Fantasia: Music Evolved for Xbox One and Xbox 360
Reviewed by Steve on .
In the spirit of Walt Disney’s original Fantasia, lets you experience music in a whole new way.
An interesting concept that extends Walt Disney’s original concept of “Fantasia” to video gaming. The game gets an “A” for ingenuity and effort, and while actual gameplay is mostly solid, a few quirks and annoyances prevent me from giving it a perfect rating.
I’m a huge fan and aficionado of Disney animation. While most people view things like Steamboat Willie and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as old and quaint kid’s stuff, those “in the know” understand that these things changed the world. Steamboat Willie, in addition to introducing the world to The Mouse, was revolutionary in also introducing the concept of synchronized sound to on-screen animation. Snow White, once called “Disney’s Folly”, raised animation from a trivial curiosity to a fine art form, with the help of innovations like Disney’s multi-plane camera.
Steamboat Willie in 1928 proved that cartoons could sing and play music in sync to a motion picture. But in the decade following Mickey’s debut, Mickey Mouse was starting to decline in popularity, even as movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio were skyrocketing. Disney came up with the idea of featuring Mickey in a “deluxe cartoon short” to Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Disney kept true to the original story by Goethe that Dukas based his symphonic poem on. Fantasia was a revolution in itself, winning special Academy Awards for its pioneering use of sound (it was the first motion picture to use multiple channels) as well as its “creation of a new form of visualized music”. Without the pioneering work of Disney, things we enjoy in daily life today like 3D animation features, CGI special effects, surround sound, and music videos wouldn’t be possible.
Harmonix hasn’t been around as long as Disney has, but it hasn’t been a slouch as far as innovation in video games. They were the ones who first came up with Guitar Hero, and then Rock Band, and then Dance Central. Each of these was a smash hit in its own right for the way Harmonic brought basic pattern matching to a new level.
With these two powerhouses working together, I had very high expectations for Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.
Like most Disney video games, the concept is fantastic. This game is loosely based on the original Fantasia short where Mickey Mouse is “conducting” the stars and the heavens as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’d almost describe this game as “Dance Dance Revolution for Conducting”. Your goal throughout the gamep is to match patterns on-screen with your arm and hand movements. It’s more like DDR or Guitar Hero than “dancing games” like Just Dance or Dance Central in that it’s really more about pattern matching than dancing.
I presume the intended result was so that players would “look like” Mickey Mouse conducting the heavens, but in actuality, this game is to real conducting like DDR is to real dancing. Suffice it to say, make sure the blinds are closed when you’re playing it or you may end up being the next YouTube sensation, and not in a good way.
On the positive side, the use of the Kinect 2.0 is excellent. It detects your hand movements more precisely than any other game I’ve played on any other platform. For those of us who suffered through early Wii games like Samba De Amigo as far back as 2008, this is no small feat. Before you start the game, you’ll go through some clapping exercise to make sure the sound and picture are perfectly synchronized. Selecting the initial menu options is simple–just raise your hand and point.
Also, the graphics are beautiful as well. From the opening screen, there’s a silhouetted version of you on an orchestral podium, similar to the opening scenes of Fantasia where Leopold Stokowski is introduced. Your silhouette will continue to appear at the bottom of the screen throughout as you “conduct” in different “Realms”. The graphics are beautiful. I’d still place them a few notches below both Disney’s traditional hand-drawn animation or Disney and Pixar’s 3D animation, but that’s understandable given that the game developers probably didn’t have the budget, the artist talent, nor the processor power that these multi-million dollar movies had. That said, they did produce graphics that seem to take good advantage of the Xbox One’s advanced capabilities–and managed to avoid the sluggishness that plagued games like Dance Central.
The song selection is also very eclectic. I love the fact that they included some classical pieces, but also modern pieces as well. When you start the program the entire song library is locked, but you can turn “Party Mode” on to view and play all the songs in a group setting. Here’s a list of all the artists and songs that come as part of the game by default.
