, when performing a song and not. Raising your hands to whatever option you want or scrolling up and down the track list gets us ever closer to that 'Minority Report' fantasy. It's telling, in fact, that after doing a bit of setting maintenance at the outset, you're requested to put down the Xbox One controller and forget it ever existed.
This Didn't Need to be a 'Fantasia' Game, But I'm Glad it Is
The track list reads like a compromise between the people who made the original 'Fantasia' and the modern radio personalities who giggle and scream instead of stringing a sentence together. I'm grateful for even a modicum of the former. The one classical piece in the demo, "," meshes easiest with the mechanics of the game. A Kinect-focused rhythm game could have gone in any direction, especially one without explicit dancing involved. The 'Fantasia' brand, which just so happens to come with big daddy Disney's wallet, is a smart move. It pays off.
Unlike the track list, the presentation, at least in the demo, is all 'Fantasia,' all the time. A goofy narrator straight out of a Disney ride guides you through the proceedings, the visuals are a crisp mix of the musical and the fantastical. Traveling through realms, the primary conceit of the campaign, affords the team an opportunity from some visual creativity. For that, you get stuff like this:
In unhinging the Kinect from the Xbox One, Microsoft may have doomed the Kinect and everything that depended on it for survival. As such, 'Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved' may very well go unnoticed, but the demo proves a couple of things: the game works because Kinect works, rhythm is the antithesis to self-consciousness and there's undoubtedly an alternate universe somewhere with Mickey apprised of all our personal information while we flail our arms into subjugated oblivion. And I want to live there.
'Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved' is due out on Xbox One and Xbox 360 on October 21st. The demo is out now on both systems. (Gold memebrship required for the Xbox 360.)
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