Before we start, I feel I should confess… I probably don’t fit into the primary target audience for this game. You see, in truth, there are quite a few places I don’t fit any more – I am a grown man. That said, I am also a Disney fan, and one whom recently made his first trip to The Magic Kingdom a year shy of his 30th Birthday… without any kids in tow. It was amazing, but just like Bandai Namco’s Disney Magical World, on first glance you’d be mistaken for thinking it was intended only for devout Mouseketeers.
Not to be mistaken, a love of all things Disney will surely help going into the game, but when Mickey joyously proclaims “We’re gonna have a blast today!” from the 3DS menu, it isn’t just his ever-present optimism on display; he’s actually on to something.
From the outset I had very little idea of what to expect – I’d seen a few advertisements and screenshots floating around the internet during the American launch back in April, but from a gameplay standpoint at least, I was going in blind. It looks an awful lot like an Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or the more recent Tomodachi Life rolled in Disney glitter I thought, and much like these titles before it falling under the broad genre of a life simulator.
Magical World sets itself apart from other such games by placing a heavy emphasis on the collection and crafting of objects through a series of story driven tasks, however, with said tasks – rather unexpectedly for a Disney property – played out via a series of dungeon-crawling quests, each of which seeing the player banish ghosts and ghoulies with the ultimate aim of collecting pre-designated materials from hidden treasure chests.
Disney Magical World sees your created character or Mii receiving an invite to the kingdom of Castleton – a promised land with “magic found around every corner” – and naturally, home to Mickey, Minnie and over 60 other colourful Disney characters. Castleton acts as the static central hub for the title, with a punctuated mini-map on the bottom screen showing hints towards the wider world beyond that at the foot of the castle. A brief introduction from Walt’s mischievous mouse follows, before we’re seemingly set off on our first task – meeting some more famous faces.
Daisy, Donald, Scrooge McDuck, and The Rescue Rangers all then lead us through a rather laborious tutorial, each introducing their own specific role within the town – be that learning how to fish with Donald, trying on, and crucially, purchasing, some new outfits in Daisy’s boutique, or knocking together some new items in Chip & Dale’s workshop, should buying them from McDuck’s department store be a little out of your price range.
There are quite a few different aspects of play to get to grips with early on, and it definitely takes a while, so expect a lot of hand-holding, but with a game so coherently targeted at a younger audience thankfully these are varied enough to be interesting, while somehow, still mostly boiling down to pressing the action button at the right time, as not to be too taxing.
Similarly, despite the apparent go-anywhere, do-anything open world nature of the game, Disney Magical World manages to maintain a fairly linear progression system; your in-game progress is measured, inexplicably, by the collection of Happy Stickers (keep those unnecessary adjectives coming, guys), and with each sticker you collect, a new objective, area or Magic Quest (oh, there we go again) will become available.
As with every other collectible in the game, the size of your Sticker pile is documented on the lower screen with a press of X, and in this instance, there’s even a handy ever-present “Recommended Stickers” selection which points you in the right direction if you’re missing one or two before your next meeting with Pooh or Princess Jasmine.
It took me a good couple of hours of point-to-point instruction and collecting my first few stickers through quests before the world opened up fully, but even at this relatively early stage of the game it was becoming quite clear that Magical World holds a virtual toy-chest full of content, all with the level of polish you expect from a Disney and Nintendo project.
Unfortunately, despite the attention to detail in the game’s aesthetics, Magic World’s quests will quickly become a repetitive slog if you let them. The goal may be as varied as collecting lavish cloth for Cinderella’s ballgown, or finding food for Alladin’s camels, but ultimately the loosely formed puzzles are just that, and require little more than a combination of walking from A-to-B, killing ghosts, flicking switches, and opening chests – all accomplished with a few presses of the A button.
To its advantage, Magical World shies away from forcing a fast paced romp through memorable Disney fare, instead allowing players to make their own adventures – moving at a steady, relaxing pace – and rewarding exploration. In that sense Magical World is never leading you towards doing any one thing in particular, promoting the creativity and customisation on offer at every turn.
The ongoing collection of crafting materials means objectives within the game will progress even when you’re not consciously working towards them, and whilst you’ll come across time sensitive quests on occasion, these will simply reset after the designated period and appear again later – meaning if you don’t want to battle a certain ghost or harvest a certain crop right now, alternatively choosing to buy a new pair of princess pumps, you don’t have to.
There’s also Cinderella’s dancing mini-game, and the Cafe – a home of sorts given to you by the King after the tutorial quests – in which you can decorate, dress up the staff, and serve newly created snacks to the town’s residents, all for a fee of course. Unexpectedly, your Cafe also hides the only multiplayer aspect of the game – visiting your friends. Except you don’t, not really. You could get my friend code and visit my cafe, but you wouldn’t see me there, or be able to interact with my fabulous looking Mii at all; rather you’ll just admire the decor and leave a gift for my return, if you’re feeling especially generous.
