“Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers” is a hidden objects game on Facebook that challenges players to locate different items in natural settings around the world. By discovering animals, plants and safari objects, players get points so they can purchase their own wildlife preserve and begin the process of saving animals and habitats.
Throughout the game, information bubbles tell tidbits and details about the different creatures and what makes them important in the world’s global ecosystem. Playdom, the developer of the game, worked with scientists from the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park to make sure the animals were represented as accurately as possible.
“All of our scenes, we worked really closely with Disney Animal Kingdom experts throughout every aspect of our development,” senior game designer Michael Koskak said. “All of the animal facts, all of the animal appearances, where they appear in each scene, we worked very closely to make sure that everything is accurate and factual.”
By learning about the animals in game, players who place creatures next to each other that cohabitate well together get extra points. Koskak said more locations, quests and animals will be coming in future months so gamers can continue enjoy the adventures.
Players will travel the world – from the Australian Outback to the African savannah to theArctic. Developers also included scenes from the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park as the backdrop for some of the adventures as well as scenes from the new Disney movie, “Chimpanzee.”
While the game encourages learning about the virtual ecologies, there is a real-life component to helping the planet. Disney has pledged to donate 20 cents of every install and completed tutorial (up to $250,000) to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). The donations support efforts to protect chimpanzee habitats, care for orphaned chimpanzees in theRepublicofCongo, and create educational programs.
Senior Producer Patrick Hsieh said the timing was right to bring the organization and the ecologically based game together.
“We just happened to come out around Earth Day. For us to work with Jane Goodall and a really respected organization, we just wanted to do something that was appealing to the people that wanted to have something to do with animals,” he said. “With our audience, we thought it would have a big draw to (JGI) as well.”
The donation campaign was originally scheduled to end on April 26, but the success has been overwhelming and Disney has decided to extend the donation time until May 3.
The iconic “Tree of Life” that sits in the center of the theme park acts as the hub for the Facebook adventures. And if you are a Disney fan, you know there are other hidden objects in the park that will be showing up in the game very soon.
“Hidden Mickeys (locations where the iconic Mickey Mouse head and ears are blended into the background) are absolutely on their way in the next couple of weeks,” Koskak said. “Really soon. We are definitely going to get hidden Mickey’s in our game.”
The game is free to play on Facebook only right now, but Hsieh said they are looking at bringing it to other platforms. There are microtransactions in the game that allow players to buy coins in the game with real-world money.
“Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers” is available now at https://www.facebook.com/disneyanimalkingdom. If you want more information about the real-life work being done by the Jane Goodall Institute, go here: http://www.janegoodall.org.
The latest LEGO block video game (Disney Interactive Studios, Traveller’s Tales) recounts the first three movies and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The new movie is scheduled to debut on May 20 — 10 days after the video game is available, so you have been appropriately warned about spoilers.
Each movie is broken down into five gaming levels. It is typical LEGO style with straight platform action involving swordfights, cannons, and collecting “studs” — single connection LEGO blocks.
Items can be smashed into the LEGO block components, and then collected for points or re-formed into another item that can be used in the game. Up to eight characters can be used on each level during story mode, but it can create for a crowded screen.
There were a few times when I couldn’t see what item needed to be collected or was pushed off a narrow ledge because the 5 characters who were traveling with me all wanted to be in the same spot.
Matt Ellison, associate producer at Traveller’s Tales Games, said 70 characters can be unlocked and bought throughout the entire game. Each character has a special ability that makes it unique from others, including Captain Jack Sparrow.
“Jack’s compass is really different from anything else we’ve done (with LEGOs),” Ellison said. “It will point to things Jack can find and also helps point to things to solve puzzles in the game.”
Ellison said the settings are as iconic as they could be and the team tried to put the LEGO spin on the classic movies. Since the films’ characters are so well known, he said they wanted to make sure to include little details to help players relate to each character.
For example, Captain Barbossa is often seen with an apple in his hand and Jack’s running style – arms straight out, waving frantically – is humorously well represented.
“A lot of time went into making sure we got Jack’s running right, his character right,” Ellison said.
The game play is all about exploring the vast scenes during each level. Puzzle clues and treasure are all over the place, waiting to be discovered.
“Eight collectibles in each level and 10 ships in a bottle can be found,” Ellison said. “There is something always hidden to get.”
Using Jack’s compass helps discover the missing booty, but there are also sign postings to assist players in finding key elements in the level. Since the scenes are so big, it would be easy to get lost or frustrated without those helpers.
