Review | 12/16/2011 at 5:51 PM

Kinect Disneyland Adventures Co-Op Review

It's a huge park after all

Frontier Developments’ Kinectimals was one of the more fully-featured Kinect launch titles, packing great graphics and an ample amount of content into a family-friendly package. However, its multiplayer functionality was so sparse I didn’t even mention it in our Beyond Co-Op review. Thankfully Frontier’s follow-up title, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, features much-expanded co-op play. The game is still aimed at younger players, but the Disneyland setting and characters will hold just as much appeal to older gamers as well.

As the title implies, Kinect Disneyland Adventures is a simulation of the actual California Disneyland theme park. Don’t mistake it for another Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure – Frontier’s recreation of Disneyland is amazingly authentic. The park is absolutely vast and filled to the brim with the sights and sounds you would experience in the actual theme park. People like me who’ve never been to the real park will love the chance to explore it from the comfort of home.

Speaking of exploration, the actual navigation in KDA (as I’ll now refer to it) is a curious thing. This is a Kinect game, and as such players navigate the park via motion controls instead of a controller. Putting out your left or right arm turns you in that direction, while moving your arms forward (as if you were running or power walking) makes your character walk. It puts you ‘in the game’ more than a physical controller could, but it’s also much less precise. I wish the developers had opted to allow the combined use of a physical controller and Kinect ala Steel Battalion, but perhaps that would dull the game’s mass appeal.

Just walking around a simulated theme park filled with virtual attendees would get old pretty quick without stuff to do. Thankfully KDA has three main ways to keep busy: interacting with Disney characters, hunting down myriad collectibles, and of course, the rides.

First, the characters. One of the joys of visiting a real theme park is posing for photographs with people dressed as popular characters. KDA takes that concept to a whole new level as you’re not just meeting suited characters, but the characters themselves. From classic toons like Mickey and Goofy to newer creations such as Buzz Lightyear and Stitch, you’ll encounter practically every Disney character worth caring about in this game. They look and (in most cases) sound just like the real things. Using naturalistic gestures you can hug, high five, dance, get their autographs, and take pictures with every character. Kids will really love these interactions; my nephew kept wanting to perform each one during our co-op session.

The toons often make requests of you, such as looking for Donald’s lost hat or Belle’s missing books. I don’t normally dig fetch quests, but KDA has such a delightful and endearing atmosphere, and the characters feel so authentic that helping them out doesn’t feel like a chore at all. Similarly, the game is overflowing with collectibles. Hunting them all down will take hours and hours, exposing you to the park’s many nooks and crannies. If you liked that aspect of the Crackdown games, you’ll feel right at home in KDA.

Of course, a theme park simulator would be nothing without rides to go on. Here KDA does not disappoint. Each region of the park contains multiple rides presented as full-on Kinect multi-stage minigames. In ‘Peter Pan’s Flight,’ you’ll first soar through the skies of London, then dodge cannonballs from the pirate’s ship, and finally duel with Captain Hook himself. Most of the rides involve flying by leaning in various directions and collecting as many coins as possible, which is thankfully quite fun. But each one also has a unique activity or two, such as ducking down to dodge attacks and firing at aliens in ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.’ That might sound a bit like The Gunstringer’s gameplay, but I’m not complaining. There are also some ridable but non-interactive rides, like roller coasters.

I do have a couple of minor complaints about the ride minigames. One, it can be tough to find the hidden Mickey icons necessary to achieve Platinum ratings (and Achievements). The Platinum difficulty really skews too high for a family title, though I suppose it might increase the game’s appeal to older gamers. Second, the throwing controls (in rides that involve throwing things, such as snowballs) are terrible, just like Kinectimals. Frontier should either rethink their throwing mechanics or leave them out of their next Kinect game.

Kinect Disneyland Adventures would be a fine single-player game, but the addition of co-op pushes it into fantastic territory. The entire game supports drop-in, drop-put play. As you explore the park, the main player controls movement while the second player tags along. Once you start talking to a Disney character, the toon greets each player in turn and you both have a chance to interact with him or her. I love this aspect of the game because a parent like me can handle the relatively complex navigation but my young daughter still has a chance to hug Mickey and the gang.

The real fun of co-op is taking on the attractions together. Pretty much every ride is made easier with a partner since they can collect coins and attack enemies alongside you. You’ll probably bump into each other a bit while steering, but that’s the nature of motion controls. All of the attractions can be instantly selected from the Fast pass menu - a great feature when you and your partner want to enjoy the attractions without running around the park.

When playing KDA in co-op, only the first player’s progress is saved. Thankfully, the second player does still earn Achievements. There are even a couple of co-op Achievements for you to earn together. On the downside, the drop-in, drop-out aspect of the game can be aggravating. Even when playing by myself, I’d sometimes step off-screen, only to get back and the game no longer recognized me as the main player. When this happened, my character was replaced by a generic one and I had to slog through some menus to get back into the game. I understand that a second player might come or go, but the game shouldn’t drop the main player unless specifically told to do so.

The Kinect may not be swimming with must-have titles, but that’s definitely what Kinect Disneyland Adventures is. Unlike the disappointing Disney Universe (also from a European developer), KDA scratches the Disney itch in a major way. With a gigantic park to explore, loads of quests to complete and things to collect, and very good co-op to boot, the game packs a ton of bang for the buck. Disney fans and parents alike will love this Kinect exclusive.