After previewing this game at E3 and seeing its obvious inspiration by the likes of Little Big Planet, I was excited to bring it home. Disney Universe delivers a generally fun gaming experience, though its repetitive ways loses some of its Disney magic.
In Disney Universe, you're a visitor who's greeted by a floating blue box before it's taken over by an "evil" red and black box. Your task is to play through the levels of the universe and help "release" trapped characters (costumes) as you go.
The levels are adorable, and any Disney fan will love to experience playing through them. Whether it be The Lion King, or Pirates of the Caribbean, the music, visuals, and even the bad guys you encounter, all match the theme. Each world has its own extra "thing," like Monster's Inc. with its scream canisters and transporting doors, or Alice in Wonderland's pocket watches and seedlings you help grow into large plants.
Every world has three full levels, each with three parts. Should you play only one or two parts of a level, the game will save your progress and you can continue where you left off, even if you go play other worlds in the meantime. This splits the level in such a way that those who have a short amount of time, or short attention-spans, can play in increments and still feel like they've accomplished something.
The puzzles are relatively simple, from treasure chests to unlock with keys you find, to dragging things around to complete different tasks. The game automatically has "help arrows" enabled, which basically tell you what you're supposed to do at any given second, guiding you for things like where you should be, what you should grab, and where you bring that item to. Kids will appreciate the help, however, you can disable the arrows and try for yourself should you wish.
There's someone "trapped" in each level, and you must complete it to set them free. Sometimes you have to play the level twice to get a particular character. Once you've unlocked a costume by freeing the trapped character, you can purchase it under the "costumes" option on the main screen.
One world (Pirates of the Caribbean) and several costumes are available from the get-go, with the rest waiting for you to either purchase or unlock them. You collect coins as you play, which is actually a necessity as they're your ticket to unlocking the extra worlds and costumes. Until you choose to "purchase" one, you can't access it.
Costumes can be leveled-up, up to four times as you play. Each level-segment has a treasure chest that contains a star. When you get the star, the character you're playing as levels up. A nice touch is that every character has a "tool" that is relevant to their character, and it changes as you gain levels; Stitch from Lilo and Stitch starts with a grungy guitar, and as you level him up his guitar becomes nicer and nicer. The power of the tool also increases, making it easier to fight the baddies.
Cute, somewhat level-themed animals are in every scene, and you or the enemy can ride and attack with them. Sometimes it's better to attack with the animal than to use your own weapon, plus it's just too darn adorable seeing a costume like Stitch galloping on the back of an animal like the sheep.
The bad guys spring up seemingly randomly at first, and they're always dressed according to the theme of the world (in Alice in Wonderland, they look like subordinates of the Red Queen). They build mini turrets that shoot at you, and floor spike-traps to get in your way, giving you more enemies to destroy. Defeating them is easy since you only have one attack button, and you can re-spawn an infinite number of times, making you invincible.
The game becomes glaringly repetitive after a while, having you go through the same tasks and unlocking the same amount of extras while attacking enemies in the same sequence. Once you learn the formula, the game isn't quite as fun or challenging as you go through the motions level after level.
Throughout the levels, blue-floating boxes are scattered, containing either a power-up or a bonus item. This can be a bit frustrating when you want to destroy some enemies and you instead get a coin magnet or a treasure drill. It's also frustrating that they're usually placed far from where the enemies appear, so to use it to it's full advantage you usually have to lure the baddies near it and then use it. I also found at the beginning I kept using these before I'd encounter any baddies, wasting my special power as I would fruitlessly shoot my bees or laser gun at nothing. A fun idea, complete with ridiculous weapons, but it could have been executed better.
To mix things up as you play, mini arcade-boxes appear containing several mini-games, such as attacking 30 chickens, avoiding lightning, and other such ideas. You earn coins if you complete them, and they're a nice, optional mini-break from the antics on-screen.
Multi-player mode allows up to four players to play simultaneously. Before entering a level, you can add-in as many as you'd like, and everyone can choose their own costume. In the level, you can either play together, or you can play competitively by stealing each other's coins and trying to have the highest amount at the end of the level. Because so much is going on on-screen, you'll probably beat each other up without meaning to since it's hard to keep track of where your character is amidst the chaos. Mini-evil-boxes appear as you go, taunting you as it follows the characters around until it reaches a player, cursing them by temporarily turning them into a chicken or boot or some other object. Level-up stars aren't shared when found, so only the character who finds it gets to level up. Should someone want to opt-out of playing, they can't remove themselves until the level-segment is done, and even then you have to exit to the main menu and re-select the level, minus the extra player(s).
The camera angle is set throughout the game which can get very frustrating, especially during the chaos of multi-player mode. If you like getting everything in a level, you have to be willing to possibly run off the edge of a cliff or into an enemy to shift the screen over. I noticed many times, including when fighting a boss who was off-screen, the screen wouldn't move to show where things and enemies were, so I'd have to blindly run in that direction and hope for the best. I kept wishing I could shift the angle, even just a bit, and not have to sacrifice myself to do it.
Costumes are available for download, with two freebies included with the purchase of the game. There will possibly be more costumes and worlds available at some point as well.
While fun to play at first, the repetitiveness of the game-play, puzzles, and enemies has it lose its magic after a while. It's evident that this game is geared more towards kids, however, even kids may grow tired of it once they learn the repeated step-by-step structure of the game. Even so, the themed levels, adorable costumes, and ease of playing will have Disney fans of all ages feeling content, even if only for a little while. Disney Universe is now available for the PS3, Xbox 360, and the Wii.