Video Game Review: Kids Will Enjoy Trip to ‘Disney Universe’

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CHICAGO – “Disney Universe” plays not unlike the legendary company’s attempt to replicate the customizable success and platforming simplicity of “Little Big Planet” (with a bit of “LEGO” smash-and-collect thrown in). Sony’s amazing franchise works not only because the platform/level design is amazing but because it allows inclined players to spend hours (and lots of cash) on ways to customize their sack boy. “Disney Universe” has a similar vibe in that your avatar gets to wear Disney-inspired outfits through very-vaguely-Disney-inspired levels. Through a heavy flow of DLC, players can change their game experience. In other words, if your kid falls for this game, expect to shell out for some online credit. Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0

Personally, I found the game a bit too thin to recommend for anyone over ten. But I have to admit that little ones will almost certainly find more to keep them entertained here than most kid-oriented titles. It’s a weird game to review in that it plays so directly to gamers unlike myself that I need to try and look at it from their angle to appreciate it. Ultimately, I can only be honest to my reaction to a game and I found “Disney Universe” repetitive and a bit uninspired given the depth of history that the developers could have mined for creative inspiration. Last year’s “Epic Mickey” was a much-more-daring venture. This is a much-safer title and will therefore likely be a much bigger hit.

Disney Universe
Disney Universe
Photo credit: Disney

Players start their experience in the “Disney Universe” by picking an outfit for their avatar and they can unlock more throughout the game while also buying some through DLC. The emphasis is strongly on recent Disney/Pixar films like “Monsters, Inc.,” and “Lilo & Stitch.” They even branch out to non-animated Disney ventures like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “TRON: Legacy.” But you don’t actually play Jack Sparrow. You play an avatar wearing a costume that makes you look vaguely like a pirate. And each costume comes with different tools and powers that get upgraded through play.

Disney Universe
Disney Universe
Photo credit: Disney

Where do you play? The worlds of “Disney Universe” are also inspired by the same films chosen for the costumes. You start by bashing your way through a “POTC”-inspired world and move on to “Alice in Wonderland” and so on and so on over 18 worlds with 3 parts a piece. It’s definitely a lot of game for your family dollar.

But here’s where “Disney Universe” gets tricky to review. The level design, from an adult perspective, is pathetic. The backgrounds are dull, the enemies are personality-less, and the combat is ridiculously repetitive. I understand that kids games need to be repetitive for young players to master them but I think this one plays even too young for its target audience. I’m always disappointed when it feels like young players are being “developed down to.” What I mean by that is that, sure, kids don’t care that the animations here are choppy or that the backgrounds are boring as much as adults do but does that mean it’s OK to ignore those elements? Why not give them what you would give older players? It feels like corners were cut here in the development process simply because they could be.

The combat can only be defined as button-mashing. It’s inconsistent but somewhat addictive and easy-to-use for young players. In typical family game style, death isn’t really an issue here. You just respawn again and again until you get to the next level, which unlocks something new with which to customize your character.

There’s also a nice emphasis on teamwork. “Disney Universe” is the kind of game designed to be played simultaneously by multiple members of the family. I like any game that at least attempts to make children more social through playing co-operatively. It is odd that the multiplayer is local only, but I suppose that works for families who don’t want their kids going into the scary world of online play.

Despite my clear apprehension about “Disney Universe,” I do think this is a pretty decent place to start for the growing gamer in your family. If your kid loves Disney (and whose doesn’t?) and has been curious about the Xbox or PS3 that he’s caught you playing, this isn’t a bad place for them to start. It would be nice if you could get as much enjoyment out of it as he does, but let’s be honest, he’s going to be kicking your ass at “CoD” any day now, so why rush things?

“Disney Universe” was developed by Eurocom Entertainment and released by Disney Interactive on Octobeer 25th, 2011. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but the game is also available for the Nintendo Wii, PC, and PS3. It is rated E (Everyone). content director Brian Tallerico

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