Fantasia: Music Evolved Review

By Michelle Balsan, 4 years ago
When Disney conceived of the fact that a rhythm game should be built around their 1940 animated masterpiece, Fantasia, it was little surprise that Harmonix was the company chosen to do the honor. Given their track record in allowing gamers to engage with music in ways that had previously been untested, the developer was tasked with bringing music to life via the Kinect. The result of this task was Fantasia: Music Evolved, a rhythm game unlike any other on the 360 or One.

Fantasia Screen 2

Fantasia: Music Evolved puts you in the role of the wizard, Yen Sid's, apprentice. As the game opens, Yen Sid will teach you the basics of the game controls, which involve elements such as the player swiping their arms in the direction of prompts which appear on screen, or making a punching motion when circular cues come into view. Shortly after donning the sorcerer's hat, the world of Fantasia is attacked by noise. With the help of another apprentice, Scout, it is up to the player to rid Fantasia of darkness and restore the melodies that formerly pleased the world's inhabitants.

Fantasia Screen 3

The hub of the game's campaign is the Sorcerer's workshop. In this space, you can go on to explore the game worlds, view pages from Scout's journal, which you collect throughout the game, or interact with instruments within the workshop. As with any Kinect-only game, navigating around the world takes a little getting used to. The player's hand is represented by a sphere (that looks suspiciously like the Harmonix logo) called The Muse. Hovering over items with the Muse will bring up a prompt to either open your arms wide, or clap your hands in front of you, depending on the actions you want to perform. Also keep an eye out for items highlighted in blue, as waving the Muse over them will allow you to interact with them and to create music.

Fantasia Screen 1

In order to fully enjoy the game, it's necessary to check out the tutorials first. Seasoned gamers, especially those who are familiar with rhythm and music titles, will want to jump right in and just play, which they can do via Fantasia's "party play" option. In order to fully understand what you're being tasked with, take the time to learn how to play using the tutorials in the game's campaign. As with most experiences in learning how to play music - this time just in the role of conductor as opposed to guitarist or bassist - the tendency is to start tentatively - attempting to rigidly and precisely match every single cue or note. As time progresses, however, that transforms into more sweeping motions, linking cue A to cue B and engaging the music in a dance that brings it to life, and much of the joy to be found in Fantasia is in these experiences. Interestingly, you can play the game seated (and it has good recognition of a seated player), but the experience really shines when you stand in front of your TV, envisioning yourself as the great conductor - just as Mickey Mouse once did. The gameplay is the most unique element of Fantasia and is well-deserving of praise as the developers encourage gamers to do something with the Kinect that they have not done before - actually create the music they're seeing with the palms of their hands.

Fantasia Screen 4

As each song is opened, its original mix will be available - so either the version of the tune you would hear on the radio or the rendition of that orchestral track you'd hear in the game's namesake. As you hit certain point targets, you'll open further mixes, with each song having a total of three including the the original. During gameplay, the player is prompted at points to pick which mix they would like to play, but it's not as simple as picking the whole mix - you can have the drums from the orchestral version, while using synth from the 80s version, while maintaining the vocals from the original version, for example. During each song, a composition cube will appear, granting the player the ability to create unique sounds that will be layered onto the song as it continues to be constructed. There are five distinct composition cubes, and each one not only adds distinct sounds, but is played in a unique way, thus making it so no two plays of the same song will be exactly identical. As you complete these songs in the campaign, they will become available on the song list (this is distinct from party play, which has songs available immediately) for you to continue remixing without having take the time to switch between the levels within the game.

Fantasia Screen 5

While others can certainly gather around and watch, the graphics during gameplay are very bare, only consisting of wisps of stars that respond to the motions of the conductor. Sadly, this approach does lead to one of the few negatives within the game - cues are sometimes hard to make out before you have to engage with them. Otherwise, in the workshop and the game worlds, there are certainly very pleasant visuals to behold, and the mini interactive elements in each stage are fun to look at as they respond to your 'touch', Given the nature of the game, however, it's unsurprising that it's really all about the music. Not just listening to the game's soundtrack, which features 33 tracks spanning chart-topping hits and iconic themes from Disney's Fantasia, but interacting with and creating the music. A second player can join you in playing, and as such you can both experience the magic of creating music together, but be aware that this option is local only. It's a reasonable decision, however, as the experience of playing the game with a partner wouldn't transfer well to Xbox LIVE.

Fantasia Screen 7

Besides a couple of multiplayer achievements, which may be difficult to obtain due to not having local people to play with, the achievements in the game are generally not as difficult as the TA Score (which currently sits 5,928 for the Xbox One edition of the game) makes it seem, though there are a couple of toughies. Fantasia rewards players who explore the stages and do more than simply the minimum so they can move on, and each stage has at least one achievement that can be earned by engaging with elements in a specific way or for a certain amount of time. A full completion of the game will require at least three playthroughs of every song - the first two to open up the mixes, and the last one varying depending on the songs. The final goal will sometimes involve knowing which specific mix to play, so there will be some trial and error involved in completing those tasks, though looking at a solution is an option. Several achievements are attached to the campaign, but there are also achievements for playing from the song library, playing with a friend, and a couple progression achievements that will pop naturally over time.

Fantasia Screen 6

Fantasia: Music Evolved has, perhaps, the most apropos subtitle of all time, noting that the game is an "experience". I can honestly say that, as I played through the closing flurry of the "Nutcracker Suite", I found that, as it completed, I had been holding my breath the entire time. I was so wrapped up in not only the music, but in using my motion to create that music that I had forgotten to exhale. Though 33 on-disc songs may not sound like a lot, the large variety of mixing you can do (remember, each song has three mixes and each of the five composition cubes lends a different tune to the song) means that the songs will feel fresh over repeated playthroughs. There are some minor negatives with the game - browsing between locales on the world map takes a bit of patience, and the use of sparks flying everywhere sometimes makes the cues difficult to see - but it is, undoubtedly, one of the most unique and rewarding uses of the Kinect to date. If you enjoy rhythm games, or even just enjoy creating music, Fantasia will fill a need for you in the best possible way. It may not have the broad appeal to finally make people really consider the Kinect as a valid piece of gaming technology, but it sets a bar for using the Kinect in ways that aren't just the same ol', same ol'. The game is an easy recommendation to people fond of rhythm and music games and Kinect games, though its more abstract nature may not pull in people who are not apt to like these experiences anyway. That's a real shame, however, as once you get the hang of how to play, Fantasia does manage to pull you entirely into its music and the moment, which is likely exactly what Harmonix and Disney set out to do.

The reviewer spent approximately ten hours playing Fantasia, going through the game's campaign, trying out the multiplayer, and earning 24 of the game's 50 achievements. This review is based on a digital copy of the title for Xbox One that was supplied by the developer.
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.