Disney Universe hands-on

Disney Universe is a first. It is the first time that Disney has allowed complete cross-pollination of some of its licenses in a game, in that you can play the character from one of its movies and TV shows in the world of another. For example, you can take control of Alice from Time Burton's Alice in Wonderland in the madcap world of Monsters Inc. Well, sort of...

Actually, you don't really get to play Alice at all. Instead, the game gives you control over small kid-like avatars who "suit up" in iconic character costumes, including wigs, masks and hats. This clever work-around gives the developer more free reign - allowing characters to get harmed without damaging the reputation of any sacred properties - and is an obvious necessity really; after all, a full sized Tron appearing alongside a Pixar-rendered Mike from Monsters Inc. would be both tricky to pull off and aesthetically clumsy.

It also allows the game to offer a massive gamut of characters to choose from, as there's 40 Disney properties to dress up as, including the aforementioned Mike, Alice and Tron, and Stich from Lilo and Stich.

And it is these that Pocket-lint and a couple of other gamers used in two unfinished levels of the game during a behind-closed-doors hands-on with the Xbox 360 version - complete with floppy blonde toupee.

Disney Universe itself is described by the developer as an action-adventure, but there's far more to it than that. You can have up to four characters on screen at the same time, and while the publisher is promoting the game as a family-oriented experience, our first impression is that its cunning blend of puzzle, platforming and meanie-bashing gameplay can equally suit the post-pub crowd.

That is because it, like games such as Gauntlet and the excellent Alien Swarm (available on Steam), adopts a third-person co-op model that flows and ebbs like a flash flood. It's fast paced and requires each player to collect, fight, solve and leap in equal measure - sometimes simultaneously. And as you can always hinder your fellow players by hitting them, grabbing them, and even throwing them off platforms, there's always an avenue for mischief.

In fact, some levels even require you to compete against your fellow players full stop, feeling like Power Stone, one of Capcom's finest moments on the Dreamcast, in the process. And it is this fine balance between both camaraderie and conflict that, even from the play of a couple of the levels, leaves us in no doubt that Disney Universe will stretch over a wider age range than Disney's usual fare.

During our hands-on play, the producer of the game, Iain Richie, told us that the finished game will have six differently-themed worlds in total and each world will be split into three levels. Then, each level is then split into three areas, and as the two areas from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Monsters Inc. that we saw were pretty expansive, that's a lot of gameplay right there.

He also explained that, depending on the theme, the type of gameplay can change: "Each level is a very different experience," he said. "And the game scales itself depending on how many players are playing."

It also levels the playing field as you progress, therefore making it easier if it assesses that you need help (for a child, for example). And as the scoring system is made up from all manner of different factors, not simply how many enemies you dispatch or how much gold you collect, there are rewards for all manner of different styles of player.

Richie also revealed that there will be plenty of downloadable content coming after release: "New worlds, new costumes," he said. "The DLC will be coming for the next gen platforms."

And from our initial play, we already get the feeling that extra content, like the game itself, will be eagerly snapped up by young and old.

Disney Universe will be out around Autumn time in the UK, and available from Disney Interactive for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac.



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