Kinecting to Disneyland

This article originally appeared in Issue 10 (December 2011) of WDWNT: The Magazine.

Several months ago I took a look back at Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, which set you loose in Disneyland to explore a set of mini games based on the attractions. Twenty years later, we trade up our NES for an Xbox to take on a very similar task. This time, however, Disneyland is more than an 8 bit map, where the protagonist is the same height as the castle. More than anything else, Kinect Disneyland Adventures is the most accurate Disneyland outside of Anaheim. But does the gameplay measure up as well?

You begin the game by creating an avatar. Give up early trying to make someone who looks like you, unless you look like someone who just fell out of an audience on a Disney Channel special. An anthropomorphized park ticket serves as your guide, instructing you on how to navigate the park and interact with characters (you do this by waving at them). Right away you are launched into a quest by Mickey to find Donald. Donald sends you to Mickey, who sends you to find Goofy. Tracking down the characters is not a challenge as a sparkling trail guides you to them.

This little trading sequence seems to go on a lot longer than it should, and you begin to wonder if you will ever get to go beyond Main Street. Finally, Mickey sends us off to the Matterhorn to find Donald’s hat. At long last, it’s time to explore. This is likely the moment that most Disney fans will be truly amazed. The level of detail is astounding. This game faithfully recreates the park right down to the types of pavement under your feet. Walking around the park immediately transported me to the real place. I could see park benches I sat on, food carts I ate at. This was no small undertaking, and clearly great care was put into the design of the park. You could probably spend hours just walking around and taking in the detail.

That is, if you had a robotic arm. This game highlights a weakness that exists in the Kinect’s “you are the controller” model of gameplay. With no buttons or analog sticks to move your virtual self from land to land, your mode of transportation is by pointing where you want to go. Even by keeping your arm down way low, which still works, you will find yourself needing a break should you attempt to walk from Space Mountain to Splash Mountain. For this reason alone, I found myself wishing more for a Wii-like control system, which marries motion with physical buttons in a way that leaves me feeling less sore at the end.

Upon arriving at the Matterhorn, it’s time to ride. As a further example of just how well designed this virtual Magic Kingdom is, the background music and safety spiels are completely authentic. A magical portal beckons us on to the attraction. But rather than riding the Matterhorn itself, we are launched into a mini game where we are bobsledding down the mountain-side. It was here that the magic started to wear off. The controls were beyond clumsy, and I found myself constantly crashing into hazards on the way down. The game also felt a few minutes too long (a theme which would continue throughout), and became rather repetitive. It doesn’t really matter much, since there is no way to lose- no matter how poorly you play, you will make it to the end.

After grabbing Donald’s hat on the way down, it’s time to go back to the trading sequence. Honestly, at this point I got bored by the character interactions and set out to explore the rest of the park. There is no requirement that you follow any particular order, so you are free to wander the park and take it all in. Two interesting observations: First, it seems someone did not want to take the time to license third party franchises. Star Tours, Indiana Jones and Roger Rabbit are all missing from the park. The facades are there, but no mention of the attractions within. Second, this Disneyland is already becoming a bit of a time capsule. For example, if you look across the esplanade, you will see the entrance to DCA complete with the large California letters and postcard motif. This ought to make the game really interesting in a decade and beyond.

The mini games in the attractions do a decent enough job of playing to the theme of the attraction they are based on. Unfortunately what is missing is the actual attraction. I really wish the option was present to simply go for a ride on Pirates, rather than rowing down the bayou. There are a few attractions that you can simply ride, but those are pretty much confined to the spinning rides (Mad Tea Party, Astro Orbiter) and the like. The controls, however, are very hit or miss. I found it near impossible to fly through Space Mountain without hitting half the objects in my path, but the Stretching Room level in Haunted Mansion more or less worked as one would hope.

One major point of annoyance was in the menu system of the game. Trying to swipe between pages was a chore, and usually failed to work at all. I know it’s not a problem with my Kinect as the Xbox’s menus work fine. But in the game, I have been unable to swipe left in any menu on any screen since I got the game. Not once. I also saw more visual glitches than I would have expected, especially when drawing structures off in the distance, and even some stuttering. Humorously, many park guests would simply vanish as I walked into them (if only I could accomplish this when in the real park). Thankfully the game supports voice commands, which I usually found more accurate than the standard gesture based menu controls.

So in the end, is this game worth it? Assuming you already own an Xbox 360 and a Kinect, then yes, if only to have the occasional walk about Disneyland in your PJs. If you don’t, consider that for the cost of the Xbox Kinect bundle and the game you are almost at the cost of an Annual Passport to the real Disneyland (Southern California residents will have money to spare). Unless you plan on doing some other gaming, this is probably too extravagant to justify. Then again, total up all that you have spent on pins over the years and perhaps this purchase becomes more reasonable.

I feel very conflicted about this game. The park is beautifully rendered, and being able to walk around Disneyland any time I want from the comfort of my living room is a great thing. The mini games are not bad, but they are unlikely to hold your attention, and have little replay-ability. After spending some time exploring, there was little there to draw me in further. I also feel the game would be just as enjoyable, and probably more so, without the motion controls. For young children, the ability to interact with their favorite characters, without a 20 minute wait, will no doubt be popular. Given the hours I spend playing Adventures in the Magic Kingdom when I was younger, this vastly improved game should hold the interest of the group who is ultimately the target crowd. For the rest of us, the game is visually stunning, if coming up short in other areas. I easily recommend the game to families with a Kinect, recommend with reservations for adults with one, and to those without the system, I can only ask if making your 2011 Disney merchandise collection complete is worth the cost of entry.

Kinecting to Disneyland was last updated December 22nd, 2013 by Michael Truskowski