Music can change people. Whether it's a special song that takes you back, a tune that makes you high as a kite, or a track you listen to before a big meeting to work yourself up, music, for want of a better word, can move you. That, in a nutshell, is the concept that Fantasia: Music Evolved takes, and turns on its head - as rather than the music moving you, in Fantasia, you get to move the music for yourself.
Based on the famous Disney film of the same name, Fantasia: Music Evolved is a Kinect powered music game on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 that puts you into the conductors jacket. With a wide range of songs, from Queen and Elton John through to Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga, all the way back to proper Fantasia style tracks like the Nutcracker Suite, and the famous (and spectacularly fun) Night on Bald Mountain, it's up to you to raise your arms, and essentially conduct a virtual orchestra/have a bit of a dance, as you wave your arms around to match the on screen prompts.
While other games would have the prompts coming down the screen towards you, or maybe moving left to right (like on Just Dance), Fantasia takes a slightly different approach, in that there really isn't very much in the way of rhyme or reasons (or rhythm) to the screen and the instructions. Instead, long arrows (as shown above) will appear on screen in random places, pointing in certain directions, and smaller triangles will fly towards them from all angles of the screen. When the smaller triangle reaches the big one, all you have to do is sweep your hand in the indicated direction - and that's all there is to it.
While it's a fairly simple concept, it can be a bit tricky to get your head around when you first start playing, and certainly takes some getting used to. The fact there's no real pattern or obvious order to any of the symbols means it can sometimes get hard to follow - especially in busier sections, when there are several indicators on screen at the same time, all of which need to be played within a few seconds of each other, and you have no idea which one you're supposed to be doing first.
Still, the initial confusion doesn't mean there isn't a certain magic when you first start playing. As one of the few developers to ever really manage to tame the oft-awkward motion sensing obelisk, Kinect, Harmonix have pushed the boundaries even further with Fantasia, and actually managed to make something that, for the most part, manages to plaster over Kinect's many flaws. For starters, on the Xbox One, you can play it sitting down - something that would have been practically unheard of a few years ago - and while it isn't flawless, it does make it a lot easier to play the game at length. While Kinect still has a tendency to get confused from time to time, and it still sometimes can't figure out where your hand stops and your body begins (especially if you're sitting down), it's at least playable, if you sit in a certain kind of way.
And when it works, Fantasia is a lot of fun. The sort of game that'd go down a treat at parties (so long as your friends all stand out of range of the sensor, anyway), it's a game you can really get into if you let go of your inhibitions. One of the most memorable experiences we had was when it came to playing a song that goes hand in hand with Fantasia - Night on Bald Mountain. A rousing orchestral piece, full of drama, the patterns you have to follow in the game are suitably rousing too, and before too long you'll be waving your arms around like some kind of raging lunatic, nearly smacking friends, family, and household pets who stray too close in the process - but feeling great as you do so. Miss a note, and the music will fade out - but if you get everything right, it feels like you're actually conducting the song, as if by magic. Like some sort of sorceror's apprentice, perhaps - only with a lot more punching. That, and we've never heard a conductor yell "GOD KINECT WHY WON'T YOU WORK" mid song. Weirdly enough, Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence is another great one to play, despite being nothing like the sort of song that featured in the original film.
There's been an effort to add a story to Fantasia, too, rather than just giving you a list of songs to choose from. Much like the film mixed image and sound to great effect, with dancing mushrooms, marching broomsticks, and sweeping oceans crashing in time with the music, Fantasia: Music Evolved offers much the same thing, with worlds you can explore using Kinect. Obviously there's not much in the way of actually moving here, but waving your hand over the scene will let you interact with bits of the scenery, whether it's playing about with some percussive clams to add a drum track to the tune that's playing in the background, or poking some pufferfish to add a melody. Find enough interactive parts, and you'll be able to unlock new things.
So, when it all comes together, Fantasia is great - but sadly, this being a kinect game, there are more than a few issues. During the songs, swiping your arm to trigger the notes isn't the only thing you'll be doing - sometimes, you'll have to punch towards the screen, punch and hold your hand in place, or slowly trace a pattern. Unfortunately, this requires Kinect's depth perception to track - and this is where things start to go wrong. It's hit and miss to say the least, and more than a little bit frustrating - especially when sometimes you'll have to punch forwards with both hands, only to have only the one hand pick up properly, and the other note get missed.
Because Kinect has a tendency to be awkward, it's a bit disappointing that even the menus are so heavily Kinect involved, too. While there is a party mode, which lets you play any song without having to worry about unlocking them, and lets you choose your track using a controller, for the most part, the game's menus are Kinect based - and that makes them a bit on the awkward side to use. Again relying heavily on Kinect's awkward depth perception, you have to push your hand forward to select a level, then bring your other hand towards it, before pulling them apart, as though you're doing breast stroke, to enter the level or play a song. So much easier than just pressing a button, right?
Luckily, the somewhat awkward menus and odd motion detection issues don't stop you having fun with Fantasia - it's just a game that your opinion will change dramatically of on a track by track basis. When you play one of the good songs, you'll come away buzzing, because flailing like a loon at your TV has never been more fun. But then almost inevitably, in the next track, Kinect will end up totally failing to register half your moves.
And perhaps that's the worst thing. Once again, we have a game that's fun while it works, yet one that could have been so much better, had it not been hamstrung by Kinect. Like Kinect Disneyland Adventures before it, like Kinect Star Wars, Fantasia is a game that could have been done much better on something much less technological. Let me use two Wii Remotes on the Wii U, sell me a conductor's baton peripheral that can pick things up accurately and actually works, reliably - anything that gets rid of the frustration that's ineherent to Kinect.
When Fantasia: Music Evolved works, there's nothing else quite like it. But sadly, Kinect, as always, is the thing that lets it down.