E3 2011: Disney Universe preview – LittleBigMagicKingdom would have been too obvious

There’s no getting around it: Disney Universe exists because somebody at Disney saw LittleBigPlanet and said, “Hey – go make that exact thing, but kiddier and with Disney in it”. But it’s such a natural fit, we actually have a hard time criticizing the copycatting. You can customize your Disney-ified Sackboy-type character, putting it in different costumes based on Disney characters (Stitch, Pumbaa and a Tron-inspired avatar were all represented in the demo we saw); The focus seems to be on co-op multiplayer and there are Mario Party-style competitions that players can participate in against each other; The world is set up more or less as an action-platformer, with various puzzle or collect-a-thon mechanics being the focus depending on which Disney themed-world you’re in.

In spite of its inherent identity crisis, Disney Universe seems like it might be interesting for younger players. During our brief hands-off demo session, we got to see a bit of gameplay from two out of the six initially planned Disney worlds (more will be coming as DLC later). The first was based on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and it featured more puzzle type gameplay. Our Stitch-costumed avatar ran throughout the level beating enemies with a musical instrument that served as his upgradable weapon, and there were Disney tokens everywhere to collect - although the end goal of the level wasn’t entirely clear. We were also told the level’s enemy AI scaled from passive to aggressive, meaning that enemies might just mull around a level, or they might try to steal items you’re using to solve a puzzle. One example of this was enemies stealing parts needed for a bridge in the level.

The second level we were shown was much more platform heavy. Based on the Door factory from Monsters, Inc., there were fewer enemies and more challenges based around level navigation. This level also showcased some of Disney Universes’ party-like mini-games, which lasted no more than thirty seconds or so.

Basically characters might have to beat a challenge like collecting the most coins or kill the most enemies, and as with the rest of the game, the difficulty and challenge types scale based on the number of characters playing the game, so with four players you might just be asked to knock out as many enemies as possible in a given time limit rather than racing to see who can get the most, to use one example. Rankings are also given to players at the end of each level.

The idea of changing the gameplay type based on which world you’re playing is interesting (the Alice level looked a lot more free-roaming than the Monsters, Inc. one), and the game’s varied worlds will probably appeal to Disneyphiles, particularly given the amount of fan service like extra character costumes and similarly thematic elements. It may not have the most original concept, and it may not have the robust level creation tools of LittleBigPlanet, but for the amount of polish the game seems to have, Disney Universe could be a worthwhile trip to the Magic Kingdom for fans when it’s released this holiday.

Jun 16, 2011