Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, Windows PC
From: Eurocom/Disney Interactive
ESRB rating: Everyone 10-plus (cartoon violence, crude humor)
Though "Disney Universe's" name isn't exactly untruthful, it might be a little misleading. This is neither a simulation nor an expansive online multiplayer game (as games with the word "Universe" generally tend to be), and it certainly shouldn't be confused with the "Kinect Disneyland Adventures" game that lets you explore a virtual Disneyland.
If anything, the "Disney" in the name is more garnish than dish - a decorative exterior for a platforming game that has more in common with "LittleBigPlanet" and the Lego games than anything the "Universe" tag might imply.
Unless you had grandiose ideas for "Universe," though, that little surprise is - particularly for younger and unseasoned players - a pleasant one.
"Universe's" levels are modestly sized and pretty self-contained, framed by a fixed-camera perspective that functions similarly to what you get in those Lego games. Also like those games, completing a level in "Universe" typically entails complete a handful of simple mandatory objectives (which clear the way, cause-and-effect style, to the exit) and some trickier optional objectives that are good for collectibles, achievements/trophies and pride in a challenge comprehensively completed.
At no point does this become strenuously difficult: Even flat-out dying in "Universe" provides no punishment beyond simply losing a few hundred coins, which are abundantly available and function as currency toward unlocking new levels and other bonus content. But "Universe" isn't so easy as to be insulting or boring even to players who are experienced enough to cruise through it.
In large part, that's because "Universe" does the little things better than those Lego games do. Enemies storm levels at regular intervals, but while the combat is simple and loose, it's far more refined (and, consequently, miles more fun) than the Lego games' shoddy excuse for brawling. "Universe" also handles locomotion with considerably less guesswork: The characters don't run and jump like they're wearing soggy clothes, which makes it more fun to get around and easier to (among other things) correct a bad jump while airborne. Given a fixed camera's occasional tendency to betray the laws of perspective and distance, even a little extra polish in this arena goes a long way toward alleviating aggravation.
Predictably, everything the game does is more fun when in the company of others. "Universe" supports four-player offline co-op, and it fulfills the mission of giving players numerous reasons and means to antagonize each other as well as work together.
If, at this point, you're wondering how Disney fits into this, the answer is "loosely." "Universe's" levels are themed according to Disney properties, but the themes feel like themes more than the actual worlds from whence these brands came.
That's doubly so for the characters you play as and face off against: Instead of literal Disney characters, they're vinyl dolls wearing costumes with Disney character themes. If you played "LittleBigPlanet" - and particularly if you purchased any of the Disney-branded outfits for that game - the characters in "Universe" will almost certainly look just a little familiar.
The significant upside to that loose interpretation is that it allows "Universe" to cram a whole ton o' Disney - Mickey and friends, Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets, the Disney Princesses, Pixar's most wanted, Jack Sparrow, "Tron" and more - into the game without having to explain why Lilo and Peter Pan might be joining forces on a pirate ship. The story it comes up with instead is amusing, the characters look adorable in their Disney Halloween costumes, and the costume abilities and level intricacies shout out to their respective themes in clever ways that set this apart from just another Disney game.