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Is Walt Disney Studios about to get a toon-up?

JHM contributor Peter Bell returns with another great column about this troubled Parisian theme park. This time around, Bell reveals the Goofy plans the Imagineers supposedly have in store for WDS.

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What makes the Walt Disney Studios Park outside Paris the worst performing Disney theme park ever built? There are several major factors.

First of all, the park is extremely small, taking up roughly the same amount of space as Frontierland in the neighbouring Magic Kingdom. A complete walking tour takes approximately five minutes, and the park’s maximum capacity is a measly twenty thousand guests.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the park contains only nine attractions. Nine! That’s fewer than can be found in Fantasyland. Compounding this problem is the nature of the attractions themselves. Almost all of them are shows or walkthroughs, meaning they have very little repeat value. Once you’ve done them, that’s it.

Of these attractions, only three are aimed squarely at families with children, and this has become the most persistent complaint levelled against the park. Families arrive from the Magic Kingdom, expecting the same variety of style and appeal, and are disappointed.

Lastly there is the question of theme and detail. I covered this aspect of the park in depth in my very first article for this website, so I won’t repeat myself here. But suffice to say that a walk through the Studios holds as much excitement, intrigue and romance as a walk through your local supermarket car park.

I concluded that first article by theorising that, should the resort be lucky enough to receive fresh funding, this ailing park could well see an unprecedented leap in quality. Happily, that time has now come. The Disneyland Paris resort has avoided insolvency and received a hefty sum from The Walt Disney Company and its shareholders. As expected, the Studios park is to receive the lion’s share of the windfall. But how will the money be used? And will it go any way towards saving what is beginning to look like a doomed venture?

Happily, the resort’s management appear to have taken the worst of the park’s shortcomings into account when preparing their plan of action. The Studios will be welcoming two major additions before the end of 2008, each of which is designed to alleviate specific problems and finally set the park on track.

The first problem to be addressed will be the lack of child-friendly rides and the shortage of space as the Studios undergo their first major expansion. A brand new “production zone” is to be created: Toon Town is finally coming to France.

This promises to be quite a departure from the existing Toon Towns however. For a start, the French version will be entirely indoors, offering much needed shelter from the temperamental European climate. Apart from this first practicality, the construction of a “show” building raises an interesting question about the zone’s presentation.

While it was initially expected that France would receive a direct copy of one of the US Toon Towns with the addition of an artificial sky, it seems that something a little more ambitious could be on the cards. Rumours of a “Toon Studios” are rife and could herald a truly unique addition to the park. As opposed to the rural idyll populated by Mickey and friends, the Toon Studios building would house a replica of Toontown – the fictional city from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” that is home to Hollywood’s most famous animated characters. This slightly grittier, urbanised take on the Toon Town concept would probably prove more palatable to European tastes, and would lend the park a much needed sense of atmosphere and excitement.

But what of attractions? Whatever form the park’s new section takes, it will be quite a simple affair consisting of a collection of façades, meet ‘n’ greet areas and a small boutique. I can confirm that it will contain at least one dark ride, although there are few firm details at this stage as to what it may be. The only thing that is known for certain is that Goofy will feature prominently. Some rumours claim that Florida’s Barnstormer kiddie coaster will receive a re-theme (possibly transforming it into a stunt car coaster), while others tell a far more intriguing story. Goofy, it seems, could be taking possession of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. Quite why Disney would choose to oust Roger in favour of Goofy is uncertain, especially considering the Toontown connection. Nevertheless, it is still the strongest rumour backstage and has even been heard doing the rounds in managerial offices.

And where will this new zone be situated? Designed to open up the extremely cramped Animation Courtyard, the entrance to the new section will occupy the space between The Art Of Disney Animation building and the Flying Carpets ride, which had previously been earmarked for Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. It will then project outwards on to the car park of the costuming building. This is an unprecedented move, as the costuming building itself is only three years old, and opened at the same time as the Studios park. Doing away with its parking facilities goes to show the lengths to which the resort’s new managers are prepared to go to turn the struggling park around.

However, a few concerns remain. It is by no means clear just how much of the car park is going to be sacrificed for this new development. If it is decided to do away with it altogether then we could be looking at a Toon Town of some considerable size, with space for several features besides the dark ride. The alternative is that the ride will be the only thing to be built beyond the existing park boundary, and that Toon Town will be nothing more than a glorified entranceway – a few small façades and nothing more.

