The lights are on
Update: We earlier stated that Fantasia: Music Evolved will be out this holiday season. It will releases some time in 2014.
Disney and Harmonix have partnered for a new Xbox 360 and Xbox One music game that doesn’t focus on plastic instruments or dancing. This Kinect-enabled Fantasia game puts players in the role of the sorcerer’s apprentice, allowing them to explore musical worlds and magically remix songs with rhythmic hand gestures. Disney is on the bill, but don’t expect to play along to classic Aladdin or Lion King songs. Just like the 1940 Fantasia film’s unique presentation of classical songs, this game plays with popular songs from musicians like Queen and Bruno Mars in new ways.
I got an opportunity to try out the game during a pre-E3 event in Santa Monica, California. The goal is to prove yourself to Yen Sid, the sorcerer himself, by honing your musical abilities. His approval is won by bringing enchanting worlds to life with music and performing your own spin on popular songs. A variety of colorful, panoramic worlds are available to explore and tinker with. Harmonix showed off a The Little Mermaid-esque coral reef and a magical newspaper printing factory. Players can step side-to-side as they explore these panoramas on a horizontal axis. Along the coral reef, players can experiment with drum-beating clams, coax out a seahorse to play with a swipe of their hand, and find other hidden musical spots. These panoramas are quiet when you first visit them, but after exploring they begin to hum with life and music.
After the coral reef, I jumped into the newspaper press. The malfunctioning machinery needs to be reactivated. I guide my cursor through the 3D world, drawing my hand closer to the screen to reach deeper. Holding the cursor over objects like a machine switch activates them. Players must solve simple environmental puzzles to get the press online, like shrinking fix-it robots with a ray-gun so they can enter and repair a machine. Perform the correct motions with your hands and you unlock songs to play.
I began by tinkering with Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Bright nodes fly across a starry sky as the song begins. These notes pass through arrows that cue me to rhythmically swipe my hands in certain directions. Other notes pass through large circles, requiring me to press my hand out like I’m miming “stop”. A selection of three different musical styles pops up: orchestral, hard rock, and acoustic. Distorted guitars don’t usually enter Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” until later, but I decide to introduce them early. As the song plays, I opt to swap out my strings section with cellos, creating a rockin’ version of the song with a classy touch. The focus on these song-shaping experiences appears on enjoying yourself rather than being graded, so players shouldn’t worry about failure.
The other songs revealed include AVICII’s “Levels,” Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” Fun’s “Some Nights,” and Kimbra’s “Settle Down.” I noticed other instrument options like metal drum kits electronic keyboards that give songs a chiptune sound. Harmonix has more songs and instruments on the way, so the possibilities for tinkering with music should be vast.
Like any music game I’ve ever played, the beginning phases with Fantasia are awkward. After some practice, I started nailing notes and eventually my arms flowed in time like a conductor’s. The sensation is cool, and the possibility of remixing my favorite songs in real time is exciting. Fantasia is less of a game than Harmonix’s previous console titles, but the concept has potential. It arrives on Xbox 360 and Xbox One next year.
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