Disney Universe is the unexpected lovechild of the ongoing LEGO franchise and LittleBigPlanet. It makes little effort to hide its origins, borrowing the costumes and shenanigans of the latter, and the light platforming, puzzle-based brawling pedigree of the former. With the entire Disney pantheon at their disposal, Eurocom probably picked the right pair of series to ape, and meld.
Over the years, the LEGO games have done little to change, other than switching one license for the next. Even then, Traveler’s Tales expects you to slog through hours of collectathons within a single property, whether it is Batman, Star Wars or Harry Potter. After the first dozen levels the fatigue sets in; no matter how adorable the story sequences are with the iconic plastic yellow dudes, you’re doing the same thing in the same environments over and over again. Disney Universe skirts this problem by separating its content into six different film properties, meaning each world will run its course and then you’re off to something new – and hopefully refreshing.
Hardcore Disney aficionados may scoff at the worlds available. Fan favorites like Aladdin and The Lion King are accounted for, along with a pair of Pixar’s modern classics, but the world selection is rounded out by The Pirates of the Caribbean and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. As a Disney fan myself, the inclusion of the two live-action films underwhelm, considering the company’s history in not only animated films but also in television – how about a Rescue Rangers or Darkwing Duck world? However, even without the nostalgia factor for those two included properties, both translate to beautiful game environments.
Speaking of Alice, that particular world has some of the most frivolous, inventive set pieces. Following on the heels of the LEGO titles, Disney Universe boils down to finding an object, dropping it into a mechanism and then repeating, broken up by fits of mindless combat. In Alice in Wonderland, players use candles to heat up tea kettles, top hats as makeshift cannons and wield pocket watches with the ability to rewind time. The puzzles are straightforward, the game makes it clear where things have to go but leaves the player to track down the equipment necessary. Despite the ease and directness, puzzle solving remains satisfying, just to see the small ways the environment changes and to see what’s next.
The biggest issue Disney Universe runs into by following the LEGO template so closely is in the obligatory combat. For some reason developers have decided combat in a children’s title must solely consist of running around and waving a weapon around like a madman. Each costume in the game has a series of funny skins for their weapon, a personal favorite being Princess Jasmine brandishing her pet tiger as a club, but it all breaks down to thoughtless button mashing. It’s worse because it’s nearly impossible to keep track of your health, which is represented by a circular meter at your character’s feet. Of course, death only vaguely matters, so maybe that’s the point. You have infinite lives and always respawn exactly where you died. But, to get some of the best level rewards, you’ll need to avoid death, which just isn’t realistic due to the clumsy fighting.
Disney Universe is definitely at its most fun when played with a friend, or three. The game is already zany enough on its own and it’s a great venue to grief your buddies while occasionally cooperating. The playfulness of the characters, enemies and locations definitely channels the LittleBigPlanet attitude, without the creation aspect. In a particularly obvious nod to Media Molecule’s franchise, it sports a near identical emotion system, assigning various moods for your costumed character to each of the four directions on the D-pad. Unfortunately, they don’t really serve much purpose since your characters are usually too small on screen to emote clearly mid-level, and because there is sadly no online multiplayer; this game was directed for actual kids, ones who still have play-dates, and not kids-at-heart, like myself.
For those with a longstanding fondness for Disney, the costume collection aspect will likely be the biggest appeal. Eurocom has jammed 45 costumes into the game, spanning well beyond the game worlds represented, starting with Mickey, all the way to Tron: Legacy characters. Like dressing up your Sackboy or girl, trying out all the iconic outfits is pretty damn adorable, but it does highlight the glaring omission of mixing and matching costume pieces. And, the other annoyance is nearly half the costumes require a second playthrough of a specific stage, which can be a tedious endeavor. Disney Universe claims that each stage changes on subsequent replays, but the biggest difference I could decipher was a slight increase in enemy dispersal.
Disney Universe is the most enjoyable LEGO game I’ve played; it’s fun and funnier than it often has any right to be, and it does a lot with the Disney licenses included. Its biggest issue is that it follows Traveler’s Tales blueprint a little too closely, falling into the same pitfalls that their franchise has. But, injected with the playful co-op tomfoolery of LittleBigPlanet, both older Disney fans and children alike could do a whole lot worse. Now, let’s all kick back and hope for that Darkwing Duck DLC.