Fantasia: Music Evolved preview: dynamic duets

When Harmonix first announced its upcoming Microsoft console-exclusive music game, Fantasia: Music Evolved, a part of me wondered how the Rock Band and Dance Central creators would be able to capture the wondrous atmosphere created by the original Disney films. After all, Fantasia makes me think of bombastic animation enhanced by its eclectic soundtrack. It makes me think of artistic and musical creativity. Nine months later, Harmonix is revealing new details on its Kinect-controlled title, showing some new ways to exercise some of that creativity, alone or with a friend.

In a private demo during last week's Game Developers Conference, Harmonix and Disney Interactive invited Shacknews to check out some previously-unrevealed elements of Fantasia. In addition to demonstrating a new explorable area, Harmonix showed off how the game's two-player mode will work, before bringing me aboard to try it out.

Fantasia already features over 30 licensed tracks and Harmonix has revealed five more. Those tracks include:

  • David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust

  • Antonin Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 from the New World

  • Lorde - Royals

  • Nicki Minaj - Super Bass

  • White Stripes - Seven Nation Army

Harmonix also debuted a new explorable area called 'The Hollow.' Simlar to the Haven area that Harmonix revealed earlier, players must explore the various reaches of this motionless wilderness and use Kinect controls to flush out new music. The explorable environment contains hidden magic fragments that help bring it to life. Some of these can be unlocked after performing songs, but others are found in hidden grottos within the forest. For example, one hidden area holds a bed of mushrooms that requires players to pull sounds from them. Another sees an elk pop out of the background, where the player must complete a Kinect sequence in order to create a candleabra out of its antlers.

Performing the actual songs appears to have vastly improved over the last time I tried Fantasia at last year's Comic-Con. Songs now feature more direct instrument choice, allowing players to veer more towards one style of a song or create an eclectic mix of various genres. Backgrounds will also be affected by song choice. Composition spells will also pop up during songs, allowing players to play around with the Kinect controls to create song loops, new melodies, or additional beats. These sequences can also open the doors to hidden remixes that will help play the song in a new way.

After a quick demonstration, it was time to engage in Fantasia's two-player mode, which starts with both players shaking hands in front of the Kinect sensor. Songs are performed similarly to the game's single-player with some notable differences. Each player must respond to notes that correspond with their color. While most of these notes are separate, there are many instances in which notes will feature both colors and require both players to strike at the same time. This is a pretty neat idea that makes particularly good players appear almost choreographed. Teamwork during certain sequences is also key, as both players must participate in order to unlock certain composition spells. Composition spell interludes allow both players to influence the music track, as mentioned before. The only downside here is that the composition spell will go on infinitely if either player continues to move, which I noticed when I was suddenly controlling a piano loop for well over a minute. Both players must stop completely for the song to proceed, which isn't always made clear.

Though both players might work together at points, this two-player mode is indeed a competition. Whoever scores highest during individual sequences gets to selection the next musical section. In the case of Ziggy Stardust, it was a heated competition to see who would pick either the original composition, jazz, or autotune Bowie. At the end, the game calculates some final bonuses to determine the winner.

Fantasia's development appears to be going in a positive direction. The new features and the two-player mode were both nice to see, but what left me feeling encouraged about the game was that I ran into minimal issues with the Kinect peripheral itself. While the sensor had a lot of trouble reading my movements back at last year's Comic-Con, my recent bout with Fantasia at GDC is an improvement in almost every way. I did experience a few moments where the sensor didn't read a wave of my hand, but for the most part, I had no trouble with my wacky flailing arm waving.

There's still no release date for Fantasia: Music Evolved, but Harmonix and Disney Interactive hope to have it ready for Xbox One and Xbox 360 later this year.