“The exploration game play ties into the ideology of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Plus we wanted to make a distinctive change of pace between the levels, so you are treasure hunting in one level, and then fighting foes in the next.”
Even on ship levels, players will need to go up into the rigging or down into the ship’s belly to find all they need to find. Ellison said each scene has to be solvable for all ages and the game teaches you what to do and where to look as it goes along.
There are lengthy cutscenes and cinematics between the levels to fill in the story. The humor from the movies really shines in LEGO form, which uses its blocky medium to put interesting spins on the tale.
“The humor appeals to all ages. We took the iconic movie settings and twisted them slightly to make them funnier. Plus we took the same slapstick humor from the films and just made more of it.”
As I said, the fourth movie is also included so I was worried about spoiling my future enjoyment. Ellison smiled when asked about it, but assured me no details about the story line would be ruined.
“We will have some of the same locations, but none of the dialog (LEGO characters do not speak, only grunt). We do have some of the action from the movie but it shouldn’t ruin the film for anyone.”
If you remain concerned, then wait to play the fourth level until after the movie comes out.
The one drawback to the game was the two player co-op play. As in other LEGO video games, two people in the same room can drop-in/drop out as separate characters and solve all the puzzles.
Unlike previous LEGO games which forced the two characters to stay in the same screenshot, “LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” actually split the screen as the characters walked away from each other.
However, the split in the split screen moved around in relation to where the characters were on the level. As the characters got closer to each other, the scene slowly changed back to a single screen.
It was difficult to focus on what my character was doing or where it was in the split screen action. My co-op player and I found it confusing, and, at times, frustrating to figure out where we needed to go or what we needed to do unless we were in the same screen.
There was never a time where a puzzle needed to be solved in split screen mode. After a while, it just gave me a headache.
Once each level is completed in story mode, free play mode is unlocked which allows you to use any of the characters you have available to solve puzzles that couldn’t be previously figured out. Those characters will also get you into previously unavailable areas.
Finding all the collectibles and solving all the brain teasers will keep players playing for many hours after the story mode is complete.
The game is also available for the Nintendo 3DS, but there are only 16 levels and you can only use one character during the level. Ellison said the 3DS version is tailored to the single player experience and everything can be solved by one character.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” is a fun spin on the blockbuster (pun intended) movies. It ramps up the humor from the films and offers plenty of action for players.
Exploration is the key. While the story mode only took me about nine hours, I barely collected 40 percent of all the items that could be found. Replaying the game in free play will keep players interested for many more hours.
The co-op mode was a trouble spot and disappointing. While I often lamented about being kept in the same screen in previous LEGO co-op versions, the split screen action as presented is not the solution I was looking for.
Overall, the game is lots of fun despite some playability glitches. And following the adventures of Jack Sparrow .. I mean, Captain Jack Sparrow .. is worthy of any would-be pirate.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” will be available May 10 in the U.S., May 13 in Europe and May 19 in Australia. It is available on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, and PSP. It is rated E10+ due to cartoon violence and comic mischief. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 in story mode, co-op mode and free play.
“Tron Evolution” tries to bridge the timeline gap between the two movies, but lets gameplay and combat fall into a time loop that is exciting but repetitive.
The story is actually spread out over four console games that all have the same title. Disney Interactive Studios made the decision to develop slightly different versions for the Nintendo DS, Wii, Sony PSP and one version for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Each tells a portion of the time from “Tron” to “Tron: Legacy” and transitions from DS to Wii to PSP to next-gen consoles/PC. While there is no need to play all versions to get the complete story, it may be more age appropriate for younger players to stick with the Wii games.
I was provided copies for the Xbox 360 and the Wii to get a feel for the differences. And there are big differences.
The Wii version felt a lot like the arcade game from 1982. Players set up an avatar that can compete in 16 different game types featuring light cycles, battle tanks and a jai-alai type game.
There is no online play, but up to 4 people can compete on the same Wii. This version does not have a story mode per se, but does allow players to improve their characters with upgrades for offense and defense.
The Xbox 360 version is where the story takes off. You are Anon, a monitor program created by Kevin Flynn, the human programmer who created the electronic world, to investigate and find out why there is strife between the Basics (regular programs) and Isos (programs that seem to have freewill).
The world is beautifully rendered and changes as the game progresses. In the beginning, it is bright and electric, but as the story becomes dark, so do the surroundings.
While there are plenty of programs mulling about, there is very little interaction except for specific, game-related instances. It appears wide open, but in reality, the action occurs on a very linear path.
