The tattoo-laden, musically-inclined game developers behind Frequency, Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Dance Central are taking on Disney's Fantasia, this morning announcing next-gen Kinect game Fantasia: Music Evolved. Like its last game franchise, Harmonix is keeping exclusive to Microsoft game consoles with Kinect -- the game is planned for launch some time in 2014 on both Xbox One and Xbox 360.
Fantasia: Music Evolved -- which we're assuming must feature Master Chief somewhere given the naming convention and Microsoft exclusivity -- aims to turn gamers into aspiring orchestra conductors. Er ... sort of. The game is played by using both your arms to synchronously gesture in a variety of directions, with two on-screen icons indicating how to place your arms and which direction you'll be gesturing toward. Ostensibly, the game asks players to conduct various pop songs (Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" and Queens' "Bohemian Rhapsody," among others), occasionally punctuated with a push, depth-wise, for various auditory flairs (among other things). You are the sorcerer's apprentice, conducting the heavens (as it were). Moreover, the songs get remixed as you go along, with players choosing one of four musical styles to introduce dynamically as the track continues to play in the background. If it sounds overwhelming, that's because it is.
Like an orchestra conductor, gesticulating your arms this way or that produces the next step of the song you've chosen; all due respect to orchestra conductors the world over, as actual conducting is of course far more complex. Conducting is simply the closest analog to what Fantasia: Music Evolved tasks players with doing. Occasionally, things take a turn for the surreal and -- in beat with the song -- a cube appears (seen above) and you must gesture your arms in a variety of guided movements, thus unlocking an effects pedal. Think of it as a gameplay reward for performing a difficult move, as it were. It's this, and a relatively arbitrary score, that keep the game grounded (somewhat) in the world of video games.
Though music from the original Fantasia film isn't explicitly mentioned as included in the game, a heavy bout of wink-wink nudge-nudgery is clear in Harmonix's official statement regarding the original film's score:
"While we can't announce any tracks beyond the five we're confirming today, there will be some classical music on the tracklist. Without saying exactly which songs those will be, fans of the film will definitely be happy about the choices."
Thus far, the game has the aforementioned two tracks, as well as AVICII's "Levels," Fun's "Some Nights," and Kimbra's "Settle Down," each representing disparate music genres. The five tracks represent 20 percent of the game's artist stable, and each song has two remixes, all of which is played across backdrops ("the realms of Fantasia") meant to evoke the world of Fantasia. When we saw the game running last week in a New York City event space, it was on a PC with a first-gen Kinect and next-gen graphics -- a bit of a hybrid build of the game's two forms, which was an unfortunate byproduct of seeing an Xbox One game before Microsoft allows developers to show games running on next-gen hardware. Thusly, we can't say how much Microsoft's next-gen hardware impacts the experience of playing a Kinect game, and Harmonix reps weren't saying anything specific regarding major differences.
So far, we've covered the "Music Evolved" aspect, but what about the "Fantasia" bit? The experience of playing the game is synaesthetic, and meant to evoke the feeling of Fantasia's dreamlike world. We didn't glimpse any dancing hippos wearing tutus, but the interactive underwater aspect of the stage we saw ("The Shoal") offered some music instrument-inspired takes on sea life. There's also the concept of "tearing" through whatever realm you're in to access the songs you play, adding yet another layer of abstract detachment.
With no movie re-release tie-in on the horizon, Harmonix is being left (mostly) to its own devices with Fantasia: Music Evolved. Disney's offering its license, and finances to support the game's publishing, but is staying mostly hands-off. Even some of the game's remixes are being handled by in-house staffers at Harmonix, including the lead of one of the studio's other (unannounced) in-development projects. We're promised a hands-on with the game at E3 which will use Xbox One tech and the next-gen Kinect, so we'll circle back on Fantasia: Music Evolved next week at the big show. All that said, there was only one question left to ask -- will the classic Fantasia game for Sega Genesis be included, even as an Easter Egg?
"I am fighting for it," Harmonix director of communications and brand management John Drake told us. "It's one of the greatest games ever made. To get the last achievement in the [Xbox] game, you should have to play all the way through Fantasia in the credits, and I've been told that game's too hard. I'm still fighting for it, we'll see." We can only dream.