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I wonder what Walt Disney would have thought about Fantasia: Music Evolved.

You see, his third animated film, Fantasia, was all about combining music and pictures to create a unique kind of art. It was a passion project of Disney’s. Of course, he died way back in 1966, so he couldn’t have imagined what a video game based on that concept would be like.

But Fantasia: Music Evolved, out today for Xbox One and Xbox 360 (I played the Xbox One version), seems like the logical next step in Disney’s project. It adds an interactive element to the symphony of sight and music. It’s simultaneously an appropriate homage to the classic film and a unique, intuitive music game that stands on its own.

Someone playing Fantasia: Music Evolved. No, that's not me.

Above: Someone playing Fantasia: Music Evolved. No, that’s not me … or my mom.

Image Credit: Harmonix

What you’ll like

A different kind of music game

Fantasia is from Harmonix, the same developer behind other music games like Rock Band and Dance Central. However, while those focus on re-creating the performance aspects of music, Fantasia is more abstract.

It uses the Kinect motion-tracking camera to register the movements of your hands. You sweep and punch in time with songs when you’re directed to, but you have a bit more freedom than in most music games since you can use both of your hands. Plus, while the timing is important, the positioning doesn’t really matter, so you can usually move your hand as little or as much as you want.

A clever twist: remixing

Fantasia really gets creative with the way you can remix songs while you’re playing. During each stage, you can occasionally switch out instruments for tracks from different versions of the same song. You also enter minigames that use the motion controls to make a quick musical sample, which then gets inserted into the song.

It’s a much more interactive experience than what we’ve seen in Guitar Hero, and it adds something to the music beyond messing around with the whammy bar or having a short, free-style solo section.

A great song list

Fantasia’s song list includes modern hits like “Radioactive,” classic rock like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and classical music (some also from the film Fantasia) like “Night on Bald Mountain.” It’s a good mix that’ll have a little something for everyone, plus each song has at least two remixes, which makes replaying them less of a chore than in a normal music game.

You explore some pretty scenes during the campaign.

Above: You explore some pretty scenes during the campaign.

Image Credit: Harmonix

It’s pretty

Just like the original film, Fantasia: Music Evolved is a visual treat. It doesn’t use animation to tell stories like the movie did; an array of colors and lights visualize each song. It’s incredibly satisfying to hit each note just to see the little flurry of shapes that trail off after each one.

During the campaign, you select songs in various worlds that also have some fun visual and musical tricks. You’ll awaken fairies to clean a forest or help a broken robot find its singing voice, all of which involve creative, motion-based minigames that create new music.

What you won’t like

A kind-of, sort-of Disney game

Despite that the word Disney is in the title, Fantasia: Music Evolved doesn’t fully embrace its House of Mouse heritage. You see Mickey only occasionally in old footage from the film. And while the song list includes some tracks from the 1940 film (none from the sequel, Fantasia 2000), I wish that Harmonix included more songs that were actually in the movies. It’s especially odd that “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which inspired the animated sequence that gave this game the most inspiration, isn’t a playable track.

The Kinect still isn’t 100 percent accurate

I usually don’t like playing games on the Kinect. Even with the Xbox One’s improved camera, I still find the device to not be responsive enough. However, it actually worked better with Fantasia than I had expected. The Kinect would register almost all of my movements correctly.

Still, it’s frustrating when it just completely misses a swipe or a punch that you know was correct. At least the game itself isn’t as score and combo-obsessed as Rock Band, so missing a note every once in a while isn’t a huge deal. Also, while you can play the game sitting down, the Kinect has an even harder time tracking your hands when you do.

The annoying, disembodied voice

Fantasia has a campaign mode of sorts. It’s kind of neat, but it’s also kind of annoying. It starts off with a tutorial that does a good job showing you how to play, but then the first chunk of the campaign spends a lot of time slowly re-teaching the same stuff to you. You play songs, but each has a “challenge” (really just a simple goal, usually a certain score you have to reach). The challenges are incredibly easy, though, and it takes a bit until you have a decent amount of freedom to pick whichsong you want to play next.

But what’s worse is the disembodied voice who serves as your guide. He had a name, but I forgot it, and I’m kind of OK with that. It’s another fussy, English narrator that’s becoming a tired cliché.

E3 2014: Fantasia: Music Evolved Stage Demo

Conclusion

Rock Band and Guitar Hero are about playing music. Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is about playing with music. While it won’t have the party appeal that comes with instruments, it’s a more intuitive, beautiful, and creative experience. Disney loyalists hoping for fan service in the same style of Kingdom Hearts of Disney Infinity might be a little disappointed, but this is one of the most interesting music games to come out in some time.

Score: 86/100

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is now out for Xbox One and Xbox 360. Disney Interactive provided GamesBeat with a digital-download code of Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved for the Xbox One for the purposes of this review.


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