Every year at E3 there’s a game somewhere out on the floor that, when found, those who see it end up with their jaw agape saying, “Wow. Didn’t see THAT coming.”
Fantasia: Music Evolved was this year’s game no one saw coming.
We saw the trailer at Disney’s E3 booth and thought it to be another music or dance game like Rock Band or Dance Central. And the conclusion has a basis: the game is developed by Harmonix, which developed both titles. But the comparisons end there.
To share some backstory: Fantasia the film was released in 1940 in specifically selected theatres with over 100 speakers in a sound system known as Fantasound. The film saw several releases, but it was Walt Disney’s intent to revisit the film, updating it with more contemporary music as time passed, so that it was a living entity, with music living through the magic of animation. This didn’t quite come to pass as expected, and the film didn’t see a sequel until Fantasia 2000 nearly sixty years later.
Harmonix has called Fantasia: Music Evolved a “spiritual successor” to the original film, designed to invoke the same magic the original film evoked in the early years of animation. Players will step into the role of the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice; to prove themselves worthy to the great sorcerer Yen Sid, players will harness the magic of music to revitalize worlds in dire need of a little love.
Our demo performer took us to a grotto that is dark and barren, known as a “Discovery Scene.” With a few waves of the hand, a few fish were discovered, swimming in harmony, and a bit of the world lightened up. With the power of magic though, performance portals are revealed and by conducting the music, the magic will spill out into the world around it.
I’ve been sitting looking at the screen trying to describe the game. I don’t do this often, but this is something that truly has to be seen to really appreciate. The Disney and Harmonix team demonstrated the gameplay throughout the day with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on Kinect for Xbox One. (Credit: Inside the Magic.)
Simply put, words cannot do this game justice. I wasn’t able to record my own demo, but I did get hands-on time with the game later in the day and I had an absolute blast. It truly felt like I was in control of the music. Gameplay certainly felt unique, and I wasn’t concerned about hitting the dance steps exactly right or pressing the right button on the instrument; it was intuitive and natural, and I thought less about getting it right and more about having fun. The Fantasia team claims no song will ever be heard the same way twice, and the three demos I watched prior to my turn each indeed sounded like unique renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Satisfactory performances will magically revive the world around the player, opening up surprises like the Jazz Clams that quickly became famous around the E3 floor. Performances can be recorded and shared with the Fantasia community, and the team is also looking at online and offline multiplayer.
Announced artists alongside Queen include Bruno Mars, Avicii, Fun., and even Modest Mussorgsky, allowing players to try their hand at conducting “Night on Bald Mountain” from the original Fantasia.
Fantasia: Music Evolved will be available for Xbox One and Xbox 360 with Kinect. Players can step up to the platform in 2014.