Lady Gaga – Applause – Difficulty 4/5 – Original, HXV, Veldi
New Order – Blue Monday – Difficulty 4/5 – Original, Orchestral, Whalley’s Strange
Queen – Bohemian Melody – Difficulty 1/5 – Original, Classical Arrangement, Metal
Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Allegro) – Difficulty 1/5 – Original, Nassau, Chords
Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Speed of Dark, Chris Micali
Gorrilaz – Feel Good Inc – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Melancholy Town, Case & Point
Jimi Hendrix – Fire – Difficulty 5/5 – Original, EK Electronic/Analog, EK Orchestral
Cee Lo Green – Forget You – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, 80s Rewind, Watchtheduck
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons: Winter, 1. Allegro Non Molto – Difficulty 4/5 – Original, Alt Rock, Steve Porter
M.I.A. – Galang – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Saffron Harem, Inter:sect Spoon Party
Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Luke Boggia, Death of the Cool
Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Hungarian on the Plain, Telecaster
Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, 79 Mixtape, Pardo Bros
Avicii – Levels – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Inter:sect 6581, De7il’s
Bruno Mars – Locked out of Heaven – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, First Impossible, Ska
The Police – Message in a Bottle – Difficulty 1/5 – Original, Sending out a CQD, Audrio
Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Hamilton, Neon Sabbath
Tchaikovsky – Selections from The Nutcracker (Medley) – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, D00 Bah D00, DC Breaks
Imagine Dragons – Radioactive – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Spirit Kid, Jake Staley
The Who – The Real Me – Difficulty 5/5 – Original, Orchestral, Big Vision of Little St. James
Elton John – Rocket Man – Difficulty 1/5 – Original, 80s and Rainy, Dubspot Labs
Lorde – Royals – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Hifalutin, HXV
Kimbra – Settle Down – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Sparticus, Golden Ratio
The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Micali X Bartlett, Steve Porter
Fun. – Some Nights – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Ashtar Command Parallel, W@rbl3s
Nicki Minaj – Super Bass – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, Soca, Jake Staley
Dvorak – Symphony No. 9, from the New WOrld, IV. Allegro Con Fuoco – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, 1-1, Remix for Big Band
Drake – Take Care (ft. Rhianna) – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Steve Porter, Pentatonix Vocal
J.S. Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Difficulty 3/5 – Original, organ, Synth
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – Difficulty 2/5 – Original, Mumbai, Grimecraft
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – Difficulty 4/5 – Original, Orchestral, Ashtar Command Parallel
There are also two songs by video game musician Inon Zur (Main Theme and Scout’s Song) that need to be unlocked in Story Mode.
Of course, the game publishers have downloadable content as well, which they hope you will spend lots of money downloading. But the mix that comes with your original purchase price is a pretty good one.
As I mentioned, there are two ways to play the game: Story Mode and Party Mode. Story Mode is required to unlock all the songs and features of the game.
Once you start “Story Mode” you’re brought to the workshop of Yen Sid, the Sorcerer in the original deluxe short, whom most Fantasia enthusiasts will recognize as an alter-ego of Walt Disney (try spelling his name backwards). In the original digital short, Yen Sid was mysteriously dark and menacing AND silent, and I wish video game developers of Epic Mickey and this one had kept it that way instead of making him into a “character”. Happily, they quickly get Yen Sid out of the way but then replace him with an impish young girl with a Fantasia-looking cap named “Scout” who, like Mickey, was a washed-up former apprentice and serves as your tour guide through the rest of the story. For some reason she grated on me as much as the impish, obnoxious dancers in Dance Central. I don’t know what it is about Xbox game developers, but character development isn’t one of their strong suits.
“Story Mode” itself is pretty contrived, as if the developers focused mostly on the actual gameplay and threw together the story as an afterthought. The “Story” is mainly a way to get you to play through all the songs.
To play the game, you select a song and then you’ll stand up and “conducting” it by following on-screen cues. You start out learning the basic motions of the game. There are “push cues” where you punch your screen forward with either or both hands as a “sphere” hits the screen. There’s a “sweep cues” where you sweep your hands in the direction of an on-screen arrow. There are “hold cues” where you keep your hands raised in a certain place. And then there are combinations where you “sweep” then “hold”. There are “Path Cues” where you push forward and trace the path of the cue. And you’ll encounter “Switch Cues” that you hit in the direction of silhouettes of instruments on screen to select or change instrumentation or song styles in the middle of a performance. That’s about it. Hit a cue correctly and the music plays loud, miss one and the music is muted.
Right away you’ll learn there’s an eclectic mix of music to play the game to. Your first “training” exercise is to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and your second is to Lady Gaga’s Applause. I have to admit, the first time I played I really felt like Leopold or Mickey on the podium, even if I didn’t quite look like it in real life.
