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Fantasia: Music Evolved [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Fantasia: Music Evolved maintains the core-concept of the original musical-animation by providing an introduction to the concepts of orchestral music through stunning visuals, but adapts it for the modern generation by including you in the story. However the technical issues of the game hold it back from being a truly emersive experience, or competitive for the older audiences.

The Pros: 

+Fantasic Concept
+Awesome Character Design
+Intuitive Menu Navigation
+Great Creative Outlet for Childern

The Cons: 

-Technical Issues Where the Kinect Can't Keep Up
-A Lot of the Remixes are far Worse Then the Original Songs Themselves. Rating : 

Years ago, I was visiting a friend’s house, just hanging out and playing video games… typical Friday night stuff for nerds like us. He pulled out a game called Amplitude, which at the time I had never even heard of. We booted it up, the premise and controls were explained and then we were off and running. I instantly fell in love with the concept, got my own copy and then eventually its successor Frequency. Ever since that first game I’ve been absolutely in love with Harmonix and their ideas on game design.

Most will know Harmonix from their work on Guitar Hero and its evolved form: Rock Band.

The company had started off as a bunch of music-loving nerds that were seeking to bring music education and knowledge to the masses. Their idea was to do it through video games. Teaching people how to comprehend basic concepts of music and instruments through fun-to-play video game adaptions of the skills they already had.

To that end, they succeeded.

They had us start by pressing colourful buttons in time with a beat, representing the strokes of strings on a guitar then expanded to a full in-depth guitar, drum, and vocal coach in the last iteration of the Rock Band series.

So what’s next from the company that taught us how to rock? Well, there were a couple of dance games… that perhaps didn’t reach as wide of an audience, but in my book were the reasons to own a Kinect.

Now Harmonix has teamed up with Disney to bring back one of the all-time greatest of the Disney Animation library: Fantasia.

For those that are too young (or don’t have parents awesome enough to pass down the knowledge of this Disney Classic) Fantasia was a series of short animated stories cut to pieces of classical music that encourage in a young Casey a love of the orchestra.

The center piece of the film is the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is about a Wizard version of Mickey Mouse learning the ins and outs of magic, then getting perhaps a little too confident with himself and overstepping his limits to the dismay of his teacher Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards, for those fans of clever word play).

Enter Fantasia: Music Evolved.

Now via the power of the Kinect we have the ability to play out the role of the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice, trained by Mickey’s old master himself, Yen Sid.

The game begins with a fairly typical introduction of the concepts of the game, which are designed to be somewhat in the vein of the hand motions that a conductor would offer his symphony when preforming an orchestral piece.

Each level of the first five introduction levels introduces one additional concept: Swipes. Hits. Holds. Traces. Finishing off with a final “try them all together” level that proves that you get the basic concepts of what you’ll be doing throughout the game.

Fantasia Trace

What made this segment of particular interest to fans of the film is the concept that through the instruction of Yen Sid, and the learning of these magic-actions, you re-build the Sorcerer’s hat (which, for anyone that watched the movie, is the source of Mickey/Yen Sid’s powers). It’s an awesome little nod to the story of the Fantasia short that felt something akin to building the Master Sword in Skyward Sword (spoilers).

After that you’re off and running. You’re able to explore the world as you please which includes a number of locales spread throughout a galaxy held together by magic and music. Each zone breaks down into a number of challenges, which once completed open up the next section and so on and so on.

Basically you’ll have 2-3 songs to clear, then an exploration bit (using your hand and the Kinect sensor as a cursor) which opens up cute little set-pieces that play like musical instruments. Some examples of which would include: fungi growing at the bottom of the ocean that you bounce over like drums, or amoeba-looking creatures that divide as they are touched, splitting again and again, each level of which producing a different sound. 

