If it’s difficult to review most mobile games without mentioning one of the same style or genre that came before, that’s doubly true for builders. There are only so many ways to have people plop down buildings and interact with tiny people, so you either end up with something that’s about free-form construction like SimCity BuildIt or like The Simpsons: Tapped Out where juggling actions by the characters is the real focus. Disney Magic Kingdoms is definitely the latter.
That’s not necessarily an unwise move on the part of Gameloft, because no one has a stable of characters quite like Disney. The tutorial for Disney Magic Kingdoms quickly introduces a bunch of them, from the obvious (Mickey Mouse) to the slightly more obscure (Merlin, as seen in The Sword in the Stone). They need your help because a magical kingdom has been overrun by dark magic, with Maleficent looking like the prime suspect.
The kingdom in question looks like an amalgam of various Disney Parks, though it owes the most to the Magic Kingdom from Walt Disney World, right down to Main Street USA and the statue of Mickey and Walt Disney that serves as its hub. After you unlock one of the adjoining “lands,” you’ll get to work laying down Disney attractions, including rides, character houses and restaurants.
That part of the Disney Magic Kingdoms gameplay serves as a (very) light theme park sim, as the idea is to make as many of the guests’ wishes come true as possible. Simply tapping on them and sending them to their desired destination gets it done, and collecting Happiness from them allows you to help your park advance. Happiness contributed by guests who’ve left the park disappears, encouraging you to play often — and maybe suggest that people can only truly be happy while at a Disney Park, which is kind of subversive.
The bulk of your time will be spent getting the Disney and Pixar characters you unlock to perform various tasks in order to produce in-game currency (Magic, naturally), earn experience points and produce items that help you add more characters to the park or level up the ones you already have. Actions can range from a minute to hours to complete, meaning this is a time management act of the highest order. And since characters can only perform one action at a time, you’ll often have them tell you — politely, since they are from Disney — that they have to finish what they’re doing before tackling something else.
Gameloft really brought it on the graphics and audio front for all of this, and Disney aficionados of all ages will enjoy that part of the game’s authenticity. The attractions are a slightly different story. While there are big landmarks like Space Mountain included, they’re stuck in fixed locations and stuck in the darkness, at least initially. Other rides are scaled down versions of the ones you’ll recognize from real life Disney Parks, though it’s still cool when you get to drop them in.
The main drawback to the whole experience is how hemmed in everything feels. The amount of space in which you’re able to build is so small in the early going that it’s difficult to even fit in the buildings the main quest line wants you to construct without very carefully moving everything around. It’s claustrophobic, which isn’t a sensation typically associated with Disney Parks unless you try going between Christmas and New Year’s, and even then it’s due to crowds of people and not buildings butting up against each other.
It’s almost like the vast expanses of additional building space are teasing you as they sit waiting for you to unlock them. If you’re a big enough Disney geek, this won’t bother you much, as playing Disney Magic Kingdoms long enough really does seem like it will open up the promise of building “your own” Disney Park. Just know that it’s going to take some effort to get to that point, and it’ll be a very small world in the meantime.