Disney Magic Kingdoms Review: Mr. Toad's Mild Ride

Mr. Toad's Mild Ride

Disney Magic Kingdoms

With roughly 100 million visitors a year attending Disney theme parks worldwide, there's a pretty good chance that you've spent some time in the happiest place on Earth. Strangely though, you've never been given the opportunity to build your own happiest place.

We don't mean in real life, of course. A project of that magnitude would require the brilliance of C.V. Wood, the bankroll of a small nation, and the foresight of the late, great Walt Disney himself. But in the virtual halls of digital playtime, would-be park creators have been designing rides and placing concessions in games like Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon for more than 20 years. Yet somehow a Disney-themed alternative has been strangely absent from storefronts.

You might find yourself eager to jump into Disney Magic Kingdoms hoping to find this oversight rectified. If so, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Don't Expect RollerCoaster Tycoon

While the game is themed around the notion of building your own Disney amusement park, Disney Magic Kingdoms is really just another character-driven game of unlocking buildings and familiar faces. If you've played The Simpsons: Tapped Out or Marvel Avengers Academy, you'll know exactly what you're getting into here. Players will meet a character, follow their story, and send them on "missions" that are little more than wait timers that eventually provide the rewards you'll need to unlock more content to interact with.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing—and when done well, this style of play can provide a great (albeit quick) distraction for gamers on the go. Regardless, it's hard not to see a game about building a Disney park being confined to a linear experience that's essentially void of player creativity, where new rides and shops unlock in the same slow fashion for everyone, as a seriously missed opportunity.

For What It Is, Though...

Disney Magic Kingdoms is actually a pretty great little experience, so long as you don't compare it to your expectations, but to the character-driven city-building games that inspired it.

The story starts with everyone's favorite mouse, and within moments, Disney aficionados will fall head over heels in love with the game's writing. Mickey and pals are portrayed exactly as they should be, complete with their affable sense of humor intact. For example, in one set of missions (SPOILER WARNING), Mickey is struggling to find his baton so that he can be the conductor at the PhilharMagic, and when he finally gives up, Goofy tries to be a pal and share the scratching stick he found... which, of course, turns out to be Mickey's baton.

The character depictions have been great throughout our experience thus far, including when things begin to branch out a bit. Woody and Jesse from Toy Story are written just as well as Mickey and Goofy, and there's always enough of a hook in the narrative to keep you coming back for the next bit of dialog. 

Like most games of this nature though, you'll find the progress is pretty slow going. After more than a week, keeping the game at our side and attending to it's every push notification, we've only unlocked five characters to interact with and 10 buildings that require tapping. Some of these are cool set pieces from actual parks, like Mickey's Fun Wheel or California Screamin', but most are smaller, less exciting pieces like Goofy's house or a hamburger stand.

Is It Worth the Monorail Ride to the App Store?

If you're a big Disney fan, you'll be wearing a grin from ear to ear as you play Disney Magic Kingdoms. Gameloft has done a spectacular job of giving the characters an authentic voice, and while the goal in these games is unlocking content, the journey to getting there is really where you'll find the fun. Even the little touches, like high-fiving the characters instead of clicking an "OK" box when completing a mission, absolutely drip with a silly great charm.

If you're coming to this less as a Disney fan and more as a park-building enthusiast, however, your time will be much better spent with a deep simulation like the iOS port of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.

Someday, someone is going to make an incredible theme park simulation designed exclusively for mobile phones. For all its fun and charm though, Disney Magic Kingdoms is not that game.

Disney Magic Kingdoms is available as a free download (with optional in-app purchases) from the App Store.