A cute trip to the world that Walt built.
If you took Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise and married it with Disney icons, what you’d churn out is something that looks like Disney Magical World. The game, released under the title Disney Magic Castle: My Happy Life last August in Japan, is Disney’s take on a life simulator. With the company’s rich catalogue of characters, it’s amazing we made it this far without such a title already.
Disney Magical World drops the player into Castleton, a hub with portals to several popular worlds in the Disney universe. The player creates their avatar and is greeted by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the non-nominal king and queen of Castleton (there’s a “King” residing in Castleton’s elaborate castle, but a golden statue in the center of the hub makes it clear the Ears are in charge). After some quick conversation, exploration of the hub gets underway!
The initial moments of the game are dictated by a “sticker” system which in tutorial-like fashion guides the player along to advance. Users earn stickers by completing simple tasks, which range from introducing yourself to Mickey’s well-established pals to searching for lost items by the less-descript citizens of Castleton. These first couple of hours introduce the player to the game’s key customization and gameplay features, letting them dip their toes into a little bit of everything the game has to offer without oversaturating any one experience right out of the gate. Although this hand-holding mechanism got to be unbearable after taking two hours to collect the game’s first 16 “Prologue” stickers (album complete!), the young children for whom it was implemented will probably immensely benefit.
The train gets freed from the tracks a bit after finishing the Prologue, even if it means making the most of things will require getting back on them for a while. As alluded to above, when not trying to complete tasks to earn stickers or precious items, the player has an array of fun things in which they can take part. Want to fish? Head over to Donald Duck’s lake and see if you can land a record-breaking Gift Grouper! Want to design your own piece of clothing? Gather up the required materials needed and take them to Daisy’s boutique! Or do you fancy yourself a ghost hunter? March over to Cinderella’s world and zap those baddie with the wand Yen Sid gives ya. For adult players, none of it is particularly difficult and nor does it offer an experience as vast or layered as Animal Crossing does, but here quantity at least earns a no-decision against quality since Disney-hungry kids ought to have a more than pleasant time perusing what the game offers.
One notable feature the game offers is a sort of restaurant simulator. The player earns the deed to a local café early on and is presented with the task of running it how he or she sees fit. The restaurant offers another area in which the player can creatively express themselves, as they can scheme with its layout, decorations, furniture and food choices at any given time. While again its worth saying this diversion may strike older players as something more of a distraction, it serves as a minimal yet fun introduction to managing a business, providing a nice platform for youngsters to develop a sense of business acumen and for parents to discuss such things if they so wish. This reviewer appreciates a well-incorporated educational opportunity in a video game when he sees one.
So how’s it all work on a functional level? Everything’s pretty straightforward. The player controls his or her avatar with the circle pad, with the directional pad acting as a map for kind gestures which the avatar can display to the townsfolk. The touchscreen acts as a map and hint-dropper to the player until the X button is pressed, which opens up the main menu. From that menu players can change outfits and look through the various stickers and items they’ve collected. Holding down the B button enables the avatar to jog at a quicker pace while moving, while the A button serves as the primary point of contact button when interacting with various characters and insignia throughout the game. It’s a pleasure to report that none of this was buggy throughout the review process and control-wise everything felt appropriate for a title like this.
The 3D effects left quite a bit to be desired. The perspective shift isn’t too noticeable, perhaps because there are few “wow” moments that earn the right to be displayed as such. Classic Disney characters are rendered pretty darn well, even if they’re a bit rough around the edges (blocky fingers!). The character avatar and many of the made-for-game Disney characters feel somewhat out of place alongside the iconic characters, a design choice likely rooted in maintaining exclusivity among the higher-ranking characters while also breathing some individuality into the game’s own world. Even though it lacks a bit of polish, the bright colors and feel-good nature of everything creates a rich environment that feels like one is actually interacting with a cartoon. It’s a pleasant aesthetic endeavor that Disneyphiles and animation enthusiasts will especially adore.
While it’s perhaps not as full as Animal Crossing or as thematically engrossing as Kingdom Hearts, Disney Magical World is a surprisingly nice addition to the Disney universe that stands well on its own while further extending the reaches of Walt’s massive canon. There’s quite a bit to do and a bevy of customization options that will allow players of all ages to embrace their inner creative personality, no matter how well-hidden it may be. The collect-a-thon nature of gathering stickers to open new worlds calls to mind platformers of old, which makes this title a double-dose of nostalgia if the player is a Disney guru who grew up playing 90’s platformers. The marketing materials promise downloadable levels and that other content is down the pike, which lends hope that the game will continue being supported beyond its launch period (though parents will definitely want to keep an eye on their kids’ eShop wallet). For the swath of people who are bound to pick up Disney Magical World and will surely love it, that’s terrific news.