Kinect Disneyland Adventures Review: A Magically Addictive Exercise In Wasted Potential
Perhaps to test the limits of muscle fatigue, Frontier Developments has created the very first open-world game for Kinect. It's called Kinect: Disneyland Adventures, which is fitting because the last time I was at Disneyland I lost the ability to feel my feet.
The premise - you're at Disneyland! And that's about it. During your day at Disneyland, you can experience up to 20 attractions, talk to over 40 characters, and go on over 100 different "adventures" assigned to you by the various characters in 8 different lands. You can also take photos of landmarks, hidden mickeys and characters, and interact with just about every item in the park. Completing every adventure, earning every pin for doing well on attractions, getting every autograph, and casting a spell on all 2000+ magical items will take you well over 50 hours. Is it worth the time and money? Let's take a closer look.
After creating your child avatar, which, much to my chagrin, is only allowed to have brown eyes, the game begins. The first thirty minutes to an hour of Disneyland Adventures is dedicated to teaching you how to control the game and understand the essential structure of gameplay through interactions with the main six Disney characters: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, and Goofy.
So how do you function in an open world Kinect game? Move your left or right arm forward to move, hold your arm out all the way to the side to turn, wave to interact with characters and attractions (the quicker and more childlike the wave, the better). Once you master opening your item inventory, which involves holding your right hand up at a 45 degree angle until the menu opens, then selecting the item you need, you use your left hand exclusively to walk and your right to control various items. Wave your right to cast a spell with your magic wand, hold your hand over a target with your blaster to shoot, hold your arm straight out to take a picture, and so on. As the game progresses, your inventory will also include a fishing rod, a baton for conducting musical groups across the park including the singing statues at the Haunted Mansion and any jazz band hanging around New Orleans Square and more.
Once you learn the basics, you can go off and do whatever you want. This virtual map of Disneyland is an exact recreation of the Anaheim park, to a frightening degree. The attention to detail is astounding. I kept having moments of "I bought a corn dog at that stand!" "I sat on that rock for 20 minutes when I was exhausted!" "I threw a coin at that waterfall!" and so on. One of my favorite things about the park has always been how the trash cans are themed to each land, and the same holds true here. You could lose hours and hours just taking in the accuracy of everything around you. And that's *before* you're gifted a magic wand by Cinderella. Once you have the wand, count on spending triple the time wandering around the park. You'll be able cast a spell on anything you see that sparkles. And there are A LOT of things that sparkle in Disneyland, you guys.
Each of the 8 lands has over 30 sets of magical items, and each set has 3 to 35 magical items within. So, aiming low, let's say that's an average of 10 items per set, that would mean a minimum of 300 items per land which means there are 2400 MAGICAL ITEMS TO CAST SPELLS ON IN THIS GAME. NOT including the 8 or so landmarks to take photos of in each land, the 30 something hidden mickeys to find in each land, the couple of blaster mini-games in each land land and so on. For a completionist who has major OCD when it comes to video games, the constant messages that I've completed "2 of 20" or "8 or 36" over and over and over, almost drove me out of my mind and kept interrupting me as I made my way to talk to characters or play attractions. This makes it great for irresponsible parents who need to keep their kids occupied for long periods of time and horrible for OCD-ridden game reviewers. In that way that you need to open every drawer in Bioshock, you will need to cast a spell on every single godforsaken magical item in Kinect: Disneyland Adventures.
If you forget about using the items in your inventory to earn both in-game and out-of-game achievements, Disneyland Adventures boils down to meeting characters and going on attractions. Meeting characters is simple. You wave to begin an interaction, then say autograph for an autograph (they will tell you to put your hands out to get one - don't do it, go with the stellar voice command system, save yourself the headache), bow to dance, high five to high five, hug yourself to hug, and put your arm out to take a picture. Although it should be noted that you can only get an autograph and picture if you have earned enough money through picking up coins in the park and completing attractions to go to a store and buy autograph books and photo albums. You heard right - the game encourages you to buy things from the stores at Disneyland! Sure, it's all part of the proper Disneyland experience, I suppose, but I haven't purchased anything but water from Disneyland for as long as I've understood that Disney eats money, and that's been longer than you might think. Better yet, you can only buy photo albums for each land in a store in each land, and you can't unlock the store until you go on an attraction. So it's impossible to just go from character to character, collecting everything you need. You MUST make money, go to the store, and play the attraction mini-games. You also need to have the brain capacity to understand this. I'm looking at you, tiny children. Who are clearly reading this right now.
