This review uses GamerPops' Kid's Game Metric, emphasizing age-appropriate content and challenge, kid-friendly controls, engagement, creative thinking, value, learning opportunities, and problem solving.
When we first heard about Kinect Disneyland Adventures, there was a lot to like. Sure, the section of the Microsoft presser at E3 devoted to the game was a little hokey with the paid child actors, etc., but that’s about par for the course for the show anyways, and the potential was amazing. We loved the idea, we loved the direction we were seeing. We basically knew that this could be huge.
And then we got some time with the game. Even with the conspicuous disclaimers about it being a demo build and not a finished product, there was just a feeling we couldn’t shake. That little bit of doubt tugging at your optimism. We know that Kinect can be a challenge, control-wise, and the demo’s controls were anything but tight. But, we reasoned, they have lots of time to flesh that part out before launch, and everything else was aces. Navigating Disneyland? Playing minigames inspired by park attractions and locations? Getting character autographs and hugging them? Heck, we couldn’t decide if it was sheer stupidity to make the game and eliminate the need to visit the actual park, or if it was the greatest ad for Disneyland we’d ever seen.
And now the finished product is here. The experience is everything we thought it would be, and more. Unfortunately, the controls are everything we thought they might be, too. And yet somehow, maybe because of that clichéed “Disney Magic”, it still ends up being that rarest of creatures, the Technically Flawed Yet Must Own Game, at least for kids.
Insert the obligatory "cheaper than a trip to the REAL Disneyland" comment here.
The Parent Perspective
Kinect Disneyland Adventures is a rare game that manages to overcome iffy controls to present an experience that should be on the must-have list of every family with younger children. I’m not really sure what’s in the Kool-Aid here, but “Disney Magic” is abundant in this adventure. It really is a well done virtual trip to Disneyland that you take, and there’s no denying how much kids love the place.
After a bit of a learning curve with the controls, it is fairly easy to get into the game. Since it’s all body-based, kids will be able to pick up on things fairly quickly. In the minigames, your characters can never die. If they hit an obstacle they simply disappear for a second and then come back, allowing you to continue the game and not worry about returning to checkpoints. Overall, the difficulty is not all that onerous. The game knows its audience well and caters to it. Kids could get frustrated with some of the control issues I mention later, though.
When engaging in side quests, there is a constant gold trail that directs you where you need to go next, meaning kids will be able to figure out their next activity pretty easily. Sometimes you need to look around a bit to find it, but it’s there (think the golden trail in Fable 3). The game also features some of the best drop-in, drop-out co-op play I’ve seen in a game in quite some time. If somebody jumps into the playing area, a second player appears on screen. During park navigation, only the primary player controls movement while the second player tags along, though the second player can interact with characters. Plus, the minigames allow for a second player to join in the fun.
For content, the game is rated 10+ as there will be a bit of cartoony violence. It’s not bad, and is about what you would expect from a Disney property. It all comes from the minigames where sometimes you have to throw projectiles at enemies, swordfight, and other actions. Defeated enemies typically just pass out or disappear. I would really have no problem going younger that 10 from a content standpoint, in fact, you might see some of this stuff on a regular visit to Disneyland.
Why yes, Disney IS milking the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, why do you ask?
I actually wish Disney had held off approving this game. Kinect, while a remarkable piece of technology, needs further refinement to create a tight controlling experience, and my biggest fear was that an incredible family gaming experience was going to wasted on shabby controls. Turns out, my fears were somewhat justified, but because they absolutely NAILED everything else, it manages to overcome what are at times frustrating controls.
There are two main parts to the game. One is the open sandbox world that you can explore. Of course, it should be mentioned that the sandbox is freaking DISNEYLAND. You could just run around exploring a fairly solid recreation of Disneyland all day if you want. There are rides you can go on, places to take pictures, characters to meet, and other authentic Disneyland experiences to partake of. If you like, you can collect coins to use in shops, and go on quests given to you by the characters that you meet. These quests usually involve looking for items or talking to other characters. There are so many hidden secrets and things to collect, it rivals any AAA title I’ve played recently. Frontier could have easily made park exploration a game on its own.
