Not content with just a Disney World, Disney (well, Eurocom on their behalf) have created a Disney Universe for you to frolic freely in. Unfortunately for you, the simulation program which provides a safe environment for the meat-headed, colourful characters that represent you has been corrupted. The friendly user interface/tour guide V.I.C is battling for control of the system with H.E.X, and it seems H.E.X has gained the upper hand as it’s been able to insert bad guys into each of the six separate zones. Cue the adventure.
Playing as these colourful creatures and dressed in costumes of popular Disney and Pixar characters you run, jump and fight your way to the end of each level, retrieving a trapped fellow adventurer (unlocking a new costume), and ridding each themed world of the enemy rabble. Its mix of platforming, battling and basic puzzles involving pulling a lever or piecing together a broken object performs much like the LEGO games. You walk and jump from place to place, clobbering any enemies that attempt to ambush you along the way, opening doors or finding items needed to progress by completing simple tasks, which don’t require a lot of brain power given the target audience is youngsters.
In fact, the whole game can come across as a little straight forward for anyone over the age of 10, although this isn’t a criticism, just an observation. No efforts have been made to cover up this fact, as there’s even a large blue arrow which literally points where to go next (this can be switched off in the options menu if you don’t fancy it). There’s no shame in it being easy, as this way it’s well suited for younger players or due to up to four player co-op, something for more experienced players to play with less experienced players. Four player co-op gets a decent number of people involved and is a feature it has over the LEGO games, which are limited to two. Where its co-op doesn’t work quite so well is that it is lacking a fluid drop-in, drop-out system, which can occasionally be problematic due to the way we’ve been spoilt by almost all co-op games using the system these days. We now come to expect it, so when one of your crew has to relieve him/herself or has to leave for good, you could find yourself in a tight spot. A ‘Hurry Up’ message which transports any players falling behind and being cut out of view to the rest of the group should go part of the way, though.
You would usually think of co-op as an exercise of teamwork; while it can be that way in Disney Universe, it can equally be a messy free-for-all. It’s almost pitched as competitive because on top of being able to attack enemies, friendly fire is very much allowed, including the ability to pick up your companions and throw them off the edge. Another aspect of gameplay showing a competitive streak is the curses that can sometimes be sprung on players. Before the time runs out players can pass the curse on to an enemy, but at the same time could choose to pass it on to another player to afflict them. Besides, if the gameplay wasn’t enough to convince you that the game wants you to be rivals as well as teammates, during the level each player has an ongoing score which increases based on how much they’ve helped with the objective, and a podium finish at the end crunches the numbers to decide who came out on top and who was the lowest scorer. Depending on the attitudes of the people you are playing with, this has potential to add to the gameplay through the age-old pastime of ‘mucking about’.
Replay value is added to the levels in the form of challenges and collectibles. Challenges are a worthy reason to playback levels, presenting a slightly increased level of difficulty through the tasks, albeit not by much. But this won’t matter as the tasks have fun ideas behind them anyway – for example, staying alive for a certain time, or defeating a given number of enemies within the time limit. Collectibles, on the other hand, earn extras like music tracks and concept art accessed from the main menu via the ‘Viewer’.
The six worlds – Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice, Lion King, Monsters Inc., Aladdin, WALL-E – are broken down into more palatable bite-sized levels. These carry graphical changes to represent moving from world to world to reflect each Disney film featured, or other visual changes relating to specific scenes in each Disney creation. The problems come in that these can be quite generic scenes, like the token factory, snow, desert (and so on) levels seen in many games. In fact, the whole game seems to lack that trademark Disney magic. Instead, it feels like a faceless game given a Disney overcoat in an attempt to fob it off as the real thing. You feel no connection with the personality-free characters as quite frankly they could be from any game, as could the enemies who are similarly lifeless and generic. Music which pays homage to the franchises and familiar-ish settings for levels give it a Disney appeal at face value, but goodies and baddies alike are all just dressed in Disney outfits but not actually part of the world, and what goes on in the level seems a bit random, even though this could be excused as an artistic interpretation of each individual Disney region.
Whether it didn’t have Disney’s full backing or whether the concept just went wrong, Disney Universe comes across as a little generic and lacking the usual flourish of Disney magic. This starts with the environments – it was only when I saw a pirate ship in the first Pirates of the Caribbean world that the world seemed vaguely linked to the films – and ends with poor character design, which doesn’t provoke any strong feelings towards both friend and foe. However, with that said it’s still a decent enough platformer for playing around with on multiplayer, and its simple controls and level structure make it ideal for younger players, even if it grows repetitive by the time you’ve explored several of the worlds on offer.