Two years ago, Kingdom Hearts successfully combined the worlds of Square and Disney into a single licensing bonanza that still warms the hearts of marketing executives everywhere. Although the game was mostly an exercise in Square's signature brand of gorgeous presentation, it did feature some solid action adventure gameplay that, at least to some degree, stood on its own. With the sequel's release looming, Disney has shrunk the Kingdom Hearts experience for the mobile platform, hoping to position its game as the killer app for a certain handset manufacturer's upcoming flagship device. The result is a technical tour de force, with high-quality audio and sharp, polygonal graphics, rivaling anything the N-Gage has to offer. While the game has been reworked as a platform action game with some light puzzle solving, fans will find the mobile Kingdom Hearts to be a faithful adaptation of the original.
If you missed Kingdom Hearts on the PS2, you likely won't have heard of Sora, the original game's spiky-haired protagonist, who fought side by side with popular Disney cartoon characters like Goofy and Donald Duck. Sora wields a powerful "keyblade," which is essentially a giant latchkey. He reprises the role of key bearer for the mobile Kingdom Hearts, and is once again roped into battling the forces of the "heartless," a race of shape-shifting shadow creatures.
We played the first of what will presumably be several downloadable mission packs (in fact, we were prompted to download a currently unavailable one, after finishing the game), in which, after being shipwrecked on a seemingly uninhabited island, Sora must build a sailboat from available materials. This means first finding four gems and placing them on some sort of dais, on which letters and symbols are scrawled in an arcane language. Once you've built yourself a seaworthy vessel and stocked it with provisions, you'll be ready to sail off into the sunset, in search of Goofy and friends.
Throughout, Kingdom Hearts' revolutionary visuals belie the simple platform action gameplay at its core. The game starts with a brief tutorial, explaining how to run, jump, and climb your way around Sora's world. These skills, along with some occasional keyblade and magic use, are all that's necessary to complete these first available missions.
Did we mention the game looks and sounds spectacular? Kingdom Hearts' audiovisual appeal just can't be overstated. Aside from some occasional slowdown, this game is on par with a first- or second-generation game for the original Sony PlayStation. The brief cutscenes responsible for advancing the plot are especially well done, with an epic musical score and great detail on the characters' faces.
This first leg of Sora's adventure ended too quickly, and what we played essentially amounts to a tech demo, at this point. Future additions to the game, such as the mysterious "Alice in Wonderland" adventure we were asked to download upon completing the island quest, can certainly be expected to add depth to the title and flesh out the plot. Let's hope Disney can maintain the sky-high production values it has demonstrated in this preliminary effort.