Fortunately for us, it appears that this last option is not likely to see the light of day. A few hours ago I received the transcript of a Belgian radio interview conducted with André Lacroix, the resort’s new CEO, in which he outlines his plan for the Walt Disney Studios. It makes for exciting reading:

“During this first period we’ll concentrate heavily on the second park by creating two new attractions, including a real monster hit from the American parks. But that won’t be all. The Studios park will keep growing, and in six years time it’ll be twice its current size.”

As you can see, if all goes according to plan we are in for a real treat, and no doubt a few surprises along the way. The fact that Lacroix talks about continuing to expand the studios even AFTER 2008 (when the “monster hit” is scheduled to open) is a hugely promising step and has already sent the rumour mill into overdrive.

In the meantime, enjoy the New Year. I’ll be back soon with a full rundown on that “monster hit” next time.

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“Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion” game coming this summer

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Adventure Time Pirates of the Enchiridion

“C’mon on, grab your friends … ” A new Adventure Time game is coming out across multiple platforms.

Copyright Cartoon Network / Outright Games Ltd. All rights reserved

In this open world game, Finn and Jake will be sailing on a raft (Named Jeff) through the flooded land of Ooo to solve the mystery of why water engulfed their home and to help others & get in hijinks along the way. With a ragtag gang of friends (From a vampire, to an Ice King, to a little robot) Finn and Jake will travel from the melting Ice Kingdom to the Fire Kingdom and fight in turn-based combat like an RPG.

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The trailer shows off some absolutely gorgeous character models and environments. I’m particularly enchanted by the gorgeous Candy Kingdom that’s briefly shown in this footage. The art design sticks close to the show, but brings with it a soft, sweet design rarely seen in adventure games. Which is a refreshing thing to bring to the table. Likewise, it’s a joy to see the characters translate to 3D so well. Outright Games has done some fantastic work here with their art design.

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Likewise, the voice cast for the show will be reprising their roles as characters in the land of Ooo. And they’ll have a lot of lines to record. Not only can you control Finn and Jake, but you’ll be able to play as BMO and Marceline as well. You can upgrade these characters to unlock unique abilities for combat and the map holds plenty of fun mysteries too. With side stories and secret locations, this seems like a game that’ll have hours & hours of fun.

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What strikes me particularly about this game is how much it resembles Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. This is no coincidence. Adventure Time have a history of being direct corollaries to Legend of Zelda games. “Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!” ‘s gameplay references “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” and “Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom” has the same top down look & combat stylings as “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” With this in mind, it’s absolutely delightful to see a Wind Waker homage with a series like this. Wind Waker was a gamechanger for the Legend of Zelda series, and it feels like “Pirates of the Enchiridion” will be a gamechanger for the Adventure Time games.

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‘Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion’ will be out July 17th for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. 

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Do you like treasure hunting and/or cooking soup? Then Pokemon Quest is the game for you

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Pokemon Quest

Immediately after the Pokemon press conference on May 29th, the mobile-switch cross platform game Pokemon Quest was available to download on the Nintendo eShop (with the mobile device version debuting later this month). Curious about the ‘Free-to-Start’ game, I snagged a download and started playing.

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Pokemon Quest is a game that feels best letting itself auto-run. You check in several times a day to see what Pokemon have appeared at your camp (The conceit behind this game is that you’re a treasure hunter & Pokemon flock to you to fight their brethren in your honor. They also sometimes just come by because you make really good soup. What can I say?). With the Pokemon at your disposal, you build a small exploration team much in the same style as the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game series. And you then set them out to fight other Pokemon in open levels. From these battles, you win power stones (which allow you to upgrade your Pokemon’s health & attack power), and ingredients to lure other Pokemon to your camp.

You may’ve taken notice use of the term ‘Free-to-Start’ earlier in this article. That’s because — like many mobile services — this game offers add-ons for purchase. I don’t see any age limit on the Nintendo Switch version to take away ads for purchases (which many mobile games have chosen to add. See Disney’s own ‘Disney Crossy Road’) but the Pokemon Company may be expecting parents to set their own controls over the switch with the parental controls available on the system.

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Still, the game is typical in mobile game fare for trying to wring money out of players. Energy to play the game costs P tickets, which you can earn 50 a day … or you can just buy. The game gives you an amount to start with, shows you how to use them to speed up your game, and then takes you to the shop where you can see an advertisement to buy it — along with Pokemon furniture to help your team.