Disney officials said the game tells a unique story of how CLU, the electronic system administrator, begins his takeover of the electronic world. Game developers at Propaganda Games worked closely with movie makers to design environments, characters and vehicles that would mirror what appears in “Tron: Legacy.”
In a convergence move, there are scenes in the game that will appear as flashbacks in the movie. It won’t exactly look the same, but will show a different viewpoint from the one played out on the console.
Since the game story occurs before the movie events, equipment in the game appears as beta versions of what will eventually show up on the big screen. Characters from the game, like Quorra (an non-player character who helps Anon) and Abraxas (a computer virus bent on destroying the world), also transfer from console to movie screen.
There are seven chapters in the game that span 3 different cities and the surrounding areas. And here is where the game starts getting repetitive.
Action usually consists of entering a room, battling some enemies, then moving to the next room via a series of leaps, climbs and slingshot maneuvers that resemble moves from “Assassin’s Creed.” This room-to-jumping-to-room-to-jumping is played out repeatedly in the game.
Anon uses his disc to battle at a cost to his energy and it can be upgraded at various disc stations throughout the world. Four different types of powers – heavy, stasis, bomb and corruption – are at his disposal as well as upgrades to energy, life and defenses.
The disc can be thrown toward enemies for a variety of effects that are made more powerful if done while leaping around the room. The disc also can be used as a melee weapon to strike enemies directly or the ground for an area effect.
There are bright locations on the wall to get health and energy nodes to gain power for disc moves. Players will find themselves running from wall to node to battle and back again as they try to stay alive while fighting enemies.
It is fun to run up the wall, gain some health, flip off and fire a bomb power toward a group of rogue programs. However, the fun diminishes when battling more powerful bosses because it is a constant repetition of hit, run for energy, get hit, run for health.
There are some breaks in the run, jump, and climb movement from area to area. Light cycles can be used as means to get from one place to another, but it isn’t a race in the true sense.
Players must avoid broken roads and obstacles, but there isn’t the “running into the solid light trail” that was made famous in the arcade game and first movie.
There are also moments to use the battle tanks to move around as well. This is more fun because you get to battle other tanks and forces while trying to get to the next building.
The game does have some role-playing elements in it. You do interact with NPCs and can level up. In a nice twist, progress made in the single player game also carries over to the online, multi-player action and vice versa.
There is no level matching in the online play so combat can and does feature battles between a level 20 Anon against a level 1 Anon. The fighting, when matched up against a similarly powered opponent, is pretty awesome with light cycles, discs and tanks.
Up to 10 people can compete on one of 4 maps in Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill missions. Leveling up here also transfers back to single-player action.
Overall, the game starts out exciting and fast paced, and then slowly slides into sameness. The action still remains quick and almost frantic at points, but too much repetition begins to drain away the excitement.
It will be interesting to see how the story in the game transitions to the story in the movie. The game felt like it had a lot of potential, but ran out of things to do so they kept doing the exciting stuff over and over.
It isn’t a bad game, but a good game that could have been great.
“Tron: Evolution” has different ratings for the different versions. It is rated E 10+ for the DS, PSP and Wii. It is rated T (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes) for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC versions. Only the Wii and Xbox 360 versions were reviewed for this article.
The video game, out this week from Disney Interactive Studios and Junction Point Studios, puts Mickey Mouse in a challenging environment called Wasteland, where finding his way home will force him to make choices that can turn out to be either good or bad.
“Epic Mickey,” an attempt to appeal to adult gamers as well as kids, places Mickey in a contemporary setting that also references Disney’s rich history. Wasteland is full of Disney characters who have been forgotten or become obscure.
The land is ruled by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney in 1927 and ultimately lost to another studio. Disney would go on, a year later, to create the character that would become the symbol of his company — Mickey Mouse.
Black and white versions of Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar also return, as well as other characters that never made it to stardom.
Wasteland is also populated by areas that are distortions of real areas at Disney parks like Mean Street (Main Street USA), Tomorrow City (Tomorrowland), and Ventureland (Adventureland).
Game designer Warren Spector said for Disney fans, there is a lot to love and explore. But he wanted to make a game that would appeal to all gamers.
“One of the goals, as crazy as it sounds, was to make it a game for everyone,” Spector said. “For gamers, it starts with the mechanic of drawing and erasing, removing things from the world and restoring them back again.”
Mickey uses a magic paintbrush in the cartoon world to help him either create with paint or destroy with thinner. The brush works not just on enemies, but on the surrounding environment as well.
