Become the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Every year at E3, there are a lot of games I like, a few I love, and even fewer that just get stuck in my head and refuse to leave after I stop playing. Fantasia: Music Evolved is one of those games. It’s not the kind of game that could be easily explained in a press release, and trailers don’t really do it justice; you have to see it, and more importantly play it, to get it. And now that I’ve done that, I can say that Harmonix and Disney have created something infectiously, delightfully special.
Most of us have at least a vague idea of what Walt Disney’s animated opus Fantastia is all about, even if it’s been years (or decades) since we’ve seen it. Music Evolved isn’t an adaptation of the 1940 film, and it’s not putting you in Mickey’s shoes. Instead, it continues the idea of Fantasia, bringing beautiful, colorful scenes to life through music, and letting the player take the role of conductor. You are the sorcerer’s new apprentice, and Fantasia: Music Evolved is all about your personal method of self-expression.
My time with Fantasia began with a Harmonix presentation, giving me a chance to watch the developers in action. The hands-off demo explored the Shoal, an underwater coral reef that started out drab and gray, eventually becoming more colorful. Using the Xbox One’s new Kinect, the player walked from side to side and used a hand to move a cursor, bringing some seahorses to life and collecting crystals. These interactions eventually revealed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and choosing the song took her to a new location: a cliff set against a starry sky, reminiscent of Mickey’s position in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes.
If you’ve ever waved your hands in the air, pretending to conduct along to a song, Fantasia: Music Evolved is your time to shine. It’s not a dance game, and shouldn’t be confused with Harmonix’s Dance Central series. Those games were about recreating accurate dance moves, while Fantasia is a more personal creative journey. As the song plays, you’ll use one hand or two to hit indicators on screen, scoring points. Each song has several different mixes, and you’ll have a chance to switch between them at key points, layering them and creating a final tune that’s all your own. This particular Harmonix-played version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for example, layered the original recording with a symphonic version and an 80’s rock version, along with a few custom sequences and guitar solos created at specific points in the song. You might think you know “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it will sound different every time you experience it in Fantasia.
For my hands-on time, I wandered into the Press, a steampunk printing press badly in need of repair. A little magic from me managed to fix what was wrong and open up a new song, Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.” It was finally my turn to take my place on the podium among the stars, and suddenly it didn’t matter that I was waving my arms and bopping around to a song I didn’t even like in a room full of people, because I was totally sucked into the experience. I could use my left or right hand to hit indicators, switching between them to hit in quick succession. I switched between mixes and added my own touch. I was playing conductor, only there was actually music happening; not just predetermined music, but sound that reacted to my whims.
There’s still a lot more to learn about Fantasia: Music Evolved: how the different environments are all tied together, how the progression of difficulty works, and what the two-player mode will entail (Harmonix has announced that there will be co-op of some sort, but couldn’t elaborate). What I have seen and played so far is delightful and fun, a hidden pocket of imagination and creativity in the middle of a crazy E3 show floor. It’s hard to explain, and it’s not for everyone, but it is definitely something special.
Fantasia: Music Evolved will be out in 2014 for the Xbox One and Xbox 360.