These packages can go up to $30 and include Pokemon in-game items & exclusive furniture. And while Pokemon Go offered items in bundles like this, it’s still odd to see in a Pokemon game — let alone a Pokemon game on the Nintendo Switch (albeit, this is a cross-platform game). The game itself doesn’t seem to have any sort of hard-pay line for gameplay, though. I’m up to the fifth world in my game without making any purchases. And while the game difficulty has dramatically ramped up, likely to encourage purchases, it’s still completely manageable to play without paying.

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In that sense, for a free game, it’s really cute & enjoyable. The graphics are pleasing and colorful. And if you return to camp, you’ll find all the Pokemon you’ve befriended hopping around adorable decorations. Sometimes stacking on top of each other, other times following each other around in what seems like games of tag.

The ‘cooking’ mechanic to encounter a random Pokemon makes encountering them feel less like gambling and more like strategy. By cooking certain recipes from materials you find on missions, you can draw certain types of Pokemon to your camp. Cooking in certain pots (unlocked by playing through the game) can draw higher powered Pokemon at the cost of more materials. And waiting while your energy fills up means running out of ingredients (At the point of the game I’m at, about half-way through) doesn’t seem to be a problem.

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All in all, I’d say, if you have access to this game, check it out and see if it’s for you. There doesn’t seem to be cross platform support for other Pokemon games. But as a standalone, it’s a cute, fun blip of a game. The hard ‘end’ of the levels within surprises me, especially since it seems to end with 150 Pokemon (out of the over eight hundred available). So I’m not sure what there is to get out of it when you get to the end level outside of getting every Pokemon. But it’s still a fun, very casual strategy game. Just keep an eye on purchases if your children decide to play. 

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“Pokemon — Let’s Go, Pikachu !” & “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Eevee !” to come to the Nintendo Switch this year

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Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu

During a conference in Japan earlier this week, the Pokemon Company revealed three new games : A mobile and Nintendo Switch cross platform game, “Pokemon Quest,” with graphics similar to Crossy Road and some absolutely adorable furniture in a “free to start” format; and for the Nintendo Switch, “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Pikachu !” and “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Eevee !”

Taking inspiration from gameplay styles from the popular “Pokemon Go” for mobile devices, “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Pikachu !” and “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Eevee !’ adopts the thrown Pokeball system. By using one controller with the Switch system, you can make a tossing motion to throw a Pokeball and capture a cute critter for your team.

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Additionally, you can buy the “Pokeball Plus” accessory to act as an additional “Joy-con” controller for your Switch to capture Pokemon. Then load a Pokemon into your pokeball, and take it out on the go.

From there, with the accessory, you’ll be able to interact with the Pokemon you have inside. Although current information doesn’t offer whether we’ll have more options than putting Eevee or Pikachu in the Pokeball Plus, the footage seen in the linked trailer is absolutely adorable.

The game itself seems to be a remake of Pokemon Yellow, a game released twenty years ago for the Game Boy Color. You explore the Kanto Pokemon region, and seem to be limited to the 150 Pokemon available when that game was out (Well, 151, if you were lucky, or good at exploiting glitches). But these games ditch the random encounters of mainline Pokemon games and adopt the overworld encounters of Pokemon Go. What Pokemon you see on the overworld is what you get.

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Additionally, Pokemon can follow you around and you can ride some of them. In footage, we see a trainer riding a giant Onyx (i.e., a giant snake made out of rocks. Who wouldn’t be comfortable riding on that?) and followed by a starting Pokemon, Bulbasaur. Although in these two games, you start instead with the series mascot Pikachu, and the evolution Pokemon Eevee, which can evolve into several different pokemon. You can also put little outfits on them. Which is – frankly — incredible.

Likewise, this seems to have local multiplayer. Hand the left Joy-con to a friend and let them enter your game. Or if you’re feeling really lonely, put the left Joy-con in your hand and pretend you have a friend while controlling the new trainer that arrives. What a fun time!

You and your friend can then team up to capture Pokemon together, or go exploring together- And you can have Pokemon you capture in Pokemon Go (of the original 151 Pokemon) arrive in your game. You can also send “Presents” back to your Pokemon Go game, including a possible new form of Pokemon as the trailer discusses.

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“Pokemon — Let’s Go, Pikachu !” and “Pokemon — Let’s Go, Eevee !” will be arriving on the Nintendo Switch this November. Likewise, a new Pokemon game will be released in the second Half of 2019. With a Mario movie in development and theme park additions on the way, it’s sure to be a busy year for Nintendo. 

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