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DoubleTake: Fantasia: Music Evolved

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Posted on June 4, 2013 AT 06:01am

Do you believe in magic?

Josh I know you and I have vastly different opinions of Fantasia, but before we get into that knock-down, drag-out fight, I suppose we should delve into the basics of what the game actually is. It’s kind of hard to explain without sounding like a crazy person, but I’ll give it my best shot. There are basically two separate parts, a point-and-click exploration adventure and a rhythm game. In the adventure side, you basically look around an animated panorama that tries to channel the charm of the musical vignettes from the movie. You can control a little cursor with your hand—I think they called it a “muse”—to interact with objects and solve short, simple puzzles. If you find a song portal–thingy, you can open it up and hop into the rhythm side of things, which is much less confusing to put into words. Think DDR with your hands and a few branching paths that let you remix the song with different instrumentation. That about covers it.
See, I keep wanting to say that it reminds me of ParaParaParadise, but I think I’m one of only seven people in this country who know what that game even is. It’s hard to judge the exploration portions of the game, because from my experience with them, they seemed like a fun distraction between songs—but I’m not sure if they’ll be much more than that. Once into the songs, though, it’s hand swipes, or gestures toward the screen, or other kinds of exaggerated movements like those. At least, exaggerated if you’re trying to get into the game—otherwise, this could be one of those music games where it’ll be realy easy to just be lazy, flick your wrist here or there, and call it a day. Eric
Josh Didn’t take long for the hate to start, did it? Your inner child is dead. Dead. The two exploration segments I saw—one in a printing press and another set on the sea floor—were whimsical, and something is broken inside you if you don’t agree with me. I love all the little details: robots tottering around the factory floor, a sea turtle swimming around with a miniature reef on his back. I love the fact that everything you interact with adds notes to the level’s background music. I love the cartoony, very Disney look to the characters. Not every game can be Call of Duty, Eric.

I wasn’t trying to start the hate! I mean, not yet, anyhow. What I was saying is that, due to the way the game’s motion control is integrated, I think it’ll be easy for some players to just stand still and be sloppy about how they play Fantastia. Good music/rhythm games really need to captivate players and make them want to get into the groove. I didn’t feel that here—and this is where I start the hate. I know you disagree—and I’m really glad we have both sides of the opinion here—but I was completely underwhelmed with the experience. When I think about a rhythm game based around Fantasia, I expect epic, grandiouse things to be happening onscreen. Lightning crashing, magic unfolding, animals dancing around in human clothing. Fantasia was a way to sell commoners on classical music by pairing it with larger-than-life cartoon experiences. Where is that here, Mr. Harmon? Because I didn’t see any of that—what I saw were some tiny motion-control prompts transposed over what amounts to a computer screensaver. Eric
Josh The sort of things you mentioned are in the exploration segments. (Except for the animals dancing around in human clothing. You might have to go to Anthrocon for that.) The rhythm-game stuff can’t be that busy because it needs to be instantly readable and intuitive for everyone, and that’s where I think they’ve done a spectacular job. With almost no introduction, I was swiping, punching, and dragging my arms across the screen like a pro. It really let me get into the groove of the music, too. I might not have been conducting a ton of walking brooms, but I sure felt like Mickey in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, since Harmonix always does good work, but I think the gestures are really well matched to the music.
Here’s the thing, though—I’ve played countless rhythm games, and I’ve seen plenty that strike a balance between having clear markers for knowing what you should be doing, while also being visually interesting. If Fantasia were doing crazy, complex things in terms of gameplay or bringing in some groundbreaking ideas in how to interact with the music, I might be more forgiving of the boring backgrounds. It’s not, though—it’s swiping your arms through the air in time with tiny markers. The one real significant idea that Fantasia brings to the table is the idea of remixing the music as you play, but even then, I just wasn’t impressed with how it was implemented. You get the option to switch at key points to other mixes of the current song—say, from the original mix to a more rock-oriented one or acoustic version—but I wish it had been integrated more naturally into the game beyond “here’s the point where you choose your next path.” And when it comes to the freestyle segments—I was rockin’ that jam back in PaRappa the Rapper, yo! So, I ask you to explain why I’m completely missing the boat on this game. Eric

Josh I’m not sure it’s possible to explain whimsy and magic to someone with a heart as shrivled and black as yours. It’s not just the rhythm levels—though they’re much cooler, more intuitive, and more fun to play than you’re giving them credit for. (ParaParaParadise can only dream for the accuracy and number of inputs Harmonix is squeezing out of the first-gen Kinect, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the Xbox One version.) It’s not just the point-and-click hub levels—though they’re a neat way to re-create the musically driven animation of the movie in an interactive format. It’s about how it all comes together as you play. I beat “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it pulled in part of that song and overlaid it on top of the main theme for that area. I beat “Some Nights” by fun., and it pulled in a little vocal riff from that, too. Then I could tinker with all their interactive objects in real time and have them contribute to the soundscape in a way that sounded perfectly natural. It might not be as laser-focused as your beloved J-pop rhythm games, but it’s different and open-ended in a way that makes the kid in me giddy and wide-eyed. I’ll give you that it’s not super game-y, but I think that’s sort of the point. There’s a score meter, you can practice and play it like a straight-up rhythm game, sure, but in the end, it’s all about the journey and letting yourself get sucked into the exploration and musical experimentation.
To be fair, it isn’t just rhythm games from across the ocean that I think do things better than what I’ve played of Fantasia—there are plenty of Western examples that also back up my arguments. Sure, I could be jaded at this point, but I’ve seen too many great examples in the genre to be impressed, as of now, with what Harmonix is showing off here. For me, though, it’s a bigger question: calling the game Fantasia. When you’re making a game based around such a classic Disney animated film, I expect that larger-than-life feeling—not a limp musical experience with that name slapped onto it. I would love, more than anything, to be proven wrong in my initial impressions once I get more of a chance to play Fantasia, and I’ll be happy to admit that I was wrong if that day comes. As of now, I’ll just have to sit here with my best Grumpy Cat face on, thinking you kids who are going gaga over the game are wacko. Eric

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