Thinner and paint are used extensively throughout the game to get Mickey through different levels, sub-levels and side missions. Painting on an enemy will make it your friend, while thinner will weaken and sometimes kill it. You can also use paint and thinner to create or eliminate buildings, trees and other structures.
Spector was hoping to challenge the player with his unique game mechanic.
“There has never been a game that lets you remove walls, floors, ceilings, objects, characters, and then bring them back,” Spector said. “One of the programmers said, ‘Why don’t we give [Mickey] control over the stuff he’s made of?’ ”
With that control come choice and consequences, something Spector is very well known for in his previous titles, like the Ultima series, “Deus Ex,” and “Thief.”
How players choose to handle situations is reflected in how they are treated in the game by other characters. Each choice will have its own reward or consequence.
One of the very first dilemmas is choosing between releasing a Gremlin (a helpful character) or opening a chest of E-tickets (the currency of the game). A friend or money — which do you want more?
More choices help shape how missions get completed or whether the player misses them entirely. With the ability to create and eliminate the environment, the three-dimensional worlds all have dual sides.
Each side can appear either dark and broken down, due to the thinner, or bright and colorful from paint.
Using thinner on a colorful wall might reveal a hidden passage, while paint on an ugly building will garner you rewards from the characters nearby.
Traveling from world to world through projector-screen warps is also fun.
The warps are platforming levels that feature some of the old Disney cartoons, like “Steamboat Willie,” which are exciting to see.
The background music will be hauntingly familiar to nearly everyone. It’s not exactly Disney music, but it does contain enough chords and melodies to make you strain to hear more and figure out what tune they twisted for each level.
The game is a mother lode of Disney history and memorabilia.
One level, in fact, is dedicated to all the Mickey Mouse merchandise produced over the years and is called, ironically enough, Mickey Junk Mountain.
While this could be a Disney fan’s dream game with all the references, Spector said he wanted the game to resonate with today’s gamers and the style they have become used to playing.
“Games that allow players to solve the problems any way they want, with consequences and choices to create their own experiences,” he said. “That’s what the best of gaming is about these days, and I’ve been making games like that for a really long time. And this is one of them.”
The game is not without problems. The camera view is difficult to control using the Wii’s directional cross and often creates opportunities that force players to make blind jumps to platforms they can’t face.
Mickey also gets stuck looking at walls or corners with no recourse except to blindly walk along a path until he can turn around.
The targeting for paint and thinner also misses the mark. Literally.
Putting the cross hairs on a target and hitting the trigger button may or may not make the stream find the enemy. This can be really frustrating when you try to paint a ledge, keep missing the mark, and get overrun by bad guys before your escape route appears.
There is also a minor flaw with the voice acting: There is none.
The characters verbally communicate through grunts and groans, which are translated by subtitles. While it doesn’t affect gameplay, it does affect the atmosphere of the game.
Despite the issues, the game gets high marks for its delivery and the choice/consequence gameplay. Players will enjoy being able to shape the story and play the game the way they want.
The ultimate goal is to get Mickey back home. But players can take their time, see everything and earn extra rewards if they so choose.
Spector said this is a game where your play style really does matter.
“I think gamers are going to find a lot to love here,” he said. “At least, I really hope so.”
“Disney Epic Mickey” is an exclusive title for the Wii console and is rated E for Everyone.
Disney Interactive Studios announced that their upcoming title, “Disney Epic Mickey,” will also be released as a Collectors’ Edition, complete with the adventurous Mickey in ready pose. Available for pre-order, the CE will contain the 5-inch figurine, Wii console skins and remote faceplate, and a DVD with behind-the-scenes video.
“We’re thrilled to roll out this Collectors’ Edition featuring so many unique items including the collectible figurine and content that will surprise and delight gamers and Disney fans alike,” said Graham Hopper, executive vice president and general manager, Disney Interactive Studios. “The addition of the bonus DVD with behind-the-scenes video and more will enhance and expand the overall experience.”
“Disney Epic Mickey” is an action adventure game that allows players to control Mickey Mouse through a land that has become drab and desolate. The world is expected to be populated by Disney’s long forgotten characters and attractions.
Mickey will have the power of paint to alter the landscape and change the world, also changing how the game story will play out. Calling their concept “Playstyle Matters,” developers have built different challenges to allow players many different options and storylines – but all with consequences.
“Disney Epic Mickey” will be available this holiday season exclusively for Wii.