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Disney Inteactive and Harmonix have high hopes for "Fantasia: Music Evolved"

Disney Inteactive and Harmonix have high hopes for "Fantasia: Music Evolved"

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The Disney films are synonymous with music. Chances are most fans can remember at least one song from every animated film that they've ever seen. I shouldn't have to mention that Disney "Frozen" has been at the top of the Billboard charts over the past 13 weeks. Disney films however do not have a great track record in the video game arena, especially not titles that were predominantly music-oriented.

Music is a big part of gaming. The soundtracks for some of the biggest action-adventure and role-playing games have featured many memorable songs. The US mainstream may not be familiar with the names of Japanese composers Nobuo Uematsu, Hideki Naganuma or Norihiko Hibino, game players from the west however certainly revere their work. To be fair, some of the biggest names from the USA have been associated with gaming. Hollywood heavyweights Michael Giacchino and Harry Gregson-Williams have actually scored several game soundtracks as well.

There are music-based games that take up several genres and have been among the hottest selling titles on more than one occasion. No series has been more influential to the industry than the Bemani series by Konami. Bemani was the abbreviated name for Beatmania, the breakout hit from the Konami Games & Music Division. Japanese arcade players would line up to play a virtual DJ using a turntable and sampling buttons on an arcade cabinet. The title only found moderate success abroad. The follow-up title broke out of the Japanese arcade scene to become an international sensation. Dance Dance Revolution featured a light up floor for audiences to dance on. The series became so popular that it would be referenced everywhere in pop culture including cartoons, movies and television. Even the film "Wreck-it-Ralph " featured a cameo from one of the virtual dancers. Konami continued to crank out new Bemani experiences including Guitar Freaks and Drum Mania, which allowed players to rock out on electronic guitars and drums. Konami tried a bold design with the game Para Para Paradise . Instead of stepping on a floor or playing on a plastic instrument audiences were challenged to dance and wave their arms in rhythm with the music. The arcade cabinet had sensors to track the hands and feet of the players and make sure they were matching the choreography of the game characters.

The Bemani titles spread throughout the West and inspired the Guitar Hero and Rock Band console game hits. Most recently Disney Interactive partnered up with Harmonix, the creators of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises to produce a game inspired by Fantasia . The game Fantasia: Music Evolved debuted at the 2013 E3 in Los Angeles to small groups of visitors. The game had players interact with virtual environments and "play" through different songs using hand gestures. Because it was in a very early stage of development only Harmonix employees could demo the game but a few press members were invited to as well. Thanks to advances in technology the game did not require a bulky cabinet or any sort or sensor array. Instead it used the remote-control sized Microsoft Kinect with an Xbox 360 . The game was interesting and the music selection diverse, featuring songs from the animated film as well as pop hits. It was still a little rough around the edges but showed potential. Audiences did not see much else on the game until the D23 EXPO in Anaheim a few months later.

At the D23 EXPO, the Walt Disney Archives had prepared an exhibit next to the Harmonix display to help younger convention visitors become familiar with the classical masterpiece. Disney pulled out all of the stops and presented a behind-the-scenes look at the game as well as a live onstage demonstration. Followed up by a performance from the world class musicians that made up the Disney Chamber Ensemble. The presentation went well and the game looked as if it had progressed somewhat from the E3 version. The audience however did not seem very enthusiastic with the title. It looked more like a tech demo for interactive environments and gesture-based audio editing applications than a game. Fantasia was regarded as one of the greatest animated masterpieces of all time but very little of the film and its sequel were actually featured in the game. The appearance of Yen Sid seemed to be a carryover from unused Epic Mickey assets rather than something that was put deliberately into the game. This was a title that did not seem to have a clear direction or even market. Music rhythm games had run their cycle years ago and there was little that could get players excited with them again. A big name like Disney Interactive and Harmonix would not be enough to drive sales.

Whether this will be an expensive flop or a sleeper hit has yet to be seen. I'm betting on the former. Fantasia: Music Evolved is scheduled for release in 2014 for the Xbox 360 with Kinect and Xbox One .

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