When we were invited along to see a super-secret project from Disney Interactive, we thought we knew exactly what to expect: a new action adventure based on a forthcoming film property that finally promises to buck the trend of movie tie-in mediocrity, like many well-intentioned games before it (including the immeasurably dismal Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). But that wasn't what we got.
Then we heard it was called Disney Universe, and immediately imagined a kid-orientated MMO based around clicking on Disney characters rather than penguins. But that wasn't what we got, either. Assumptions: comprehensively dashed.
So before you read about Disney Universe, check out the trailer. Looks a bit like a Disney-themed LittleBigPlanet, doesn't it? Well, it's not that. There's no create-and-share aspect. But it is a cute and cheerful platform adventure with a heavy co-op multiplayer focus, and it does have a sense of humour, so they do have some things in common.
Disney Universe is the first ever Disney game to bring so many of its well-loved properties together. Kingdom Hearts is the only comparable crossover project in interactive entertainment, but even then the separate Disney universes remained mostly discrete. Here, they're smooshed together in an endearingly creative way – old and new, modern CG Disney and classic animated Disney. If you are or ever have had any affection for the animation powerhouse's creations, there's something for you here.
The premise that brings about this franchise inter-pollination is an explosion at Disney HQ, causing the universes to transform. You and your friends/partner/offspring must make your way through the worlds to set things right, dressed up as various characters from a huge selection of Disney and Pixar films from Lilo and Stitch to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
There'll be over forty of these character suits, evidently – I'm shown a Tron suit, an Alice wig and monocular Mike from Monsters, Inc. outfit – each with their own special weapons and abilities (I know, right? Bet you didn't see that coming). But any level can be played with any combination of characters, so you won't have to retrieve controllers thrown across the room by petulant five-year-olds who can't play as the exact character they want.
We're introduced to Disney Universe with a four-player demo, taking place across two different levels. There aren't quite as many distinct worlds as there are characters – only six, in fact – but expanding that selection with DLC is a major part of Disney Interactive's plan, so expect that selection to grow with new films. The first level is set in a loopy, colourful Alice in Wonderland landscape, the second in a Monsters, Inc. factory.