Fantasia: Music Evolved
Building a rhythm-action game – a genre that usually requires precise inputs – around a device like Kinect is fraught with risk, but Harmonix evidently wasn’t daunted by the task. Fantasia: Music Evolved is a different proposition to Dance Central, yet benefits from its developer’s expertise with the device, offering similarly generous gesture recognition and an intuitive user interface. Rather than copying an elaborate series of dance moves, here you’re invited to push, swipe and trace, matching the rhythms, basslines and melodies of an eclectic soundtrack. Ostensibly, you’re taking the role of conductor, though the need to keep up with fast-moving cues mean your actions more often resemble frantic semaphore.
There’s a thin narrative motivation for your flailing. An irritating narrator and a cheerful assistant invite you to visit a series of realms, completing objectives to rid them of a cacophonous infection. Firstly, this involves reaching a certain score target in a song and unlocking a new remix. Each realm also holds a few sound toys, as well as environmental features that can be stirred into life by your hand. You might, for example, spin a carousel of seahorses, before composing a jazzy drum fill by tracing your palm over a bed of percussive clams. The various musical toys are reminiscent of Toshio Iwai’s though naturally lack the immediacy of a portable plaything – not least because you’ll need to sit through a long loading screen for each realm
Collect enough magic fragments and you’ll unlock a composition spell, used to further personalise your performance by creating looping melodies, beats and effects that play over sections of the track. It’s a setup that favours improvisation over mastery, though it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the results. Pulling individual instruments from three unlocked mixes is a more successful idea, akin to a motion-controlled DJ Hero with a little more creative control. Subverting classical compositions with modern instrumentation is entertaining, and the likes of Mussorgsky and Liszt are as welcome on the tracklist as The Flaming Lips and Bowie. Stirring alt-rock ingredients into Vivaldi’s Four Seasons works alarmingly well, though we think it’s going to be a long, long time before we drop dubstep beats into Elton John’s Rocket Man again.
A structure that requires you to play each song three times to unlock its full remix potential is problematic, but inevitably Kinect is the game’s greatest strength and most fundamental weakness. Harmonix has lowered the challenge to compensate for potential frustration at missed gestures, but as a result it’s far too easy to get a five-star rating on your first attempt, while the knowledge that Kinect’s whims are likely to prevent a perfect score discourages replays. Fantasia is a novel twist on the music game, then, but one lacking the sprinkling of Disney magic its title promises.