Fantasia The Shoal

This can be both fun and frustrating at times, as the end-goal for the musical exploration bits isn’t always clear. For my part I found if I just waved my hand around randomly long enough I would eventually find something to progress… but there were other instances where it wasn’t made clear that the set-piece was actually two or more screens (which you need to step left/right in your play-space to shift between). We live streamed the game for a bit in place of our Sunset Overdrive multiplayer session last weekend, and wound up encountering another reviewer that had been stuck in one of these sections for a long-time apparently.

The bulk of the game experience though is centred on the concept of remixing popular music via magical spells. Similar to how Amplitude had the ability to switch instrument tracks for bonus points, there are segments in each song that you play in Fantasia that allow you the opportunity to either switch between different instrument types (a Bossa Nova set for the classic pop hit “Message in a Bottle” for example). There are generally three options for this, which you can switch between several times in a single song via the games bonus or “multiplier”. You hit the beat, then swipe in the direction of the instrument/set that you want, instantly changing the sound of the song.

Instrument Selection

However, that’s not the end of the song customization that game offers.

There’s another section of the game that feels very much like Amplitude’s “freestyle” as well. At certain parts of most songs the game will do a little break down and allow you a sort of “mini game” to influence the song in one way or another. Some examples are a sphere with xylophone-esque keys down its side that you run you hand over to create your own bit of music, or a revolving ring that you adjust the song with by spreading and closing your hands apart and together. This lets you warp the song into something entirely original and entirely your own.

The best part of any Harmonix game for me personally though is the multiplayer, and Fantasia provides an stellar opportunity for you and your friends to remix songs together, each player taking one half of the aforementioned “freestyle” modes so that you can build something new together. One of my favourite examples was the sphere/xylophone where my friend “went high” while I “went low” giving our song added treble as well as bass.

Best of all though is how Fantasia handles multiplayer. When you enter the game’s free play mode, which allows you to play through any of your unlocked songs/remixes (or you can just choose “Party Mode” from the options menu and jump into the full playlist immediately) you are (by default) playing solo. To engage in a multiplayer version of the music playlist, you have to shake hands.

Fantasia Multiplayer

That’s awesome.

Seriously, I never got sick of turning to shake my partner’s hand to initiate the game mode (which is good, seeing as it seems to ALWAYS default you back to single player, even if you just completed the last 20 songs as a duo), it made me giggle each and every time.

The only real downsides to the game are a couple of issues that I’ve experienced with the Kinect. It more than likely springs from the fact that I don’t have a basketball court-sized living room, and the Kinect loves to have a lot of room to roam… but I found examples throughout my play through where it was obvious that it wasn’t my lack of rhythm preventing me from hitting cues on the beat.

Instances would include sections where two hands are hitting an object at the same time. One would read, the other wouldn’t, holds were also a problem as sometimes I would find the Kinect just stop reading that my hand was still in the exact same position it was when I hit the first cue to start the hold.

The worst example of all though is the Kinect sensor randomly jumping between which hand is doing what. Because you can use either hand at any time to swipe/hold/hit/trace each marker, the Kinect can get confused on what it’s supposed to be tracking. Multiple times I’d think I was holding the left-side of the screen with the left hand that I’d outstretched to do so… only to look down and see the silhouette of my character was actually highlighting my right hand on the opposite side, which was just hanging down at my waist.

I get that there are few likely to take Harmonix’s Fantasia-based rhythm game as seriously as I do, the audience is more skewed towards the younger, but it felt like crap losing multipliers to moments like that when it was something completely beyond my control. I like the Kinect, but by this time (in its second iteration) and with everything else I’ve seen it capable of doing… it’s absolutely ridiculous that it can’t keep up with these VERY basic hand-actions.


Over-all the experience is a positive one. I kind of wish I had kids to share the experience with, it seems like the perfect introduction to the world of Fanastia for a modern generation. Not only do you get to be introduced to the concept of symphonic music, as I was when I was a child, but you get to participate in its creation and join in on the fun of conducting the symphony and mixing the music for yourself.

Review based on a Xbox One download code provided by the publisher.

Fantasia: Music Evolved
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Harmonix
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: Oct 21st, 2014
Price: $59.99