Disney Universe holds a great deal of promise. A game in which you can play as a large number of characters spanning Disney's rich and impressive history? Levels designed in honour of some of its most classic films? Multiplayer for up to four people simultaneously? Yes, yes, and yes. Which is why it's so disappointing that the game is not all that good.
On paper, it sounds great. In practice, it's something of a repetitive mess.
The story is this: a virtual Disney amusement park has been created, allowing visitors access to limitless worlds based upon those in their favourite films. Unfortunately, something's gone wrong, and the attractions are turning on the guests — think Westworld, but with less Yul Brynner and more of the cockroach from Wall-E.
You and up to three friends assume the role of little colour-coded monsters who, we guess, were visitors to the park. The designs of these hideous creations are salvaged only somewhat by the fact that you get to dress them up as your choice of Disney characters, most of which are unlocked as you progress through the game. Why the developers want you to play as these freaky little imps instead of the actual characters, or even Miis, is somewhat puzzling, but it's not a deal breaker.
What is a deal breaker is the gameplay experience itself, which consists of button mashing followed by button mashing followed by button mashing. Enemies, bosses and barrels all require the same treatment: mash buttons until they disappear.
The different worlds are all impressively sculpted, visually speaking, but it won't take you long to become tired of bashing your way through them. Every so often a boss fight or sequence intends to spice things up a bit but involving projectiles or some other vague gameplay quirk but, ultimately, the experience is not one that evolves during the course of gameplay, and since it's pretty dull to begin with, that's a problem.
As mentioned, each world is based upon a different Disney film — such as The Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland and Aladdin. Within each world are several levels through which you beat and bash your way without variation. Objectives flash up on the screen, nearly always requiring you to raise or lower platforms so that progress can continue, but rarely are they anything much more fun than that. You can access brief challenge sections if you locate the arcade machine in each level, but those don't find you doing anything more than what you've been doing already: killing enemies, dodging hazards or fetching items.
You and your friends are mainly playing cooperatively, but you can toss each other into pits if that makes the game any more fun for you. This will actually happen more frequently than you might intend thanks to poorly-designed levels that allow you to walk through walls and off scenery, coupled with a bizarrely dark colour scheme that makes black barriers impossible to distinguish from black pits. Go figure.
After each level you and your friends will be rated in terms of who collected the most pick-ups. There's no reward for this, but it does add a competitive element that you may find enjoyable.
In addition to the main game you can unlock concept art by locating hidden pick-ups and change and upgrade your costumes as you go. None of this, though, shakes up the initial experience at all, and despite the seeming variety in a game that's based on so many different films of varying styles, concepts and atmospheres, it all blends together into one amorphous vanilla smudge, and that's unfortunate.
Disney Universe has potential, and it's indeed playable, but it's unlikely you'll find yourself coming back for more after you complete it. If, that is, you even bother to complete it. We wouldn't blame you if you didn't.
Disney Universe plays it safe in nearly every way, and that's a problem. Choosing any character and running amok through the expansive worlds of various films should have been a recipe for perfection — or at least variety — but it's all in service of a mindless beat-em-up that's both too dull and too easy. The graphics are great, if a little dark, and the music is certainly nostalgic, but there's not much we can say about the run-and-punch gameplay that makes up the entire experience. Don't go out of your way for this one.