Disneyland’s quietly becoming a bit of a video game star. In the last 18 months, it’s provided the inspiration for two separate big budget releases: Junction Point’s troubled – and dangerously lavish – Wii oddity Epic Mickey, and Frontier’s lovely Kinect: Disneyland Adventures.
Yet while both titles share a central preoccupation – an aging resort on the outskirts of Los Angeles – the end results couldn’t have less in common. Two games, one park: why are the final products so different?
David Braben’s suggested that the (Frontier) team saw Disneyland Adventures as an opportunity to build on the imagineers’ existing work: to create the impossible versions of the likes of Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Matterhorn that only video games could deliver.
The results are often dazzling. Pirates of the Caribbean no longer leaves you floating past a buccaneer party in full swing, for instance. Now, you’re rowing through the swamps, sneaking through the cobbled streets of a rowdy port, and engaging in sword fights and even dance-offs. The Haunted Mansion finally lets you out of those Doom Buggies so you can skulk around in the darkness, even if you are still on rails. You get to hunt ghosts instead of just watch them whizz by, while Madame Leota’s been freed from her séance table and now zips through the air around you.
Almost every ride gets the video game treatment, with only Small World hinting at the mechanisms and trickery that power the real attraction. In Epic Mickey, paradoxically, exposing mechanisms and trickery is the order of the day.
The differences in the two games come down to audience, I suspect. Disneyland Adventures is very much a game for children, so you’re offered a fairly literal interpretation of the park on the surface, before you step indoors to see the rides like kids see them: as magical spaces where the normal laws of reality don’t apply. Epic Mickey, meanwhile, is a game that I have a feeling may actually be aimed at adults.
It’s about a version of Disneyland that has long been forgotten, and it’s a look at the park that revels in the things that a lot of grown-ups tend to enjoy about it. Things like the engineering cleverness that’s on display all around you: the way that rides are slotted together efficiently, and driven by everything from lasers and animatronics right through to the kind of tricks that 19th century magicians relied upon.
Kids enjoy the show, then, while adults appreciate the showmanship. Thanks to video games, though – confident charmers like Disneyland Adventures and even weird, difficult offerings like Epic Mickey – we can all get a chance to poke around the park and emerge with something to remember.