The characters also give you a series of "adventures' which reminded me of the missions in Fable 3, where in order to make a friend or gain a lover, you had to waste time running around grabbing items and delivering messages. It felt pointless in Fable 3 and feels pointless here. And yet I COULDN'T STOP. To become a Lost Boy for Peter Pan, you have to play through Peter Pan's Flight, then gather his shadows around Fantasyland, then buy and wear a Lost Boy costume. Stich sends you to find him five hamburgers, and then to find a picture he lost of Lilo. Cinderella has you find sewing items, and then gives you the general mission of finding spools of thread around the park. Aladdin needs you to impress the genie with your magic. Some character named Duffy Bear I've never heard of before needs you to find stuffed Duffy Bears, but because he doesn't speak, you don't know that until you accidentally stumble upon 1 of 10 Duffy Bears. These go on and on and on.
Ready for some more math? There are over 40 characters. Each character has at least 2 missions, which when accomplished, gets you a shiny new pin. Each mission involves finding at least three things. that's a minimum of 5 items to gather/tasks to accomplish per character, which is BAM! Another 200 things to do right there. Someone shoot me. At least there is a glowing trail that guides you to exactly where these things are, depending on the adventure you select in your Adventure Journal.
The final element of the game is going on the attractions. Each attraction here features 2-4 mini-games that take place in the same universe as the ride. So instead of just sitting and watching Jungle Cruise unfold around you, you are shooting water onto elephants and hippos from your ship. Instead of watching the Haunted Mansion simply occur in your presence, you are running through the famous haunted house and all of the familiar imagery, shining flashlights on ghosts and grabbing coins. A few of the attractions are a bit closer to the ride itself - Matterhorn has a bobsledding level, and Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters obviously involves shooting, but for the most part the attractions take you inside the world, and try to make the ride a reality. Oddly enough, there are a couple of rides you can just sit on, like the Dumbo ride and Carousel in Fantasyland and the rockets in Tomorrowland. It's a first person perspective, just going around and around, staring straight ahead. It lasts about 45 seconds, then the game asks if you want to ride it again. Spoiler alert: your answer will always be no.
The attractions are hands down the worst part of the game. The designs of all of the environments are top notch, particularly Finding Nemo's Submarine Voyage and Haunted Mansion, and all of them capture the essence of the rides in some way. In every attraction, there are secret mickeys you're supposed to grab, and depending on the number of those you secure, plus how well you do in reaching the mini-game's goals, you are rated 1-5 stars. Your score per mini game is averaged out to an overall rating, which determines whether you get a bronze, silver or gold pin as your reward.
This would be fine if the games involved actual skills in any way that you could develop, so you could eventually get all of the rewards. But - and this where the game ultimately fails - the use of the Kinect technology is SO vastly underdeveloped, there is no way to even know what you are doing in most of these games, let alone figure out how to excel at them. While the idea is fantastic, numerous mini-games that use every form of movement-based gaming there is, the potential is simply never met, to an endlessly frustrating degree.
To make sure it wasn't just me, I recruited a group of people who are universally awesome at video games to try the game out for themselves and give me their opinion. Luckily, at least that part is easy, the game caters to players jumping in and out at any time. But across the board, everyone hated playing the attractions. Once in a blue moon, you find a snowball throwing mini-game (Matterhorn) or a crocodile swatting element to a mini-game (Pirates), but for the most part, the games are heavy on moving through space, while not having a good enough grasp on the technology to read your movements correctly. We were all constantly running into asteroids and walls and boulders, no matter what we did.
