Pros: Colorful. Thinks you’re wonderful.
Cons: A bit too helpful.
I have to confess something right off the bat: I am not a little girl. I do not wear pink bows in my hair. I do not dream of being a princess when I grow up. And I was not excited when the game that turned up in my mailbox was Disney Princess: My Fairytale Adventure.
Childless, middle-aged and male, I cannot claim to be the ideal reviewer of a game aimed at little girls. But with Wii games drizzling in at about one or two a month, I have to take what I can get.
Developed by: High Impact Games
Published by: Disney Interactive Studios
For ages: All
Release Date: September 25, 2012
The Basics: A Magical Apprentice Helps Out Storybook Princesses
In Disney Princess, the players take on the role of an apprentice to the Fairy Godmother. The player’s avatar can be customized with various skin tones and eye shapes and hair styles and colors. Throughout the game you can buy or find additional dresses and accessories.
As the game begins the princess miscasts a spell and accidentally transforms little garden sprites into troublesome imps. The Fairy Godmother’s castle contains portals to various Disney worlds which the imps promptly run through, and the apprentice chases after them.
Players get to explore the worlds of Cinderella, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and, very briefly, The Princess and the Frog, removing imps from the lives of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel, Belle, and Tiana in order to assure their respective happy endings. These are very friendly worlds; everyone is very pleased to meet the apprentice, and all thank her effusively for her help. The also constantly ask for more help, and a lot of the game involves traipsing from one end of a world to the other in order to fulfill a series of requests.
The most common task is the turning of imps back into sprites, which involves going up to one and flicking your remote like a wand, sending a burst of magic at the troublesome creature. Imps sometimes create pink webs that can be cleared out by standing on them and twirling with a shake of the remote. I often found myself twirling when I meant to cast a spell and vice versa, but the game is so forgiving that it hardly mattered.
One is also often asked to participate in mini-games. Several times imps have invaded pastries and you must find the imp-filled pastry 3-card-monte style. There is also a game where you shoot imps flying by and one where you retrieve treasure from dangerous waters. There is also an utterly inexplicable dancing game in which I was never clear on whether I was doing what the game wanted me to.
For an experienced gamer, none of this is especially challenging. The most difficult mini-game was one involving catching objects, which could very well flummox a five-year old.
The Approach: You're Wonderful! Go Do That!
The game is endlessly enthusiastic about every player success. Clear out a room of imps or magically turn on some lanterns and the game will say, in its cheery female voice, “wonderful!” or “you did it!” In each world you can find a crystal that allows you to open treasure chests of the same color, and every single time you open one of these dozens of chests, the game shouts out “wonderful” as you twirl about. The tutorial exclaims about your awesomeness every time you follow a command – “shake the remote” – wonderful! “Use the analog stick to walk, “you did it!” Always with an accompanying twirl.
Disney Princess seems to have two main goals; to compliment the player, and to make sure the player is never confused about anything. The soothing voice constantly reminds you of what you need to do. Every time you have to change imps to sprites, the game tells you how to do it. Finding sprites is easy because the game always has an onscreen arrow telling you where one is.
While all this hand holding ensures an absence of even a moment of confusion or doubt, it can often feel like nagging. Even though the game offers some freedom of action, it never seems comfortable with just letting the player play. For example, whenever you return to the Fairy Godmother’s castle you are welcomed back and told what activities you can engage in. One of these activities is gardening. But while you’re planting and watering your flowers the game will periodically re-welcome you and repeat the things you can do, as though it is afraid that too much freedom will result in mental distress.
The effect is like being given a coloring book and crayons and then having a helpful adult watch over your shoulder, gently and cheerfully pointing out that you might want to paint that sky blue instead of green and that you would probably have more fun if you colored within the lines.
The Age Range: If You Can Cross the Street By Yourself, You're Too Old For This
One thing I found odd about the optional activities the game offers is they don’t result in anything. You can grow flowers, but doing so won’t gain you points, or more of the jewels you can use to buy clothing or furniture for a room you can decorate. You can also use magic to turn on all the lamps in the garden, but this gets no reward or mention. It’s just something you can do if you want to.
Of course, kids don’t always need or want things to have a point. I once threw stones in a river with a little boy and found that my ideas of trying to throw them further or in different places were of no interest to him; just throwing them into the water was entertainment enough. But even if not every child playing Fairy Princess needs a payoff, it still feels like something a proper game would supply.
As I played Disney Princess, I began to wonder; at what age is a game with little challenge and constant hand holding entertaining? The press sheet Disney sent me described the game as something for “fans of all ages,” but this game is clearly aimed very specifically at little girls. I asked a couple of child-experienced friends what they thought, and they suggested that up to the age of 6 or 7, hand-holding games with simple, repetitive gameplay can be tons of fun. I would also say this game would be very comforting for some child’s non-gamer grandmother, so if a woman wants to play a game with her five-year-old granddaughter (a second player can drop in and out of the game), this could be perfect.
The Verdict: Little Girls Might Love This. Or Not.
While I was too far away from the target audience to really enjoy Disney Princess, I will say that it is far from the worst experience I’ve had on the Wii. It is colorful, decently voice acted and general competent in design and production. The controls generally work well. If I were female and very young, I might love this princessy little game. But for me to really like the game, you would have to replace the imps with hideous, brain-sucking aliens, and replace the wand with a grenade launcher. And if you’re a little girl who wants the same thing; you probably shouldn’t play that with your grandma.