The missed opportunity to have created a Disney themed meeting place of sorts within Magical World where players can show off their outfits and chat with friends before setting off on quests sticks out like a sore thumb, and given that the Cafe is touted as a meeting place, it feels massively under-utilised. Whilst obviously, I went for the banishing of ghosts over selling hot cocoa and Churros or sourcing materials for sprucing up Peter Pan’s winklepickers, that’s where the longevity lies, and in essence the majority of the game.
Magical World is a collectathon, an obsessive-compulsive Disney fan’s dream come true.
Aside from the 60+ characters who offer up exclusive retro-art trading cards with each meeting, at launch there’s nearly 150 outfits, over 300 pieces of furniture and well over 100 meals you can learn to prepare. All in all, I count roughly 1,000 collectables – more than half of which will require 2 or 3 component parts before they’re crafted.
Like I say, there’s a plethora of content here if you’re willing to put in the time, and even then you’ll keep finding new stuff to experience, buy and build, thanks to the inclusion of Seasonal Items and Events. Given that I’ve spent far too long roaming Wonderland dressed in a Stitch onesie, I’m just a little bit excited about the idea of an Easter Bunny costume come April.
Presentation-wise, this game is almost faultless. Magical World is brimming with an undeniable Disney charm, the beautifully designed bright and cheery home area, looking not dissimilar to the foyer of Walt’s real-life theme parks, is populated with instantly recognisable characters fans young and old alike will enjoy, as are each of the smaller themed worlds you’ll explore later in the game. At least, for the most part; there’s sound to match the visuals too, although disappointingly once the additional worlds outside of Castleton become available the characters I met seemed entirely devoid of any vocal chords, and I’ll admit to having to turn down my volume slider after a few hours of Nintendo’s typical sickly-sweet-plinky-ponk background music. You know the kind.
Hearing the recognisable tones of Bret Iwan’s Mickey or Russi Taylor’s Minnie greeting you outside the castle guarantees an instant oversized-ear to oversized-ear smile, but the titular Magical World would feel entirely more engaging if the likes of Aladdin or Cinderella had some voice acting associated with their characters. Understandably, with the sheer scale of the game’s narrative it’s unrealistic to expect 100% of encounters to be voiced, but, to me at least, the addition of a notable phrase here-or-there seems an odd omission given that this silent supporting cast are the ones with which the majority of interaction takes place throughout the 100+ hours of gameplay on offer.
Post-release, Nintendo are committed to supporting Magical World players with a mixture of both free and paid DLC, via the eShop and with the interesting addition of exclusive AR-cards found in Disney stores or theme parks worldwide. Downloadable objects will include hard to find outfits and furniture, as well as new worlds to explore. The first such paid content is a Pirates Of The Caribbean themed bundle, which adds not only Captain Jack, but also a new area, and several quests and collectables tied in with the popular movie franchise.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing there’s no DLC available in the European eShop for me to try out, although the Pirates add-on is expected to hit our shores next month – and with the US pack costing a mere $4, I’d suggest it’s definitely going to be worth picking up if you’re enjoying the main game.
Looking forward there’s obviously no shortage of source material for future DLC either, so presumably if the game is a success we’ll see more packs in 2015; personally, I’d love to visit the African plains and meet up with Simba and friends from The Lion King, or head into Andy’s Room to experience some Pixar magic with the Toy Story characters, although, in reality, the Disney princesses – and in particular the current behemoth that is Frozen – should surely be the focus if more Magical World content is deemed feasible.
“Do you wanna build a snowman?” That’s £6.99 please. Oh, and six hours of quests to collect snowflakes, carrots and coal. Admittedly, written down that sounds ridiculous, but strangely, having played Magical World, I’m more than alright with the idea.
Now, where’s my Questing Cape?
- Disney characters feel true to their origins, a lesson in well crafted fan-service.
- Hundreds of varied collectables & customisation options, with more coming through DLC & Seasonal events.
- More visually polished than Cinder’s crystal slipper.
- Repetitive gameplay and quest-objectives.
- Limited multiplayer aspect.
- A single save file per game.
In short, Disney Magical World is perhaps best described as Animal Crossing Lite. The quests aren’t going to challenge seasoned gamers too much, but with the farming, fishing, dancing and almost endless customisation and collectables, there’s plenty to see and do. A simple, heartwarming game packed with classic House Of Mouse magic – a must play for young and old fans alike.