Kid's games have it pretty rough these days. They have to be entertaining enough that a child doesn't lose interest, but also have to make sure they aren't overly challenging, but still have to be engaging enough to attract the rest of the consumer market. Disney Magical World has a big task ahead of it, and for the most part succeeds. In some ways, this game almost does a better job of being Animal Crossing than Animal Crossing, if that makes any sense. Plenty of friendly Disney faces, lots of quests to do, tons of stuff to collect and craft, and a little bit of mystery. The only thing that's holding it back? How quickly it gets boring.
Magical World drops your Mii into the wonderful world of Disney while a brief prologue gets you situated in a world populated with Disney characters, leaving you to your own devices—whether that means running a cafe, helping out other characters with their errands, or going on quests in little side worlds based on other Disney properties like Cinderella, Aladdin, Winnie The Pooh, and Alice in Wonderland. There's always something to do, and completing quests or other objectives will reward you with stickers, which gate you from the rest of quests and the storyline for each world, and will reveal why ghosts are running rampant in the Magical Kingdom. Though once you reach around 45 stickers, the game really slows down and starts expecting you to grind for items that can only be picked up when doing quests.
Questing is a simple matter. Each world has a board that lists the available quests and their sticker requirements to get in. There's also some requisite gear that you need, but the game is generous enough to help you get the items you need within the first run. After that, the kid gloves come off, kind of. Fighting monsters is just a matter of tapping the A button to attack with your ranged magic attack. You can use the R shoulder button to dodge if enemies get too close. And a special magical attack can be used with the Y button, provided you have enough magic points stocked. The monsters never really offer much of a challenge when questing, with the exception of a few that just hit harder than the rest, along with a couple of boss fights that shake things up. But pretty much every fight is all about memorizing the pattern that the enemies use, and this game will punish you if you're impatient. Questing also means picking up the myriad collectibles that are scattered throughout the stages. Some even have fishing holes because even the fish carry items in this game. Items picked up in quests are obviously rarer and can't be found in the hub world, so you'll need to make a few trips back and forth and repeat a few quests in order to get all the materials necessary for new clothes, furniture, and ingredients for food at your cafe.
Running a cafe in Disney's Magical World is a lot like running a cafe in one of those Facebook or iOS games that have run rampant over the years. Only this feels a lot less skeezy and doesn't have microtransactions to siphon money from your wallet (they've saved that for decorations). Items you pick up, or farm, can be used to create dishes that are themed around various characters. By putting together combinations, whether it be with the food, or furniture, or the clothes your staff members wear, you'll earn cash, stickers, and can even throw parties where special characters can show up and drive sales through the roof. You can also take requests from customers, which in turn rewards you with new recipes for food, clothing, and furniture, so it's always worth trying to fulfill a request if the items are easily accessible.
I mentioned farming before, because in the Winnie The Pooh world, they actually have a farm where you can plant seeds, and in turn, harvest crops for use in the cafe or to fulfill requests. Of the four different worlds, the Winnie The Pooh stage is the most laid back. It doesn't have the same kind of quests that the other three do, but has stuff like playing hide and seek with the cast. The only other world that has anything like this is the Cinderella world which features a ball dance with mild music game elements. There is a surprising amount of variety once you unlock everything, but nothing is really engaging for that long, and running quests multiple times to get rare materials for crafting starts to get old rather quickly. Crafting is simply a matter of having the right materials and taking them to the boutique for Daisy Duck to make clothing, or to Chip and Dale who are able to make furniture. All of the items they make are themed to specific properties, and can be used in the cafe, or your bedroom that becomes unlocked after clearing 30 stickers.
Being a Disney game, this Magical World does a great job of looking the part. All of the characters that are present are faithfully recreated, although at times their animations come off as a little forced or just odd, but that could just be because there are so many characters that some animations would have to be limited in scope. The locales are also true to the source material, aside from their respective dungeons for questing, which seem generic in comparison. A forest for Cinderella, a Cave of Wonders-looking dungeon for Aladdin, and a different forest for Alice In Wonderland, along with a hedge maze dungeon. The game does look quite good, but at the cost of a lower than expected framerate, though I really don't see this being a major issue for any children out there. The music sounds like your typical Disney fare, but unfortunately most of the tracks are the same few bars repeated ad nauseum. At first I didn't notice, but then I started to do the Alice in Wonderland quests and it really started to grate on me. The voice acting is from the current stable of actors and actresses and is spot on, which is to be expected. The only disappointing thing here is that a lot of the characters have one or two lines and then that's it, while some ancillary characters have no vocals at all, which is a bummer.
When I say that this game does a better job of being Animal Crossing than Animal Crossing, I think it's just because Magical World provides a more direct conduit telling me where I am in regards to progress. Whereas in Animal Crossing things just organically happen when you reach certain states in the game, Magical World has better defined goals in place that you can actually check up on to see what you need to achieve the next sticker. The only major problem I have with Magical World is that when things dry up and you need to slow down and start doing some farming for items to craft things, it gets to be really tedious. I can see people dropping off from playing the game because of it.
There's some mild multiplayer elements as well. You can visit the cafe of strangers or people on your friend's list. And like I said before, there's downloadable content in the game, which is mostly for cosmetic items; nothing really insidious, just some themed items that popped up around Easter so far. While we're on the subject of seasonal events, the characters are still wishing me a happy Easter nearly three weeks after the fact, and the hub world still has Easter decorations. Support for these events could be a little bit more timely.
At the end of it all, Disney's Magical World does a pretty admirable job of what it sets out to do: give players a life in the Magic Kingdom. There's plenty of things to do, even if they are a bit shallow, and the overall campaign has some longevity to it, so it's definitely not something kids are going to conquer in a weekend. But for an older audience, this game is going to get old quickly if you aren't a Disney die-hard. That said, if you're looking for an Animal Crossing alternative, this isn't a bad choice. It offers a decent variety of gameplay styles, all wrapped in a Disney veneer. Credit to developer h.a.n.d. where it's due, I expected this to be a cash grab title, but it really feels like anything but.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.