The history of Disney Universe as far as the public are concerned is a very short one, but nonetheless is slightly confused. The rumour suggesting that Disney Universe was originally an ill-fated Disney massively multiplayer online (MMO) videogame akin to Free Realms – an unreleased project which in itself was never more than a rumour – are unfounded, and merely a suggestion born from that all-encompassing title. Disney Universe was originally unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last year as an entirely new product: a stand alone multiplayer-orientated experience.
The videogame begins with VIC (Virtual Information Computer) introduces the premise of Disney Universe: a virtual reality service called Disney Universe allows people to star in recreations of the most popular Disney movies, completely safe from harm. However, mid way through VIC’s repetitive speech about how fabulous the service is, something goes wrong, and the control of Disney Universe, and thus VIC, is hacked. It’s up to you to break into the system, defeat the hacker’s minions, free the people trapped in the Disney Universe and regain control of the service.
In order to do this the player(s) must venture through six worlds (more are available as downloadable content), each uniquely themed on a specific Disney movie. Each world has three deceptively long levels, and each level is broken down into a number of areas of varying length. The gameplay within these levels is most directly comparable to that of the LEGO Star Wars series: the player must locate objects (marked with an arrow by default) within the space and utilise them in a manner that facilitates progress. Early examples revolve around piecing together a cannon and using it to fire at targets and collecting the tears of a mermaid to fill a statue, removing a magical seal.
In addition to the major puzzles comes the huge array of collectibles. The largest in quantity are those of the coins which are available throughout the areas of gameplay and earned for felling enemies. These coins are tallied at the end of each level, and it’s not uncommon for players to end with over a thousand – so long as they don’t die too many times within the level. Additional collectable items include the World Collectable, which unlock other bonuses, and the blue stars, which upgrade your currently equipped costume. As yet another sub-objective, at certain points in each area an arcade cabinet can be uncovered or unlocked, and a mid-area Challenge can be played. Enemies and items disappear for the duration of the Challenge, which typical involve defeating a number of enemies, avoiding traps or collecting shiny cubes within a time limit. While most of the videogame can be played by a solo player without too much of an issue, the design intending for multiple players is most evident in these challenges.
Disney Universe is designed for up to four players simultaneously. Every level allows for four players busy with different personal objectives, madness across the screen at regular intervals and, of course, getting the leg-up on the two-player only LEGO Star Wars et al. The Challenges are a competition between the four players to earn a gold trophy, which in turn will improve the grade awarded at the end of the each level. The grade does encourage a competitive co-operative experience that is similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii or The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, only not quite as explorative in that device.
The technical clout of Disney Universe isn’t exactly pushing the envelope, but it does feature plenty of Disney character. There’s arguably little that couldn’t have been done on lesser hardware – it’s conceivable that were a Nintendo 3DS version to be developed it wouldn’t be too far a stretch from the visual quality of the home console version – but the amount of unique humour and inventive scenarios is what sells Disney Universe, and it does it very well indeed.
While Disney Universe begins fairly simply, is soon builds to a series of encouragingly challenging activities perfectly suitable for family entertainment. Though familiar in it’s premise, Disney Universe remains a different addressing of the formula LEGO Star Wars and it’s kin, and yet further from New Super Mario Bros. that that of Rayman Origins. In short, it’s a family videogame experience that really shouldn’t be missed.