What is there to say about Disney that hasn't been said over the last few years? The entertainment giant has encompassed nearly every corner of film and television over the past decade, with its consumption of the Marvel and Star Wars properties and branching out into the world of streaming content. However, there's one area where Disney isn't quite the king of the roost and that's video games.
That's not to say they haven't tried. Disney Infinity is the most recent and most prominent example of a game that captured imaginations for years before the toys-to-life bubble burst. Since then, Disney has largely stayed out of the gaming market outside of a handful of mobile games. But at DICE 2020, an intriguing development unfolded when Disney Senior Games Vice President of Games and Interactive Experiences Sean Shoptaw issued a challenge to the world's game developers.
"I'm here for one specific reason: to empower you to do really unique things with our [catalog]," Shoptaw said at the DICE summit (via The Hollywood Reporter). "We want to tap into the power of creatives across the industry."
I'm no game developer, but you know what? Challenge accepted! If Disney wants games based on their catalog of IPs, then I invite them to step into the Shacknews Laboratory of Dreams and Imagination. Today, I'm going to toss out five potential gaming ideas based on Disney IPs and pair them up with gaming developers that I believe would serve as the right fit to make those games happen. Here are some dreams that would be fun to see eventually become reality.
DuckTales from Drinkbox Studios
"Ozzie, DuckTales has been done," you're probably saying. "It's been done fairly recently, in fact."
If you're talking about DuckTales Remastered, you're right. It has been done. And so have quite a few DuckTales games. But nothing's really been done with the newer DuckTales series, has it? Yes, there's an entirely new series based on the exploits of Scrooge McDuck and his adventures in Duckburg.
It would be really easy and quite tempting to hand the reins of this over to Capcom. After all, they have an extensive history with the franchise. The two are closely associated. Heck, the creators of the 2016 reboot grew up on the NES classic themselves. They've even gone so far as to work the game's music into the series canon.
But just as the new show benefitted greatly from new blood, so too would a new game. And there are dozens upon dozens of game developers who were raised on the old DuckTales show and the old game and would relish the opportunity to do justice to both. If we're talking purely about making a DuckTales platformer for a new generation, the idea would be to turn to a studio that has proven to excel at the genre, arguably above all others. And sure enough, when I think of great developers within the platformer genre, one of the first names to come to mind is Guacamelee creators Drinkbox Studios.
For Disney, I see a developer who can create engaging and challenging platforming sections, along with vibrant worlds, colorful characters, and keen boss battles. I also picture Guacamelee and Severed and think of captivating stories, gripping narratives, and cheeky humor. Those are all things that have come to be defining traits of the new DuckTales and something I would love to see the Guacamelee team attempt to tackle. And for Drinkbox, I see an opportunity to leave their footprint in a far greater property than they could have ever imagined, along with the challenge of creating something fresh that distinctly separates a new DuckTales from the shadow of its all-time great predecessor.
Other candidates: Extremely OK Games (Celeste), WayForward (DuckTales: Remastered), Capcom (DuckTales)
Gravity Falls by Double Fine
It's been a few years since Disney Television Animation wrapped up one of its greatest cartoon shows: Gravity Falls. For those who have never seen it, it follows the Pines twins, Mable and Dipper, as they spend the summer in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. It bears more than a few resemblances to Twin Peaks, in terms of weird phenomena, odd creatures, and strange happenings. The series largely consists of Dipper diving into the greater mystery behind the town, often bringing along his sister and working around town grifter Stan Pines, their great uncle.
While the show was made for kids, the intricacies of the mysteries, the deep character connections, the loaded backstories, and all of the clever bits of humor made it an absolute joy for adults. And while the show wrapped up just fine, there's always room for more stories set within the universe.
But more than mystery, Gravity Falls is defined by its main characters. And few studios understand how to tell a greater story while staying true to its characters quite like Double Fine. The team behind Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, Costume Quest, and Broken Age understand how to craft an elegant story that can also appeal to all ages. They're also versatile enough to make it fit into different genres, whether it's a story-driven adventure, a platformer, or a turn-based RPG.
