Disney Universe Review

A slice of Disney gets the LEGO-esque treatment.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 11/28/2011 08:05 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Clean graphics; varied challenges; myriad costumes and extras; good replay value
Poison Mushroom for...
Gameplay has its irritants; harder than it should be given the target audience; several parts of the game feel like lost opportunities

A developer knows it has landed on something when it inspires an entire subgenre, and this is certainly the case with what is popularly known as the “LEGO-style” action adventure: the simple, co-op, soft death penalty-style beat-em-up with lots of costumes and plenty of charm that Traveller’s Tales has used to great effect. Nintendojo saw an ambitious take on this formula earlier this year with another Disney property, Phineas and Ferb, and it seems the company was content to unleash a similar style of play upon this cross-property Disney title. The end result is generally good, although it has enough shortcomings to keep it out of the upper echelons of the genre.

Disney Universe is premised on the notion of some virtual reality Disney experience gone bad, with players forced to try and stop some evil program that has taken over Disney’s virtual worlds. Levels reflect a cross-section of Disney’s properties, including The Lion King, Monsters, Inc., and Pirates of the Caribbean. Other Disney properties show up in more subtle forms, such as unlockable costumes player characters can wear. The plot in the game is basically just window dressing to justify the locations and the characters in them, but it’s likely that few who buy a game like this are out for storytelling or exposition. 

Instead, Disney Universe focuses on the core gameplay, which is, as stated, a LEGO-style action adventure. That means that players run around through levels, beat up waves of enemies, and solve puzzles. Each level has its requisite share of objectives, challenges, and optional extras. What’s more, playing a level a second time through leads to subtly different objectives and significantly different end-of-level rewards, so the replay value is high. 

That’s good, because the game is begrudging in its new opportunities. A basic currency, gold Mickey heads, is the chief method for unlocking new levels, new equipment, and other in-game bits. The currency is liberally sprinkled in the field, like the LEGO games, but death effects a surprisingly large loss of currency. And since death seems to happen more in this game than others of its kind, it can be more challenging to accrue large quantities of cash, especially for younger gamers. Given that opening up new levels requires a couple thousand gold, players will almost invariably be forced to retrace old grounds to save up enough to venture into the new stuff. This is probably meant to encourage replay, but it’s also confining when it comes to experience all the game has to offer.

Beyond currency, the game offers a few other extras along the way. Each vanquished level opens up a new costume to wear, reflecting a wide swath of Disney lore, while in-level stars change the weapons and boost the attack power of individual costumes. Short-term power-ups such as invincibility or the ability to treasure hunt are also floating around in each level. Rounding out the in-game extras are collectables that unlock concept art and optional “challenges” that yield rewards of their own. 

The game controls flow smoothly enough, using the Wii remote and nunchuck in a standard platforming configuration. Characters can double-jump, stomp, unleash charge attacks and do a range of other standard moves, and they are nimbled and responsive to commands. There is no waggle, though, and even IR use seems to be essentially absent from the package; to be honest, there is not really anything Wii-specific about this game, for better or worse.

In true LEGO form, the game offers offline co-op multiplayer, although Disney Universe alters the formula in a few ways that wind up being a heavily mixed bag. On one hand, the game allows for up to four players to play simultaneously, and even keeps competitive score among team members. Sadly, there is no drop-in/drop-out feature, so once a level is started, the only way to add help is to return to the menu and start over. Not surprisingly, the co-op is strictly offline.

The gameplay deserves a couple of other grumbles. For one, the game is actually hard at times, with player characters that are easily killed in just a few hits and some enemies that can be a bit cheap in their attacks. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the currency penalty wasn’t high or if new levels didn’t have to be bought, but this ecosystem ends up slowing down the acquisition of new locations more than players may be used to. Also, the puzzles can be a bit tricky at times, moreso than a child of the game’s target audience may be accustomed to, and that can be a drawback as well.

The production values are high, as Disney ones are wont to be, but also feel like something of a lost opportunity. The levels, for example, are excellently designed and do a good job of reflecting their source material, but they are also populated by enemies that bear only a cursory resemblance to any Disney properties; it would have been nice to see Disney heroes and villians make appearances in their own levels beyond just the character costumes. The music is polished, too, but it sounds more like something from a Disney Channel commercial than most of the franchises the levels draw inspiration from. This is fine for the menu, but the work that plays in the levels– unlike fellow cross-property game Kingdom Hearts — largely ignores Disney’s rich musical tradition.  How that catchy Pirates of the Caribbean number (albeit from a deeply flawed movie series) or the Oscar-caliber Lion King soundtrack can be mostly neglected in the game is a head-scratcher, especially since the stuff that replaces it isn’t all that great. 

Given these criticisms, though, the game still manages to be good fun, thanks to clever level design, a nice collection of Disney-inspired character costumes, solid level replay value. And of course, there’s the appeal of getting to explore several memorable Disney franchises, both old and new. It’s certainly not flawless, and it doesn’t quite eclipse the old LEGO games it has cloned, but it’s no disaster, either. What remains a mild disappointment is that this could have been a much better tribute to the world of Disney had a few small changes been made, such as fuller billing from the characters and music of the varied franchises. As it is, this is still a competent, polished jaunt, especially for fans of the House of Mouse.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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