The story continues as you help Scout “unlock” the “Magic” throughout the world of Fantasia. You’re introduced to “The Muse”, a ball (really a cursor) that you can use to explore the different “Realms” (including The Capsule, The Press, The Shoal, The Nation, The Hollow, and The Shadows). Using “The Muse” to navigate within the different realms is itself an exercise in frustration, something that seems to be endemic to all Kinect games.
You’re suddenly bombarded with confusing phrases like “Magic Fragments”, “Composition Spells”, “Hot Spot Recordings”, “The Noise”, and “Mixes”. You can probably see the problem here–I know they chose these strange names to try to make the game sound “cool” and “mysterious”, but what they really did is just create confusion. I felt like I had to learn a foreign language here just to play the game.
But after some trial and error you’ll start to figure out what’s going on–if you have the patience. In a Realm, you need to unlock a certain number of “Magic Fragments”, which you earn by completing tasks such as finding one of 11 hidden “Hot Spots”, by unlocking “Mixes”, by unlocking and using “Composition Spells, or by otherwise completing song goals. Collect enough “Magic Fragments” and you clear each realm of “The Noise” (which is something bad).
“Composition Spells” are basically ways you can create audio samples visually–all with your arms and hands. For example, a Composition Spell called “Sound Sketcher” allows you to move your arms and hands up and down to play a series of notes on a sphere, which you “save” by putting your arms to your side. You don’t have the precise control that a real composer would have, but even by randomly moving your arms and hands you can create some pretty interesting and totally original mixes which will show up throughout songs later in the game.
“Hot Spot Recordings” are a little less interesting. You basically need to hunt and peck through a screens to find “hidden” objects which you can play music with. This seemed kind of pointless; it’s as if the game developers asked themselves “What can I do to artificially prolong Story Mode so users don’t finish it right away”.
In addition, each song also has three “Mixes” that you’ll unlock through the game. For example, you’ll hear Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony performed by a Big Band, or Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody set to heavy metal.
And what makes all this interesting is that these different things that will let you customize your sound and literally make the music unique to yourself. In fact, after particularly good “performances” you’ll probably want to save the performance for posterity, and what you save will be a creation that’s uniquely your own.
I have to say that the more you play this game, the more it grows on you. Again, going through the Story and the learning curve of figuring out how to do the moves in a way that Kinect will recognize them can be frustrating. For example, I found after trial and error that I actually have to make Sweep motions a split second before I think I should, and I realized after a while that instead of doing what I intuitively thought I should do by making huge and broad sweeping motions, that I’d be better of making a mix of long and short motions in a way that flows with the music (sort of like a conductor would make small movements for pianissimo and grand movements for fortissimo).
After a while, as the motions start becoming more intuitive and natural, you can start literally “feeling” the music, and that’s when it becomes really enjoyable. It took me about 2 days of playing to finally start scoring in the 80-90% range, and I’ll admit that my enjoyment of the game increased as that happened, not because I cared about the score but because as I learned how to play the game correctly I started to really “experience” the music. In that sense, this Kinect game starts to realize the vision that Walt Disney had with the original Fantasia–of letting you experience music in a brand new way. Being a classical music lover, I especially enjoyed the classical pieces, but even playing the pop music gave me new appreciation for that music as well.
As for fitness and exercise value of the game, I can’t say there’s much of that. I do find that when I play for extended periods of time, I do build up a sweat and my heart rate is elevated, particularly on higher difficulty levels where your arms are moving frantically. I’d be kidding myself if I said it was anything close to an aerobic workout. That said, add some wrist weights and move your feet while you play, and suddenly you will have a game that is a lot of fun and can help you tone your arms.
The game also has a two player mode. As long as you’re playing with someone who’s had the same amount of practice you’ve had, this can be a ton of fun. It involves cooperation; you each need to hit your own colored cues properly for the song to play, and the choices both of you make with Switch Cues and Composition Spells can influence what the final song sounds like. And of course it involves competition as well–you’re both judged on how well you performed.
Overall, I’d give Fantasia: Music Evolved 4.5 out of 5. While the story mode seems a bit sloppy and lazy at times, the core game play, graphics, music selection, and motion controls are a decent and borderline revolutionary demonstration of what the Xbox One with Kinect 2.0 is capable of.