For decades, Disney has always conjured magic, whether it be for bringing you to far away worlds, enchanted realms, or mystifying new destinations. Be it a whole new world or a land far, far away, Disney’s films, characters, and locations bring along with them a sense of wonder and enchantment — who wouldn’t want to live in one of Disney’s many amazing worlds?
Developer h.a.n.d.’s 3DS-exclusive title attempts to bring those magical realizations to life — the fun attractions, the endless good cheer and charm around every corner, and most of all, the chance to walk down Disney-inspired locales with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald, and dozens of other classic characters. Although the scope of the Disney universe is vast, the charming and light Disney Magical World proves that it really is a small world after all.
To size up this title in its purest, most elegant form is to easily compare it to a certain other popular life simulation/town-building Nintendo-exclusive title. Given the heavy marketing push for associating Magical World alongside it, it’s incredibly hard not to draw comparisons to Animal Crossing between the two titles: let’s get that out of the way now. Summing it up as “Disney meets Animal Crossing” is indeed a bit of an easy, yet not unwarranted comparison — the title definitely features much of what made Nintendo’s real-time life simulator so addicting, fun, and a major time-sink into our (real) lives, and emulates it very well, if a bit too keenly.
As much as Animal Crossing with Disney characters would seem like a complete copout for dismissing the game, there’s plenty more to Disney Magical World than first appearances might let on, and thankfully the Disney-inspired take on the simulation genre is fun and brings plenty new to its magical proceedings that might make a trip to Castleton an even more tempting offer than your own Animal Crossing town might bring (just don’t tell Tom Nook).
Magical World starts off its magical carpet ride to Disney fun by allowing players to import their own Mii characters (or create a new one from scratch), and begin the player’s entrance into a Disney wonderland of their own desire. What follows is a game that is endearingly sweet, but thankfully full of opportunity to explore, discover, and innovate and one’s own pleasure. While Animal Crossing titles have been notorious for having somewhat slow starts as a player gathers their sea legs (or life simulation games legs, I suppose) of exploring their town and buying a house, this game thankfully gets things going pretty quickly and always has something magical waiting around the corner.
The life-sim functions within a hub world; players enter their own magic kingdom which, while sparse on its own, allows access to the many destinations and areas that players will undoubtedly bury their time in. It also provides the game’s biggest allure of getting to hang out with the numerous Disney characters packed in. Regardless of being a younger gamer or a big-time Disney fan, the allure of hanging out with such a huge variety of Disney’s collections of characters is strong, and the game certainly brings that out through its numerous activities, whether it’s having a tea party with the Mad Hatter and Co., or spending time with Aladdin and Genie in an Agrabah-themed world. Sort of like a fan’s combination of Animal Crossing and Kingdom Hearts, just the thrill of seeing the characters itself makes the game rewarding, and always getting the chance to meet new characters for different activities makes the game definitely appealing for Disney fans.
Once inside of Castleton, the player can then embark on whatever errands, quests, or explorations they desire; the games provides lots of freedom in whether you feel like going shopping for clothes, picking out furniture, or going on “dungeon quests” in a light RPG-style mode where players can gain more items. While many of the tasks and missions are slightly more menial than they are detailed, nevertheless everything is (almost) always rewarding in some way, as the game provides plenty of new clothing to purchase, lots of new fish to catch, and always has new mini-games and adventures that can be unlocked, making it extremely versatile for both short 15-minute playthroughs or more extended play sessions.
In spending time strolling through the sweet (sometimes overly so) worlds and activities on offer, the game is pleasant, elegant, and simple; attributes that are as much positive experiences as they can be negative, especially for those that may not have the endless attention span of the younger gamers the title is clearly aimed for. While Disney Magical World provides plenty to do and see, much of it is repetitious in nature and “light” in the very “lightest” sense, whether it’s making costumes and crafting recipes, engaging in light combat against various enemies, or more goal-oriented tasks like fishing and farming. The game provides plenty of odds-and-ends within its magical gates that kids will eat up and enjoy, but might try the patience of more experienced gamers looking for the same sort of experience (especially one that you can sink as many hours into) as the Animal Crossing series provides.
That being said, the title’s simple charms and relaxing pace works in the game’s favor far more than they detriment it; seeing all of the content and experiencing what it has to offer doesn’t take very long at all, but like any favorite ride at Disney World, it’s always something worth coming back to for something you didn’t quite catch the first time. The game thankfully keeps things easy — there aren’t any moments or events locked by what time of day you need to be in a specific place, no special items you can only obtain at a specific hour or from a certain character, no “locks” on what progress you can make or what you can do in a single day. Players are allowed to have their own fun for as long as they want, making it a light but refreshing portable experience that can be fun for 30 minutes as much as it can be for 3 hours at a time.
Like the promises of adventure, well-wishes, and dreams coming true that is the definition of Disney to children everyone, h.a.n.d.’s title strikes up a bond with a younger audience. It’s a light and breezy game with its loosely defined goals and carefree nature. To those looking for a more in-depth experience, this may not be the right type of game. But, for young gamers that need a start, taking a trip to Disney Magical World is far from a bad place to go, and might just be the way to experience a whole new world through gaming.