It's odd to think of creating a virtual version of a very popular theme park. Since the park exists, one would have more fun going to the physical park instead of pretending from home. With the current economy and high theme park ticket prices, though, making a virtual version of a popular amusement park doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all. Frontier Developments, who was behind last year's Kinectimals, has been given the task of making a game out of one of the most popular amusement parks in the world: Disneyland. It is a gargantuan undertaking, but Kinect: Disneyland Adventures turns out to be a very solid game made for a very specific audience.
Kinect: Disneyland Adventures starts off in the character creator since there isn't a plot aside from planning your visit to Disneyland. You choose between being a boy or girl and indicate an ethnicity. You can then choose a hairstyle, hair color and outfit. Admittedly, the list of choices is rather limited, especially when you compare it to other modern games, but it provides a good enough start for players who don't feel like being overwhelmed by too many choices at the outset.
Once you're done with character creation, you have free rein over the park. Almost every area is open, and you're free to explore. Without going on quests, the most you can do is roam around, picking up coins and shopping for items like costumes and official Disneyland pins. Completing quests and meeting up with people gives you more access to more activities. Getting the camera and photo albums lets you take pictures of famous landmarks and any of the park characters. Grabbing the baton lets you conduct musical numbers in certain spots, such as the Haunted Mansion's four busts. The magic wand lets you make most inanimate objects move and dance while the blaster lets you engage in shooting galleries at various spots. Other objects let you interact further with the world, giving you plenty to do when you aren't busy with an objective.
The meat of the game lies in two different mechanics. The first is interaction with Disney characters. In just about every land, there are several Disney characters from a variety of films. In addition to mainstays like Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse and Pluto, you'll also see characters from older films, such as "Sleeping Beauty," "The Jungle Book," and "Alice in Wonderland" and slightly newer fare, like "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid" to much newer works like "Toy Story 3," "Lilo & Stitch," and "The Princess and the Frog." Meeting the characters gives you the chance to do a variety of things, such as take pictures, shake hands, dance with them, get autographs and give hugs. It's the type of stuff that most kids would want to do with the famous characters anyway.
There is some good variety to your quests. Some are fetch quests, like getting cooking utensils so that Aurora can make a cake or getting Stitch some hamburgers to eat. Others have you getting activities done, like taking recon photos for Buzz or delivering a hat to Donald Duck. Completion of the quests gives you plenty of items — including bullhorns, pins and telescopes — so each one is well worth doing.
The second mechanic is the minigames, primarily those based on actual park attractions. There are around 18 different rides and attractions that have received the minigame treatment, though it is unfair to call them minigames since most are split into multiple parts. Like the rides themselves, the activities vary greatly even if their Kinect gestures are the same. The Haunted Mansion starts you off with a freefall as you collect coins and avoid debris. The second half lets you use your flashlight to scare away the ghosts as you escape the mansion. Winnie the Pooh is a three-part affair, with the first and second parts involving the acquisition of honey for Pooh's birthday. The third part has you preventing presents from being thrown too far for Eeyore to collect. There is no penalty for doing poorly, so anyone can finish the minigame and use the Fastpass feature on the title screen to quickly reach it instead of going through the park. The end of each game rates your performance and gives you coins and pins based on your performance, so there is some incentive for players to improve.
Put all of this together, and you have what amounts to a very deep and engaging game, which is unusual for a children's title. You're always given something to do or engage in, and just about everything has hidden quests attached, so Kinect: Disneyland Adventures has some very long legs. After several hours of playing the game, you shouldn't be surprised to see that your overall game progress is still in the single digits.
Disneyland fanatics will be amazed because the developers captured just about every nook, cranny and secret into a digital format. The park is updated just enough to reflect some of the major changes in terms of signs and attractions, and the park layout is accurate to the point that those who are intimately familiar with the place will find every attraction, store and shop exactly where it should be. The big attraction is the multitude of Hidden Mickeys that are hidden all over the park; just like everything else, they are in the same spots as they would be in the real park. The inclusion is a big enough deal that taking pictures becomes another big quest that you can accept.
There are a few things in the game that will disappoint gamers and fans. No matter which gender character you choose, your actions are always the same. Dancing with Beast as either a boy or girl is always the same, as are the high fives and hugs you give. While the game has a good amount of rides that have been transformed into minigames, not every ride is represented here. Some of them, like Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Adventure, can be attributed to licensing issues, but others, like Autopia and Gadget's Go Coaster, are omitted despite being classic attractions at the park. It's nice to take pictures around the park, but you can only post ones of you performing activities. Even though your real self isn't shown as posing with the likes of Chip & Dale and Ariel, it would have been nice to let kids post these pretend pictures for others to see. Finally, the game supports some sort of QR code scanning in each of the stores, but no one currently knows how they'll be used. Until word comes down about its functionality, it remains an unused part of the game.