This imprecision permeates throughout Disneyland Adventures. As I mentioned earlier, opening up the inventory menu is bizarrely difficult, and don't even bother trying to get an autograph the physical way. The game almost never recognized my hands out of in front of me (oddly in a "please sir, can I have some more?" sort of fashion) and switching back and forth between magic wand and camera in a futile attempt to complete every mission in a certain area proved so impossible to accomplish with ease, I had to give up.
Clearly this game is intended for children. There are disembodied voices all over the park positing suggestions, there is no way to die, the guidebook offers tips like "Kindly do not feed the mermaids." It's a recreation of Disneyland for goodness sakes, but if I were a child playing this, I would want to break it. If I were a parent watching a child play this, I would have to use every ounce of will power within me to not intervene and help out or break it myself. If it's impossible for a 25 year old to be good at any part of the game, how would a 10 year old be good at it? And why did Karen, the tour guide, who you can speak to whenever you see her and learn fun facts about the park, repeat the story about how there used to be an "intimate apparel" store on Main Street three different times in three totally different locations?
There is so much to this game, it's almost too much. Nay, it's definitely too much. What human, of any age, has time for this?! While the game isn't bad per se, save the awful use of the technology that could have easily been fixed by several more months of work, it's fifty hours of nothingness. 50 hours of a fake version of a place that's already pretty damn fake. And to what end??? Accomplish all 8 billion missions and get a free pass to Disneyland? I've never felt that way about a video game before, but with Disneyland Adventures, I can't help but think "Why?" Why go to the trouble of recreating Disneyland and make most of the game unplayable? Just to get us all riled up and nostalgic and force us to make our way to Anaheim as soon as possible? Why not just save everyone the annoyance and tired limbs and make using a controller an option?! For your elongated commercial to work, people have to actually want to keep playing, don't they?!
To be fair, there are some parts I enjoyed. The Disney Princess Fantasy Faire, where songs from some Disney movies play as you match the dancing of the princesses, is super fun despite being utterly imprecise, and each character you meet throughout the park feels authentic, down to their dialogue, reactions, movements, and especially the voice acting. Get close enough to a ride in the park and hear the same music that plays when you're standing in that exact area. And while you can't go on every ride, you can at least see them and often, the lines filled with people leading to them. For the moments where you aren't frustrated, it does make you feel like a kid again, and that's never something to sneeze at.
I feel like I could continue talking about this game for 1000 more words, but I'll spare you. There are lots of nice touches and for a Disney fan, it could definitely be worth a rent, just to see how accurate the park rendering is, but giving this to a child almost feels….wrong. Would you want your kid dedicating 50 hours to pretending to be at Disneyland? Being encouraged to hug strange people in giant character suits and buy 20 autograph books? It's one thing to be older and feel nostalgic about your own time at Disneyland as you play, but to try this game at an impressionable age, perhaps even before going to Disneyland to begin with, diluting the magic of seeing the park for the first time? I just don't know. That being said, I still haven't been on virtual Splash Mountain, I still haven't talked to all the characters, and Donald and Mickey are in a close race for Mayor of Toon Town, so I'd be lying if I said I'd never pick it up again, even as a guilty pleasure. Though I would never replay a level, I would still like to try the attractions I haven't done yet, at least to see the environment design.
There's so much unmet potential in this game, I wonder if I'd be more forgiving to the overall message of a Disneyland Park video game, had the gameplay taken proper advantage of the Kinect technology and helped create something truly special. Unfortunately, we'll never know. In any event, I would recommend at least taking this strange meeting of the awful and wonderful for a test spin. At the end of the day, dancing to "Almost There" with Princess Tiana, virtual or not, was pretty damn cool. And I can't deny that, ultimately, that kind of moment is why a kid would want to play this title. Players: 1-2
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Developer: Frontier Developments Ltd.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
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