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PAX East Preview: Fantasia Music Evolved

April 30, 2014 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook PAX East Preview: Fantasia Music Evolvedon Twitter

For our last PAX East 2014 preview, we are taking a look at Harmonix’s upcoming game Fantasia Music Evolved. While technically this preview was offered off site from the main convention, it was something intended for PAX East attendees and press. This special event was held at the restaurant Trade just a short walk from the main convention and was hosted by Harmonix, Destructoid, and ASTRO Gaming. The event was a chance to showcase the game’s multi-player mode and to announce some of the new pieces being added to the game. Harmonix is a company known for developing the first few Guitar Hero games, Rock Band, and Dance Central. It makes sense that if you wanted to do a music game based off of Disney’s Fantasia, this is probably the group that you want.

Fantasia is a movie that most people are aware of, even if they haven’t seen it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the film, Fantasia was a film released in 1940 by Walt Disney Productions. The movie is a collection eight animated segments that are artistic interpretations of eight different pieces of classical music. Each segment featured different types of animation and presentations. Some segments like Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (in the video below) are more abstract, with animation slowly being introduced and eventually taking over the screen.

Others like Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral'” featured animation with some distinct characters whose actions matched the mood and structure of the music. Finally, other segments featured more fully realized plots that matched the music, such as the well known “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment. Fantasia, simply put, is an artistic masterpiece. A beautiful combination of animation and classical music that is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the greatest films that Disney ever created. A collection of eight pieces of animation, inspired by some of the greatest music ever written. So how did Harmonix approach making a game inspired by this movie? Read on to find out.

Okay, I’m going to admit that when I saw the above trailer and what was being done with the Fantasia license I was a little shocked. It would appear that instead of using primarily classical music, something that is directly associated with the Fantasia film series, they wanted to have a pop music focus (Seriously? Bruno Mars?). There are only a handful of classical music pieces in the game, some of which were available to try out at this demo event. Now, I don’t necessarily have an issue with using a wider range of music genres. In fact I like some the pieces they selected, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocket Man.” However, from what they’ve announced of the music tracks it seems like they only went for the most well known songs, even with the classical pieces, to build a wider appeal to the game. The only reason the classical pieces seem to be used, like Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, are because they are well known to the general public. The other songs on the list don’t stray away from the pop and rock genres. I’m fine with incorporating a wider range of genres, but that’s not what’s happened here. There’s no jazz, blues, or even country tunes to speak of. Sadly it seems that Harmonix is more concerned with appealing to the broadest demographic possible, rather than staying true to the Fantasia movie. Hardly an “evolved” form of the Fantasia concept.

But enough about the music. How is the gameplay? Fantasia: Music Evolved is essentially a music rhythm game that requires you to use specific hand gestures, in time with the music, to rack up a score and proceed through the game. Control is done through the Kinect, but only needs to follow your hand gestures rather than your entire body. At certain points in a song the game allows you to make changes through a mix switcher. This allows you to alter the instrumentation of particular parts of the music. For instance, you can choose whether to give a melody part to the electric guitar or a violin. It’s a simple feature that gives the player an added layer of control to the game experience. Another music tool that pops up in the gameplay are special bonus boxes. During a song, a special box will appear on screen that requires the player, or players in multi-player, to hit the beats perfectly to unlock a special music tool. If you are successful you will unlock a special portion of the song that you can manipulate. Some of these involve improvising notes and counter-melodies with hand gestures, while others allow you to warp the sounds of lead instruments.

At this demo event, they were featuring the multi-player gameplay for Fantasia: Music Evolved. In the multi-player you can compete with one other person to see who can get the highest score. You can even have separate difficulties set for each player to balance out the challenge. There are some co-op features to this mode. The previously mentioned boxes or containers that appear require both players to nail the rhythms and beats to unlock the box. Once this occurs, the players actually trade off improvising with the instrument. The interface during the songs is fairly simple. The neon colors make the hand gesture commands easy to see and the interface never looked cluttered or overwhelming. The Kinect did a decent job of following my movements, although it probably helps that it only needs to follow my hand gestures rather than my entire body. This seemed to be the case for everyone else playing at the event. I watched most of the sessions during the event and aside from some occasional issues the tech seems to work fine.

Overall, I’d say the game play is somewhat engaging, but nothing mind blowing. I can see this being an interesting party game, especially since the controls and move sets required are very simple. There is still one small gripe I have about the visuals. Primary that there is almost no emphasis on animation, something that you would expect in a game based on Fantasia. Now there are overworld hubs, as seen in the above trailer, in the single player mode, but from everything I’ve seen they are simple backgrounds that you interact with. It’s not an animated segment syncing with a set piece of music. It appears to be a filler section before you get to the actual songs, albeit with some minor interactive music elements. I understand wanting to make the core song segments visually simple, for the sake of the player seeing the commands, but couldn’t they at the very least incorporate some abstract animation the way “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” segment in Fantasia does? This is a Fantasia game, right? Honestly, even if I ignore the drastic deviations from the film, that this game is supposedly inspired by, it’s really just your average rhythm game with Kinect controls.

After checking out this game, I can’t say that I’m too impressed. While I like the idea of an interactive music game that is inspired by Fantasia, this game seems to be missing some key aspects. It’s lack of focus on classical music and very little emphasis on animation in the main music sections of the game leaves a lot to be desired. The fact is that if you had just shown me the demos of the songs and the world hubs without the title, I would never guess that this was intended to be a Fantasia game. Fans of rhythm games will probably get what they want out of the game, but if you’re a fan of the Fantasia films, this game will either disappoint you or infuriate you. It’s an average rhythm game that actually has decent motion controls, but there’s very little that makes me think it’s related to Fantasia. From what I was told at the event, the final game is intended to have a story involving the sorcerer Yen Sid from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment, but I haven’t seen or found any video footage of this yet. Perhaps more of the pieces that tie into the Fantasia series will be added and improve these connections. However, as it currently stands and from what I experienced, Fantasia: Music Evolved has a long way to go for it to live up to the film it’s inspired by. Here’s hoping the final product will pull that off. Fantasia: Music Evolved is scheduled for release sometime in 2014 for Xbox One and Xbox 360.

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