Ever since Gravity Falls ended, it's been my hope that creator Alex Hirsch would take on the challenge of a video game and I feel like he'd find some kindred spirits among Tim Schafer and company. If Disney wants to keep the spirit of Gravity Falls alive without artificially stretching it into another show, why not go the video game route and open the door to a whole new chapter within its timeline? It's not like the town of Gravity Falls is short on mysteries.
Other candidates: Night School Studio (Afterparty), Terrible Toybox (Thimbleweed Park)
Tron by WayForward
When you're Disney, you have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to franchises. Naturally, some of those are going to slip through the cracks. Arguably, no Disney IP has been neglected more than Tron.
And Tron does have a history in video games. Many 80s kids remember growing up with the old Tron arcade cabinet, featuring a set of different mini-games based on events from the movie. The Tron series has since grown into a much greater storyline, with 2010's Tron: Legacy introducing Sam, Quorra, and the villainous CLU. Along with Disney XD's Tron: Uprising, the Grid became more than just an isolated computer program. It grew to become a world all its own. There's still much about the world of the Grid to explore and video games offer an opportunity to do just that.
This is where this entry got tough for me because while I'm dying to see a new Tron game, there's so much that encompasses it, with a full story wrapped around different arcade-style mini-games. To re-create something with such a retro feel, a retro studio is needed. The minds at WayForward, makers of Shantae, could piece something together with a distinctly old-school feel while putting together a simple story that hits all of the Tron beats. As grand as the Tron storyline is becoming, in terms of video games, it's probably best to keep this one simple.
Other candidates: Inti Creates (Blaster Master Zero), Psyonix (Rocket League)
Mickey Mouse by Studio MDHR
I mean, if this isn't a match made in heaven, then what is?
The last time Disney dove into a dedicated Mickey Mouse game, it was with Warren Spector and the Epic Mickey series. It was a pair of games that touched on the mascot's roots, further exploring a world established by his 1930s shorts.
Now picture hitting Mickey's old 1930s shorts from a different angle. Cuphead creators Studio MDHR have proven they're something special with their run-and-gunner styled like a grainy Silly Symphonies-style cartoon. While Disney might hesitate to give Mickey the ability to repeatedly shoot enemies, that's a design idea that the Cuphead creators can surely work around. After all, the idea here would be placing Mickey in a series of recognizable settings, including some of his old cartoons pitting him against characters like Pete and the Mad Doctor.
There are many studios that can go retro with Mickey. Studio MDHR might be the only one who can do and do so with great accuracy.
Other candidates: Team Cherry (Hollow Knight), Joey Drew Studios (Bendy and the Ink Machine)
Fantasia VR by Enhance Games
Let's go back in time to the early days of the Xbox One. One of the console's biggest selling points was the new and improved Kinect peripheral, with Microsoft banking on it changing the way people play games. That didn't quite pan out. However, one of the peripheral's few successes was a game called Fantasia: Music Evolved, a project from Rock Band creators Harmonix that proved to be an outstanding triumph of pop music blended with the colorful art style of Disney's Fantasia.
It's over five years later and many of the talent at Harmonix who worked on the original Fantasia have moved on to new endeavors. However, the Fantasia license is still out there. Music Evolved was a strong idea then and it still is now. It just needs to be refined to fit a more current trend: virtual reality.
Imagine engaging with music to create stunning works of art, but doing so with an Oculus Rift or a PlayStation VR. If anybody could make that vision a reality, it's the team at Enhance Games, who bring along their resume that includes Rez and Tetris Effect. This team is more than capable of creating something unforgettable with the Disney catalog and in the Disney vision of what Fantasia is meant to be.
Tetris Effect is a prime example of taking a classic concept and turning it into a masterpiece that both stays true to the source while also creating something wholly modern. There's great hope here that Disney will give them the opportunity to do the same thing with Fantasia someday.
Other candidates: Harmonix (Fantasia: Music Evolved), Simogo (Sayonara Wild Hearts)
Those are just some examples of what Disney could wrangle together for their IPs. And this isn't even touching on Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, or any of the properties acquired in the Fox deal. If you're reading this, you likely have some dream teams of your own, so join the conversation and give us yours in the comments.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, 5 Disney game ideas and the developers who can make them happen
You know what I'd love? A Disney Afternoon game where you're jumping between shows and the game changes between 8 and 16 bit style games of different genres.