Review: Disney Universe

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When the review copy of Disney Universe showed up last week, my 9 year old daughter gave me the biggest hug.  With three kids in my house, when they get to pick what they want to watch, I tend to have to sit through lots of Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel.  The hug I received was a surprise because even with the fair amount of kid focused programming we watch, I don’t remember seeing many (if any) commercials for Disney Universe.  So it was a surprise that my daughter was so eager to play something that I was unfamiliar with.

The game starts off with a short introduction that explains that guests at a new virtual Disney resort can safely explore many different worlds based around themes from several Disney movies.  Of course before the intro is finished, a malicious computer enemy captures guests, and the game’s host, Vic, asks for help. Disney Universe is similar to the Traveller’s Tales LEGO games in that gameplay consists of battling enemies, smashing objects through each level and collecting currency to buy upgrades.  In the case of Disney Universe, the currency is golden Mickey Mouse head shaped coins, and the upgrades that can be purchased are additional levels as well as costumes that are unlocked by completing levels.

At first glance the game would seem to be very kid friendly.  A blue arrow flashes on screen to help guide players to what needs to be done at every step.   A health meter is displayed as a circle around the base of the player’s character with segments that disappear as damage is taken.  If the damage meter is reduced to no bars, the player character falls over but re-spawns a few seconds later with a minimal amount of the Mickey currency removed.  A game that guides players at every step with no real death penalty, filled with bright chirpy good guys and bad guys, should be a perfect cocktail of kid fun.

Maybe because I’m not a kid any more, I didn’t find the game to be as charming as it tried to be.  Or maybe the game tries too hard to be a copy of one of the LEGO series games.  Disney Universe has a huge vault of source material to draw from, but from the outset, the worlds that can be played aren’t necessarily the best properties that Disney has to offer.  The game opens with Pirates of the Caribbean.  Each world is broken down by three levels which are made up of three more sections for a total of nine distinct levels. The other worlds that ship on the disc include:  Wall-E, Monsters, Inc., Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, and Lion King.  Each additional world is unlocked after 2000 Mickey points are saved up.  In my playthrough I found that each third of any given world would net me just about 2000 points so unlocking the additional levels was not difficult.  The hardest part was debating which world I wanted to unlock next as several of the choices were ones I’d rather not even play.

The Monster Inc. levels were a lot of fun as were the Alice in Wonderland levels.  Now that’s not to say that each world didn’t look fantastic, there were just some worlds I didn’t care to visit.  I’m sure that since there is already Nightmare Before Christmas DLC, we can expect to see a fair amount of additional worlds pushed out for future consumption.  I’d love to see an actual TRON world, or Home on the Range, or Emperor’s New Groove, or even something more traditional like Mickey Mouse.

The problem I have though, is the game is a mixed bag.  I like the idea of costumes, but I don’t like the way the head of the costume is almost stretched at the mouth to show the actual player avatar’s face. Each character costume can be upgraded by finding a star hidden throughout each level, but the upgrade doesn’t really give a distinct power-up, rather just a cosmetic change and a more powerful attack.

One other problem I find with the game is that even though there are plenty of kid friendly techniques employed, some levels are just plain tough.  For all the hand holding that is put into the levels, some of the boss levels just aren’t clear as to what the game wants a player to do in order to defeat the boss.  Either a particular necessary step doesn’t translate well with the flashing blue arrows on screen or the actual aiming mechanic for throwing bombs isn’t accurate.  As I mentioned earlier, this is a game that my kids are excited to have in the house, but at the same time I have had my daughter say during a level that she can’t figure out what she needs to do.

While Disney Universe doesn’t offer online multiplayer, it trumps the LEGO games by allowing four players local co-op.  This is a nice touch as I find that most games that are kid friendly tend to only offer two player co-op but at any given time there are more than two kids in my house wanting to play video games.  Four players on screen at the same time is a bit chaotic for my tastes, but my kids find the chaos to just be part of the fun.

Disney Universe is a kid game through and through.  While I can’t say that the game is one I find myself wanting to go back to often, I know that my kids are looking forward to playing it more through their holiday break.  While it isn’t perfect, Disney Universe has enough unique worlds to keep the gameplay from feeling stale.  For parents looking for a last minute game for younger gamers, Disney Universe is a safe buy.

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Pros:
+ Lots of hints for young gamers to keep from getting lost
+ Lots of replay to unlock new costumes
+ Up to four player local co-op

Cons:
– Some levels can be frustrating even with the blue arrow guiding
– Load times are a bit long

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3; also available for PC/Mac, Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Eurocom
Release Date: 10/25/2011
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (offline multiplayer only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.