Picture the scene: it’s November 2011, you’re the parent of young children (or the partner of someone with low expectations) and are being nagged constantly about a holiday to Disneyland. You balk at the price tag, distance to travel and the general sense of unease in filling the pockets of one of the world’s most amoral and ultra-capitalist conglomerates.

Fortunately, there is a cheap, easy and guilt-free alternative to visiting any Disney property. One that recreated the experience to such a degree that, for the most part, it still holds up a decade later. It is the game Kinect Disneyland Adventures, the Xbox 360 exclusive that allows players to explore the park under their own direction. This means avoiding long queues and ignoring all barriers and constraints to freely roam the Happiest Place on Earth. 

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While the game is hampered by a few too many recognition issues and troublesome controls, it is a surprisingly engaging and entertaining title that accurately recreates the best and worst aspects of the Disneyland experience.

The game recreates the original park in Anaheim, California, so some sights may not be familiar to some European players, but there is a lot here that will be recognisable to many. The real-life location has been given a very impressive scale digital re-creation which players can cover some distance trying to see it all. Even the smallest details like lamp posts, dead ends and litter bins have all been extensively designed and intricately placed in line with the original.

As well as all the familiar sights there are also an eclectic cast of Disney characters there to meet, greet and perform tasks for, and of course there are the iconic Disneyland rides. Fourteen famous rides have been converted into mini-games, with the best-known elements of each featuring prominently. You fall down a stretching room in the Haunted Mansion, sword fight with the Pirates of the Caribbean and are endlessly blasted with the song, “It’s a small world.”

The best real world rides also make for the best mini-games, with Big Thunder Mountain, Jungle Cruise and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasers being KDA’s highlights. Some are clearly included purely for younger audiences (Finding Nemo, we’re looking right at you) while others suffer during gameplay due to the Kinect not being able to read every action correctly. It doesn’t hurt gameplay a great deal but can make the job of earning the top prizes for perfect completion quite challenging.

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Other attractions have been left out presumably due to copyright issues, while some remaining ones that have since become problematic. Splash Mountain featured here is based on the original ride, before it was announced that the attraction will be removed of all elements from the controversial film Song of the South. As such, it may well be the only console outing for Br’ers Rabbit, Bear and Fox.

They are just some of the very many characters the streets in KDA are littered with, along with all the classic characters, six princesses, a host of “golden age” favourites, the cast of Toy Story and the pirate Black Barty, here to fill in for the absent Jack Sparrow. Every character is available to interact with; to collect autographs from, dance with and hug (Trying to do so with villains being the most amusing of the interactions). They all also have intermittent tasks for players to complete, which fall into a small number of sub-sets; gathering collectibles, taking photographs, achieving high scores on attractions. 

This is when KDA starts to lose some of its lustre: after exploring the park a few times and having played all the mini-games and starting to see repeats of earlier tasks, the game starts to feel very samey and repetitive. What’s more, the twee feeling of Disneyland becomes worse and worse in extended play sessions. While it is clearly aimed more at younger players than completists, even those less discerning will reach their limit and decide enough is enough.

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It was those flaws that critics picked up on during its initial release. Response was mixed, with many saying the playability issues outweighed the admittedly great spectacle and atmosphere. In 2017 a 4K remaster was released, but the higher resolution did not fix the technical shortcomings and, bizarrely, gave players the option to play with a controller rather motion controls. Being able to stand and move about while playing was key to fulfilling the sensation of being in this landscape. It’s easy to see why those playing without motion controls did not feel the complete effect.

In short spurts, though, KDA is an amiable and engaging experience for all ages and an impressive if unpolished technological accomplishment. Disney devotees and detractors alike will be able to find something to admire in the game, with the sheer level of effort and detail that has gone into it worth the price of admission alone. Best experienced in its original Kinect form, the game can easily be found online on eBay and Amazon as well as the Xbox Store where it’s currently available on Game Pass.

But what about you? Did you enjoy this trip to Disney? Let us know in the comments.

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