At its best, Disney is pure escapism - a land of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and hundreds of memorable film characters and cheesy songs. From Olaf in Frozen to Lilo's pet "dog" Stitch, there are few other companies that can boast such a fantastic catalogue of characters - and fewer still where people would thousands of dollars to go and spend time with costumed versions of them in a theme parks. But wouldn't it be great if you could live in a Disney universe and be best buddies with Cinderella and Stitch, without having to leave the comfort of your own home? That's the idea behind Disney Magical World, a game that invites you to live in the magical world of Castleton, in a game that borrows from Harvest Moon and Hometown Story, infusing it with a bit of Disney magic as it goes.
Like most life-sim games, your journey into Castleton begins with designing your avatar. Whether you want to make a new character from scratch, or import your very own Mii from the console's Mii Maker, there's a wide range of options on offer to let you make an at least half-respectable Disney-fied version of yourself. After tweaking your face, hair, skin, and eye colour, or adding some eye shadow, it's time to take your first steps into the Disney Magical World, and begin your new life - even if the Mii characters do look a little odd in the Disney world.
When you first arrive in Castleton - effectively, the game's hub world - you have a series of 'prologue' tasks to complete. Each little task takes you around the Castleton map, and basically teaches you how to make your way through the game. On the bottom screen, you'll find a map that shows you points of interest such as quests, or people you need to talk to. Each task you complete will reward you with a sticker, which in turn unlocks more items, and places for you to explore. From McDuck's store (basically like a Disney Selfridges), to Daisy Duck's clothing boutique, and Chip and Dale's furniture store, there's a wide range of places to go and spend your hard earned cash, and plenty of little quests to complete. When you've collected all the stickers in the prologue, you're free to, well, do whatever you want!
It can feel a little intimidating that the game stops holding your hand quite so quickly after the prologue, with no real guide showing you were to go next, but Disney Magical World is pretty easy to pick up and play. Essentially carrying on what you started in the tutorial, but on a much larger scale, the game has two main sort of objectives to complete - character requests, and stickers. As you wander round the town, certain characters will sometimes have an icon above their head, and that means they have a quest to give you. Whether it's asking you to wear a certain outfit, or bring them a certain item, doing odd jobs for the characters will net you some items as a reward, which can then be combined to make bigger and better things - like furniture for your apartment (we say apartment - it's more of a bedroom above the cafe - but hey, at least you can decorate it however you see fit), recipes for food for the cafe (which we'll get to later), or brand new clothes. The other half of the fun comes from the collectible stickers, which are awarded for achieving certain things in the game, from 'creating 10 pieces of furniture' to 'catching a fish over 100cm long'. For the collectable fans among us, it's not only stickers that Disney Magical World uses to tickle our OCD tendencies, but there are also collectable cards too. With 300 collectable cards to collect from Disney characters around Castleton (or by StreetPass), and 100 stickers too, there's enough to keep you busy here for hours on end.
The game focuses heavily on outfits. From the very beginning, you're taught that dressing well, and achieving what's known as an 'Ace Ensemble' is very important. To achieve an Ace Ensemble you need to be wearing a full set of clothes that all go together - like a full Mickey Mouse themed outfit or a Winnie the Pooh costume with matching parts. Unfortunately, that means trying to be a bit individual, with mix and match outfits, like combining the Minnie Mouse Ears with the Pooh Outfit doesn't go down all that well amongst the fashion conscious Castletonions, as I learnt the hard way. If you have more fashion sense than us, and manage to pull together an Ace Ensemble, people you walk past in Castleton will randomly compliment you as you walk past. Far from randomly hitting on you, these nods of approval are collected, and can be spent on 'Sparkles' for your avatar later on in the game.
And if dressing well enough to impress strangers isn't a hard enough challenge in your virtual life, the responsibility of running the café in Castleton also falls on your slender shoulders. You can choose from a selection of Disney themed food and drink to serve at your Café, picking a mix you think will best suit your esteemed clientele. But the best bit? You get to keep all the money you make. With cash in hand, you can then choose to reinvest in your business, spending the money on creating new recipes, clothing designs to dress your staff in, or visiting Chip and Dale and asking them to make new furniture to give your restaurant a new look. There are also Café based quests, such as having a set of Mickey Mouse themed food, or have your staff dress a certain way, giving everything you do a nice sense of purpose. Please the customers enough, and you'll increase your Café rank, which means you can serve a higher quantity of items - or even make new ones.
However you can't make glorious outfits and meals fit for Mickey Mouse himself without collecting various materials to fulfil the recipes first.
Collecting materials can be done in many ways, and some food and clothing items will take you a while to obtain. There are four different worlds to explore: Alice's Wonderland, Cinderella's world, Agrabah (Aladdin), and the 100 Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh), all with unique items that can be collected to create themed goods based on that world. Each mini-world has it's own selection of episodes (quests) to complete based on how many stickers you've collected - although these play out in a slightly different way to what you might expect.
After being summoned by Yen Sid (that scary wizard guy from Sorcerers Apprentice - no not Nic Cage one, the Fantasia one), you're given a magic wand, and an order to defeat the ghosts in the areas. There are several magic wands to collect that are each suited to defeating ghosts in different areas - and because magic wands aren't cool enough on their own, there's also a selection of stat enhancing quest clothes to wear while going on these ghost busting missions. The combat's all pretty straight forward, with the game almost auto-aiming your shots for you, but we're not complaining. The episodes may get a little challenging as you collect more stickers and take on the later stages, but more experienced players likely won't find this too challenging. When you defeat some ghosts they leave behind red orbs, which you can pocket if you're quick enough. These orbs can then be consumed to regain health, or saved up to open a treasure chest at the end of the level. The more red orbs you have, the higher chance of getting rarer items in the chest. Sometimes more than one play-though of an episode may be required to get the items you're after for recipes, so you've got to be prepared for a little bit of grinding for items.
While Alice's Wonderland, Cinderella's World and Agrabah are all pretty similar, The Winnie the Pooh area takes on a different pace to the rest. With a fairly laid back atmosphere, the quests here focus mainly on finding items or harvesting crops, with Rabbit very kindly letting you use his garden to plant seeds and grow new food or flowers to use in your Café and Boutique recipes. Along with the ability to forage random items you find on the floor and go fishing, this is perhaps the most Harvest Moon-esqe area in the game.
Disney Magical World makes good use of the 3DS connectivity options, too. You can visit a friend's café over a local wireless connection and give presents such as outfits and furniture. There's also a selection of free and paid downloadable add-ons available from the Nintendo eShop, with more to be added over time. What's also impressive is the inclusion of not just StreetPass, but the AR functionality of the console. The Magical AR (Augmented Reality) feature allows you to scan various Tinkerbell AR cards (Google Disney Magical World AR cards, there are loads!) which have been featured in promotional Nintendo newsletters, Disney websites, or magazines. Scanning these pictures will unlock various in-game items such as clothing sets, furniture sets, and food items. It's a pretty handy way of unlocking some exclusive items quickly that add towards your sticker count - and one of the few games to take advantage of the augmented reality side of things.
In all, Disney Magical World is a charming game with hundreds of items to collect. While the older Disney fan may find the quests a little lacking in the challenge department and repetitive, it's still entertaining enough to keep your attention, and it's certainly sucked us in. Filling a sticker book can be an addictive task, and this game is no exception.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS