Disney Universe hands-on preview

Don’t you dare write off Disney Universe as “just for kids.” Are the LEGO games just for kids? No, they’re ultra-charming interactive takes on beloved franchises that anyone with thumbs can understand, play, and enjoy. Now imagine that style of all-inclusive gameplay, shelled in almost a century’s worth of beloved material, and you’ve got an appeal that covers everyone from hardcore gamers to grandmas.

Disney nerds will be positively giddy about the fan service here. And we’re talking about the true classics (read: not Hanna Montana). Disney dorks will be rewarded with costumes from The Lion King, Aladdin, and of course the original “Fab Five.” In our playtest, we eagerly opted for a soon-to-be-announced character (Oo De Lally!) and were rewarded with even more shoutouts as we leveled up his costume. His weapon evolved into an arrow quiver, and eventually into an actual character. Yep, we were battin’ baddies with a petrified snake of the same film!

Disney universe will include a half-dozen worlds on Day 1, including the universally beloved The Lion King, along with Wall-E, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Monsters Inc., and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Six worlds may not sound like much, but each world contains three locations, and each location contains three levels. Doing the math for you, that’s 54 levels on disc. Disney Universe is also releasing with a lower-than-average price point ($49.99). And since the devs have already done the heavy lifting by building the framework for level creation, new worlds can be created quickly. We suspect the pricing is as much about getting a quality game into our hands as it is about building a platform for heaping helpings of DLC.

While the game launches with some of Disney’s biggest cash cows, these worlds also complement one another by being thematically distinctive and covering a wide variety of tastes. Each world is comes from a different designer, and they often vary drastically. For instance, the Monsters Inc.’s Door Factory is very platform heavy, yet Alice in Wonderland’s world takes a more puzzley approach. This demo’s newly playable Aladdin-themed world – featuring the Streets of Agrabah, the Sultan’s Palace, and the Cave of Wonder – sported a tightly woven mix of both, with added combat elements and a race-for-your-life lava getaway.

Disney Universe’s potential for online enhancement has us thinking of it like a LittleBigPlanet officially skinned with a stable of characters beloved by generations, with a greater degree of quality control since it’s restricted to the pros. However, Disney Universe’s coolest new feature is something we would’ve killed for when we were kids constantly repeating the same multiplayer levels with our pals: Like many games, players will earn all manner of rewards and other braggables, but they can also build a Level Playlist specifically tailored to their personal preferences. In short, Disney Universe is undoing linear shackles by allowing us to build own adventures. Once we stack our favorite levels in the order of our choosing, they’ll unspool seamlessly into a customized, unique experience on and offline.

You don’t have to be a Disney fanboy to see the potential of Disney Universe, both at launch and down the line via customization and new DLC. Disney Universe hits all platforms on October 25.

Oct 5, 2011

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