Despite a few issues, the controls are a good example of how to do things with the Kinect. Moving around in the park only requires the player to point in a direction with his non-item-holding hand, and it works well despite the fact that you can't move backward. Bringing up the item menu requires you to raise one hand and panning over until an item is selected. Using an item requires you to hold out your hand with the item, though the magic wand has you flicking your item hand forward and letting the auto-targeting take care of the rest. Interacting with characters in the park utilizes motions that are natural to kids: opening your arms for a hug, performing a high five, putting both hands forward for an autograph, and waving to say hi and good-bye.
The minigame actions are just as simple, with most games requiring leaning motions to move, mimicking dance moves, throwing motions to hurl objects, or pantomiming things like sword swings or pumping carts. While park movement seems flawless, minigame movement feels too sensitive, especially with any side-to-side movement. Aiming is also an issue since it is difficult to aim throws without a cursor to help you out, and the conductor games read horizontal movement fine but seem to struggle with vertical movement. Kids can manage this because of the lax difficulty, but it can be problematic for those who are trying to get five stars on everything.
Kinect: Disneyland Adventures also follows the trend of using voice commands, and this is probably one of the better implementations of it. With the exception of the shop items, everything in every menu can be activated by using your voice to call out the menu title or go back to gameplay. Purchasing items in a store can easily be done by saying "purchase." All of the map locations can be called out by name, so you can easily transport yourself. You can also call out the attention of a character in your proximity by saying, "Hi there," though the rest of your actions still have to be performed with gestures. Best of all, none of the commands need to be prefaced with a starter command, so it feels much more natural for kids.
If there is one thing that the development team has perfectly nailed, it would be the sound. The park remains the most impressive part of the package, but the sound really makes it an immersive experience. The music that plays in each section of the park is authentic, and the constant chatter you hear from the crowd really sounds authentic. The character voices sound awfully close to the movie originals. The minigames are one of the few opportunities you have to hear some original music, and the artists did a good job of composing tunes that sound like something you'd hear on the actual ride. Overall, the execution of the sound seems flawless.
Graphically, the game is impressive, even if it isn't perfect. In the park, the style of the people matches that of the main Disney characters. It's a rounder style that ensures that kids and adults don't look out of place when interacting with Mickey and friends. Animations are smooth, if slightly exaggerated when it comes to things like the dancing lampposts, with no odd transitions when going from one move to another. The particle effects from casting spells on the inanimate objects look great, even if the particles are simply recolored sparkles to imitate magic dust. The texture work is solid enough that only the smaller things, like storefront windows, look smudged.
The most impressive part of the park (aside from its near-perfect re-creation) has to do with population control. No matter where you go to in the park, there is no shortage of people. A variety of randomly generated people is always there and always moving, with no two people performing the same simultaneous motions. It's amazing to see the game handle this without a drop in frame rate, and it really helps in mimicking a typical day at the park. The park presentation isn't without issues, though. Texture popping happens to faraway objects, but it occurs more often after interacting with characters. The problem worsens when players travel after the completion of a minigame — to the point where humans start to fade in only during these situations. There are also times when character lip-synching seems off, particularly during long dialogues.
As for the minigames, the backgrounds are also well rendered and textured, and since the levels aren't as sprawling, the issue of texture pop-in or character fade-in isn't present. The animations are still great, and the art style changes to match the style of the ride's associated animated movie. The Peter Pan ride, for example, adds some subtle cel-shading while the Winnie the Pooh attraction has more of a storybook illustration feel. Like the park, these minigames hold a steady frame rate, especially during the many featured racing sequences.
Kinect: Disneyland Adventures isn't for the jaded gamer who thrives on competition or conflict. It's intended for kids and those who are still enamored with The Magic Kingdom, and Frontier Developments should be commended for a very enjoyable and polished product. The controls are done well and, in some cases, more intuitive than those in other Kinect games. The graphics and sound greatly enhance the experience, and it's a nice touch that the graphical style changes based on the minigame. The activities really push the game, as each of the minigames, quests and secrets ensure that there's no shortage of things to do. For those who can't get enough of Disney, especially their animated works, Kinect: Disneyland Adventures is certainly worth owning.
More articles about Kinect: Disneyland Adventures