Okay, I'll be the first to admit it - the arrival of Disney Magical World into the office didn't exactly get the kind of enthusiastic response that usually accompanies the arrival of a title for review. We may have been at this gig for a good many years now at this stage, but we never tire of the arrival of something new to put through its paces. Usually.
With nobody clamouring to claim this 3DS exclusive for review, I decided to do the gentlemanly thing and pop it into my handheld, not really knowing what to expect, but hoping that it could recapture the magic of some of the Disney titles I remember fondly from my younger days, like World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and, you know what, it certainly comes close!
Although a far cry from that particular title in its execution, Magical World captures that same sense of wonder and childlike fulfilment, and that makes it a surprisingly special game.
Obviously there's nothing about this title that'll have hardcore gamers lining up to play it, but I genuinely believe that there's something here for everyone, once players are willing to channel their younger selves and become immersed in that wonderful Disney feeling.
An RPG of sorts, Disney Magical World doesn't feel entirely dissimilar to Nintendo's own Animal Crossing series. Like that title, there's an incredible amount to see and do, and players can tackle the game at their own pace, not having to worry about having the greatest reactions, or traversing challenging sections. This is very much a game that's to be savoured and enjoyed as you play, and it's quite relaxing once it gets going.
Starring all your Disney favourites, as well as plenty of new characters, you'll take the role of your Mii and venture off to the world of Castleton thanks to a special invitation. After arriving, you'll be slowly introduced to the game's mechanics, which are incredibly straightforward and shouldn't be too much trouble for even the youngest of players.
By speaking with the game's various inhabitants, you'll start to learn how Castleton works, and within your first half an hour you'll be traipsing off with Minnie to go clothes shopping, helping Daisy to open her own store and unlocking new parts of the map with impressive regularity as you collect Happy Stickers by completing quests and assisting the various locals with tasks.
Rather than being limited to fetch quests or typical RPG fodder, there's actually a hugely diverse array of activities for players to enjoy within the walls of Castleton, from exploring new areas as they unlock to crafting new clothes to having your fortune told to fishing to building furniture. Finding raw materials for crafting is a big part of the game, but thankfully items are so frequently found throughout the game world that you'll simply be able to keep an eye out for the familiar glow of a collectible while working your way through quests or exploring. Alternatively, if you're feeling flush, you can choose to purchase items at Scrooge McDuck's store, but that's a pricey option and you may want to keep it as a last resort.
If Castleton isn't enough for you, Magical World also has an additional four areas for you to unlock and explore, and they'll likely be very familiar! Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin and Cinderella all have their own dedicated areas and unique activities to experience, while the major characters for each also feel a good deal meatier than the many "filler" characters you'll find throughout the game.
For the most part, Disney Magical World is a game about collecting things, crafting objects and exploring your surroundings. It manages to be incredibly relaxed with the way it goes about things, while also managing to keep you on track with a few helpful prods now and then if you're looking a bit rudderless. Whether you're a die-hard Disney fanatic or simply someone who watched a few of their animated movies in your younger days, you'll be surprised with just how well it manages to capture both the aesthetic and feeling of Disney.
It's a unique title, that's for sure, and while it's unlikely to appeal to those who subsist on a diet of shooters or sports franchises, it's a fantastic game that offers oodles of content without ever feeling overwhelming or sloppy. It surprised me, and it'll surprise you too if you give it a chance!
Front runner for surprise hit of the year so far? You betcha!