Harmonix has a knack for music games, a proven fact after games like Amplitude and Rock Band, but going into my Fantasia: Music Evolved experience I thought it bit off more than it could chew. It's one thing to let people play a plastic instrument to a popular song, it's another to try and turn a player into one of the most iconic Disney characters ever. I don't know why I was hesitant, and I sure don't know why I doubted this studio, but any worries I had were put to bed very quickly. Fantasia: Music Evolved is wonderful, colorful, musical fun, both intoxicating and empowering in its approach.
I've done the music game thing before. I've played the guitar, walloped drums, even sang a few tunes, but never before have I bent a melody to my will as Fantasia expects of me. "Playing" a song in this game turns me into the conductor of a cosmic symphony, thrusting my arms in every direction, punching in front of me, and sometimes holding my arms in place. It's a whole new way to look at music, being the entire machine instead of just one cog, and while arm fatigue did become a factor it did not deter me from pressing on.
Each song has two remixes that can be unlocked, and these are the best form of sorcery that Fantasia conjures up. I'm not forced to stick to one remix; instead I can fuse them together as I see fit, mixing instruments and vocal styles from all three versions of the same song to create a personal masterpiece. Sometimes Mussorgsky's 'Night On Bald Mountain' needs a little dubstep infused into it, or Dvorak's 'Symphony From The New World' sounds better as a chiptune. Fantasia lets me experience it, and the excitement of finding a new remix keeps me coming back for more.
If that wasn't enough, the game also lets me insert my own section of music into the mix, giving me creative control over a piece of music. Five different Composition Spells can be found throughout the game, each one requiring certain hand movements to "open" while in the middle of a song. Once opened, I'm given a selection of music and a means to morph it into the perfect addition to my mix. One spell sees a lined sphere appear on the screen, and moving my hand up and down creates my melody. Another shows a sound wave that I can stretch or squeeze together to create more or less tones, all while tilting the wave to change pitch. Every song in Fantasia turns into a playground for the person at the helm, and for me it seemed like I always wanted one more go on the merry-go-round.
Fortunately the game doesn't expect me to just jump in and know what's going on. There's a brief story mode buried into Fantasia, where I, the new Sorcerer's Apprentice, am instructed by Yen Sid to search the realms for new songs to unlock and magic to enhance my power. Each of the realms is vibrant and colorful, even the small capsule deep in space, and just like with the music I can manipulate these worlds and turn them into natural symphonies. In doing so, I bring even more life to the worlds, driving out the evil noise cacophony that's polluting these places.
This story mode is where everything in the game is unlocked: songs, remixes, Composition Spells, etc, and playing it to completion (and even post-completion) is essential to getting the full Fantasia experience. Luckily it's an interesting little tale that could be inserted into a Disney feature film and I would be none the wiser. Eventually I meet another apprentice named Scout, who accidentally brought the evil Noise into the realms, and help her expel it. It won't be winning any narrative awards, but it's a Disney mini-movie made specifically for anyone playing the game. That's not a bad thing.
I understand that I have all of this high praise for Fantasia and I have yet to talk about the Kinect controls. Well, there's a reason for that: there's not a single problem with them. This is the first time since the inception of the Kinect that I have felt the true power of the device come out. Conducting and waving my arms is captured with no trouble, depth in punching forward or twisting a sound wave during a Composition Spell is picked up, and my little silhouette is right there undisturbed at the bottom of the screen during every song. Every once in a while I would successfully perform a movement that the camera wouldn't register, but they are few and far between, letting me keep up big streaks with no problem.
I will say this: I did have some issues being recognized by Fantasia in my home office (the Kinect somehow never lost me outside of the game, only within Fantasia), but once I brought the system down to the much bigger living room those issues disappeared. Long story short: listen to the Kinect directions when they say, "give yourself enough space to play."
I was very surprised with how Fantasia turned out. I didn't know if becoming the Sorcerer's Apprentice would translate as well to video games as it does here. There's a sense of wonder and empowerment to shaping a song during normal gameplay, and then adding the creation aspects makes me feel even more musically unstoppable. Music fans, motion control fans, Disney fans, and fans of having fun will really enjoy Fantasia: Music Evolved, as for the first time, it puts us in charge of creating entire compositions instead of just playing along.
This review was completed with a retail copy of Fantasia: Music Evolved provided by the publisher for Xbox One.