The controls for the park section of the game are actually not bad at all. It’s a challenge to find a way to actually navigate and walk around using only your body, but the way Disneyland Adventures does it works well. You use your arms to navigate everything, pointing forward to move in that direction, and putting moving your right arm out to turn right and left arm out to turn left. There are also gestures for accessing the menu and for using various accessories you collect like a camera for taking pictures or a magic wand for unlocking secrets and getting more coins. I found the gestures for the park navigation in general to be very good and responsive. My 8-year-old son did say he found it a challenge to navigate the park, and I’ll agree that at first it’s difficult to figure out. Once you get some practice with it, you can nail it, especially the turns. There are a couple of challenges, as having your arm in front of you will cause fatigue and will result in a lot of arm switching (which isn’t an option if you’re carrying an object sometimes). Plus I would have liked an option for running, especially for longer treks. It’s also a bit annoying when you walk into the circle around a character or attraction because it slows you right down. I understand the need for this (so you don’t overshoot them), but it does delay things a lot. Fortunately, you can bypass the park by using the menus if there’s a specific attraction or place you want to get to and don’t want to go on a sidequest at that point.
Alice is just as weird in the game as it is in the stories and movies.
The second part of the game is at times the best and the worst part of the game. This would be the attractions available. These are typically re-imaginings of class Disneyland attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, and more. There are times you’ll find yourself totally immersed in amazing experiences like skiing down the Matterhorn with Goofy, rolling in a croquet ball with Alice in Wonderland, or going on a daring space mission with Buzz Lightyear in Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are made a bit less enjoyable by less-than-responsive or inaccurate controls. Sometimes it’s lag, sometimes it’s a poor control choice, sometimes Kinect just totally misreads what you want to do. Throwing an object, for example, is nowhere close to accurate and sometimes I’d throw a snowball right at something (or so I thought) and it would just fly off to the right. And when a game is awarding points and stars based upon how well you do in a minigame, that gets frustrating fast. Some minigames work better than others. It’s a Small World is mostly matching dance moves, which Kinect is typically fairly good with. With practice, anything with “Lean to Steer” can be done moderately well. But throwing and swordplay, basically motions involving using your arms, forget about it.
These experiences could have been the star of the show, and to an extent they still are. If you can ignore, or at least get past, the control issues with some games, the attractions part of the game is a great experience to behold. And while kids might appreciate it most, there were times I was caught up in how cool the whole thing was. Of course, you can go back to try and improve your score and get more and better pins. Yes, the minigames are a lot of the same things that you might have played already on Kinect, but it’s how they get dressed up that makes the big difference here.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Kinect Disneyland Adventures is one of those rare games that does so many things well that you can almost overlook big issues like control issues and presentation issues (there is some really bad pop-in and graphical glitches from time to time). There’s a HUGE world to explore, collectibles o’ plenty, great drop-in, drop-out play, and magical experiences that even an adult could get lost in from time to time. The control issues do cost it, of course, and while I’ll normally advise against games with those kind of issues, there’s just too much other great stuff to play with here to more than make up for it. If this game could get updated if/when we get a next iteration of Kinect with more precise tracking, Microsoft will have an even bigger success on its hands. For now, it’s still worthy of a purchase and highly recommended for the Disney fan in your house.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
Somebody should really tell Mickey they found his dog.
ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: Everyone 10+
Content descriptors: Mild Cartoon Violence
Rating summary: This is an adventure game in which players explore a Disneyland theme park and embark on quests modeled after major rides and attractions. As they run, jump, and fly around fantastical 3D environments, players sometimes use fruit, snowballs, and “cartoony” bombs to defeat various animals/creatures (e.g., robots, crocodiles, yetis, pirates). In some sequences, players engage in battles with villains from various Disney movies: a swordfight with Peter Pan’s Captain Hook; a laser battle with Toy Story’s Emperor Zurg). Combat is sometimes accompanied by laser fire, sword-clanging sounds, and colorful explosions as enemies’ health meters are drained.