The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Future Fragments: Is Kinect Disneyland Adventures the Happiest (Virtual) Place on Earth?

Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor

I noted Disneyland Adventures as a Kinect game worth watching back when Child of Eden came out, and the result is promising both as an example of what motion control of this nature can do for exploring a virtual world and as an attempt at packaging Disney magic. The game just launched to mixed reviews. I’ll admit that I am, despite my age, happily part of the target audience for this game. I attended the D23 Fan Expo, I go to the parks every year, and I’m enamored of Disney. According to my parents, I wouldn’t go near my relatives as a little kid but I ran up to hug Mickey Mouse. Thus, the possibility of even a virtual trip to Disney right in my living room is too good to pass up. The Kinect controller promises a more immersive experience of a “virtual” visit, but can it really deliver?

For a Disney fan, the real thrill is the detail that’s gone into recreating every aspect of the parks. Kids might appreciate the characters waiting for hugs and “camera ops,” but everyone can appreciate the visual harmony of the world (and the relative lack of people standing between the player and those details). I’m not as frequent a visitor to Disneyland as I am to Disney World, but I still know the streets well enough to navigate without a map, and it’s fun to see those same spaces come to life. Even the music is mostly reminiscent of the different accompaniments to each land within the park. On a large screen, the graphics are a bit cartoony, but there’s still a lot of detail to take in. While the game includes a “fast pass” screen for jumping straight to the minigame, it’s well worth walking between rides to take in the world.

Some of the most potentially interesting aspects of Disneyland Adventures are those that perhaps mirror the Disney Quest (an interactive virtual version of the park located in Downtown Disney) that never really was. These aren’t the rides as us Disney fanatics know them, but parts of the rides imagined as interactive spaces. Every Disney ride has to have a narrative: the imagineers work to ensure a consistent experience and a clear story arc for every attraction. In Disneyland Adventures, as in DisneyQuest, the narratives of those rides are even more explicit as you help Peter Pan battle Hook or steer your own mine cart on Thunder Mountain. Unfortunately, these are also some of the worst developed spaces.

The mini-game model of these rides, however, is less magical than it could have been. The player is still kept essentially on rails, pulled through the space in a hunt for golden Mickey heads while going through simple actions not all that different from the white water rafting in Kinect Adventures, the uninspired mini-game collection that shipped with the Kinect console at launch. And, rather like that frustrating original title, it involved a control system that mostly consists of random arm-flailing in hope of success. These minigames are perhaps begging for a more traditional control system, not to mention more challenging and interesting play–It holds echoes of another recent title, Disney Universe, which also allowed for exploration of a range of Disney worlds:

But within Disney Universe, there’s a villain whose overtaken the environments, and “battling” his bots offers plenty of more complex platformer gameplay with a lot more to do than the minigames allow. In Kinect Adventures, there’s no such sense of purpose or real challenge.The narrative goes from ride to ride, but the in-between leaves the player as just a park visitor, with no driving motivation behind their exploration. In that, it is perhaps too much like a trip to Disneyland, where just being there is the point–only in the game, you also serve as park errand boy. The quests in the main park are mostly an equivalent to collection quests, with lots of autograph-hunting and finding objects. These quests are cute, and at their best involve cool rewards and magical experiences within the park such as getting a magic wand and gaining control over the environment’s special items, each with their own effect.

There were so many  missed opportunities to turn this errand-grinding into a larger narrative, with more at stake than the favoritism of the various Disney character quest-givers. For comparison, in Ridley Pearson’s fantastic Kingdom Keepers series, the Disney theme parks become the setting for mystery, with the children who serve as “interactive hosts” discovering they can jump into the park at night and inhabit their projected selves. The books allow for indulging in one of the great fantasies of being one of the only people in the park, and better still having characters in rides come to life for an epic battle. The park becomes a space filled with secrets, and the characters fight some well-known Disney villains locked in a struggle to overtake the park and make it a place of evil.

Even better, Ridley Pearson had unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes areas of the park when he researched the books. His world captures places that the normal visitor can’t possibly reach, and does so with an authenticity that convinces the young reader (the books are middle-grade) and yet offers something for the enthusiast. Disneyland Adventures, on the other hand, sticks to the guest experience and doesn’t delve behind the “Cast Member Only” doors. This is just one of the missed opportunities that Disneyland Adventures could have held, and perhaps yet will if they expand the world with downloadable content.

The epic battles and interwoven mythology of Kingdom Keepers captures exactly what’s missing from Disneyland Adventures. 

With that said Disneyland Adventures points to a promising future for the Kinect with more titles that offer interactive ways to explore engaging environments, rather than keeping the player totally on-rails as most existing titles have. For a Disney fan, it’s an almost inevitable purchase; for those less thrilled with the parks it doesn’t offer enough to hold a player’s attention for long. Those not searching for a fix between Disney vacations are probably better off going back to Kingdom Hearts or perhaps even Disney Universe for a more thorough dose of storytelling.