Ever since the introduction of Tamagotchi kids (and adults) have been obsessed with pet simulators. Everything from dolphins to babies has gotten the treatment and now Disney has gotten in on the action. Taking a unique selection from their stable of familiar faces and throwing the player in control is a brilliant idea that for some unknown reason has remained untapped; that is until now. Disney Interactive has brought on developer Amaze to create the ultimate pet simulator with Disney Friends featuring such beloved characters as Winnie the Pooh, Stitch, and Simba.
The idea behind Disney Friends is much what you would expect. The game slaps you into the role of guardian as you tend to the needs of your virtual characters. Thankfully the devs have put more of an emphasis on interaction as opposed to babysitting. Your digital pals have much more independence than most found in other games like this giving you more freedom to enjoy the game. While the cast of characters may seem peculiar it actually makes sense in context and for those hardcore Disney fans out there, it is finally nice to see some new faces outside of the obvious overindulgence of Stitch.
You interact with each of the four characters by using the stylus to touch and pet them. You can also punish them, though it is rarely a necessity. The best part about Disney Friends is the sheer amount of care put into each individual avatar. Instead of feeling like the same experience with a different coat of polygonal paint, each character displays their own unique traits and personalities. For instance Winnie the Pooh is relentlessly hungry for honey and after you feed him he needs to be cleaned up. It’s these small nuances that add character to the game and make it highly enjoyable for Disney fans of all ages.
The game also supports a form of voice control that is also both customary for some phrases and personalized for others. Every character recognizes phrases such as “Hello” and “I Love You” but more specific phrases can be voiced to certain characters and most of the time they have relevance to the characters movie or show. For the most part the voice recognition works well enough, though there were moments where the game simply refused to accept the fact that I was indeed singing “Hakuna Matata”.
Personalization is further enhanced by the fact that the game looks and sounds about as good as it gets on the DS. The character models are remarkably close to their animated counter parts and the voice work is stupendous. Disney has managed to acquire some original actors for the characters voice work, which really adds to the authenticity of the game, not to mention making kids smile when they hear their favorite characters talking directly to them. The environments are somewhat limited, but they are all faithful representations from their respected movies or shows.
While the largest chunk of your time will be spent nursing relationships with these characters there are a host of diversions to occupy your time and break up the monotony. Much like any other DS game currently on the market there are a host of mini-games that you can take part in. In general they are all functional, but unfortunately not all of them are enjoyable. Thankfully none of them are required to progress, though if you take the time to pass them all you will gain access to new areas complete with cameo appearances by some other Disney favorites.
With a focus on building relationships as opposed to forcing the player to hold their characters hands the entire time Disney Friends manages to work on several levels. The recognizable characters will appeal to fans young and old and the simplistic and satisfying gameplay is enough to keep you interested. The presentation deserves most of the credit for immersion, especially the voice work which I cannot stress enough how phenomenal it truly is and the simplicity works just right for this type of game. If you are a fan of these types of experiences you will be hard pressed to find a better offering than Amaze’s Disney Friends, and having the names and faces of such adored characters certainly doesn’t hurt it’s appeal.