At a secret pre-announcement hands-on session with John Drake of Harmonix I had a chance to try out some early levels from their new Xbox One dance game: Fantasia: Music Evolved. Although the partnership draws Harmonix into the tricky family market, and perhaps alienates their core following, there is plenty of its classic beat matching game-play here to keep fans and newcomers happy.
One distinction is clear though, this is not a "dance" game, but a "music" rhythm experience. The difference may seem trivial, but to those who have played Dance Central for Xbox Kinect expectations need to be adjusted.
Although the Disney Fantasia brand is front and central, this is not usual video-game tie-in experience. In fact in our demo we didn't see a single Disney character. Don't get me wrong, there will be that side of things as Yin Sid guides us through the story, but the game looks to recreate the feel of Fantasia rather than plundering it scene for scene or for particular characters.
Fantasia: Music Evolved is built around a set of hub worlds that can be explored using both bodily and limb movements with the Xbox alone camera. Beautifully rendered and also well-realized in terms of interaction these spaces felt playful and intriguing.
As you complete the different songs in each space, new areas and features open up. This grants the player not only more of the story but a set of interactive music-making elements.
For most though the main event will be the beat matching music modes. Unlike Dance Central though players are not tasked with matching specific dance moves. Instead the game detects a series of gestures that need to be executed in time with the music. These can be performed by either arm and have a degree of looseness to them, while at the same time reward those who execute carefully.
Playing the Bohemian Rhapsody level felt not a million miles away from the jump-in game-play of Just Dance. These was a happy simplicity here, while at the same time a strong connection to the music. Although I played alone, the final game is planned to have two person local multi-player.
As you progress through the dance you are given the option of picking different mixes. This branching experience not only offers variety for repeat plays but again strengthens the sense of performance you have with each song.
Perform well enough and you are then granted some special effects mode where you get to control a guitar solo or wah-wah pedal with just your bodily movement. It's a simple innovation but one that worked perfectly in our demo and will certainly wow living-rooms audiences of grandparents and parents once the game is released.
Although no firm date had been given, Fantasia: Music Evolved is a 2014 Xbox One and 360 Kinect game. One for the launch window lineup rather than launch day.