Composer of the cosmos

When you think about the library of Kinect games for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, it’s a rather sad state of affairs. One developer, however, has consistently put their peripheral expertise to good use and taken advantage of what’s otherwise been a disappointing piece of hardware. Of course, I’m speaking about Harmonix.

Dance Central provided the group fun of Rock Band—but without the expensive plastic-toy inputs. Wanting to continue this trend but offer fans a bit of changeup from their bootyshake-prompting staple, they teamed up with Disney to explore the classic combination of animation and music: Fantasia.

Fantasia: Music Evolved is one of those few Kinect games that you can actually play comfortably from your favorite chair, because it only requires your arms. You play as Yen Sid’s—the wizard from Fantasia whose name is conveniently “Disney” spelled backward—newest apprentice, and must prove you’re worthy of wearing his magic hat in the hopes of responsibly conducting the cosmos with your rhythm-infused fingertips. As your mastery improves, new worlds full of music and sound will come alive as you play 33 classical and contemporary songs, along with unique minigames, like beatboxing with talking vegetables or harmonizing with a yeti, to add your own special tracks to each world.

Along the way, you’ll also encounter Yen Sid’s former apprentice, Scout. This is where Music Evolved differs from most other Harmonix titles, since it actually provides a story. Once you’ve grasped the gameplay basics, Scout will come along and accidentally unleash “The Noise,” a cacophony of offbeat, ear-splitting rhythms that you must vanquish from the game’s 10 worlds by playing through the soundtrack and unlocking a pair of remixes for each song. Some remixes, for example, might see a classical piece from Dvorak and give it the old 8-bit treatment or take a contemporary artist like CeeLo Green and give “Forget You” a dubstep drubbing.

This is where I found a bit of fault with Music Evolved, however. With only 33 songs at launch (more coming via DLC, of course) you can blow through the whole thing pretty quickly—and disappointingly, for a $60 title. In order to force a second playthrough, though, you can’t unlock the second remix for each song, and therefore can’t 100-percent the game unless you play each song again after beating the story mode.

While it was still fun, I felt limited by not being able to just unlock each remix and minigame on my first run and hated having to go back and play many songs that I didn’t particularly care for a second or third time seemingly just to push the game from a three-hour experience to a six-hour endeavor.

Also, 33 songs isn’t a lot at all, but I was also disappointed by the fact that a game with the word “Disney”—a company known for its fantastic cinematic music—didn’t use any iconic songs from their films to flesh out the soundtrack. One could argue that the original Fantasia only used classical compositions, and the couple of original pieces that composer Inon Zur (best known for contributing to game soundtracks such as Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, and Soul Calibur V) adds are great, but then why do we have to deal with Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj? I’d much rather have had any number of songs from The Lion King, Aladdin, Mary Poppins, Cinderella, or The Jungle Book to really hammer home the Disney feel and flesh out what quickly feels like a paltry playlist.

That said—and musical tastes aside—I couldn’t deny how much fun I had during the short time Music Evolved lasted. Each of the game’s worlds is beautifully designed in regards to the cartoonish art style, and being able to interact with each one in weird, wonderful ways filled me with a surprising, childlike glee. The Kinect picked up my motions rather seamlessly, even in my tiny living space, and as I swept my arms around and saw the bright flashes of light and color onscreen, I felt like I was indeed moving the heavens to music like Mickey back in the 1940 film. Unlike Mickey, though, it’s much harder to fail in Music Evolved, and I found myself racking up huge multipliers and nailing at least 80 percent of the moves in every given song. There’s also no option to bump up the difficulty—songs are simply rated on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the hardest.

Beyond the core gameplay, though, the minigames might the brightest star in your orchestral sky. An assortment of different situations actually task you to think a little with pattern recognition and even require hopping about your living room as you charge up musical solar panels or realign the displaced pieces of a voice synthesizer. These elements aren’t limited to outside the songs, either. Five different games called “Composition Spells,” which also play an integral part to Scout’s story, allow you to mix notes while in the middle of playing a song and add a track unique to that particular playthrough.

With the ability to record game clips, you can also upload your best or most original performances to the Music Evolved YouTube channel, providing an interesting social wrinkle to what, by nature, is probably one of the least social of Harmonix’s games to date. There’s a local multiplayer component to Music Evolved, but it’s only for two people, and it can be a bit hard to track whose cues are whose when various swipes, punches, and traces start filling the screen.

Fantasia: Music Evolved may not be the deepest game, but it’s definitely a memorable one. It blends Harmonix’s ability to utilize music in interesting, dynamic ways with Disney’s uncanny knack to make most anyone feel like a kid provides a fun—albeit short—romp that once again provides that rare good Kinect experience.

Developer: Harmonix • Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 10.21.14
Waving your arms in front of your TV like you’re conducting some kind of cosmic orchestra is a surprising amount of fun, but the lack of content leaves the experience feeling a bit bare.
The Good Simple, fun gameplay; looking around Yen Sid’s workshop; Inon Zur’s original compositions.
The Bad Lack of songs on disc, repeat playthroughs required to unlock all songs/remixes.
The Ugly Harmonix is still the only developer who knows how to make a fun Kinect game.
Fantasia: Music Evolved is available on Xbox One and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Harmonix for the benefit of this review.