On The Weird & Bizarre Legacy of Disney in Gaming

It’s been an especially weird and bizarre time to be a fan of Disney. They own several of the biggest IPs in the media world, recently adding the 20th Century Fox lineup to their list. They’re gunning for streaming dominance with the impending release of Disney+, and will end 2019 with more than half of the 10 highest grossing movies in the world. Yet despite this dominance, one area they’ve never really been dominant in is games.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since the announcement of a compilation of Disney’s Aladdin & The Lion King games hitting sometime this year. While they’re definitely the most appropriate games to get people excited, it got me thinking about just what else Disney has contributed to games, and honestly, it’s not been much.

That’s not to say they haven’t been involved in some fantastic games. There’s certainly been plenty of great games starring Disney characters, and Disney themselves have funded and published some good stuff. Just a lot of it doesn’t feel as eventful or as interesting as it should be. Not even their weird attempt at creating a gaming theme park went well. When their biggest contribution to gaming is the Kingdom Hearts franchise, I think there’s something wrong there.

You’re a missed franchise, Disney Infinity.

The best way to look at this would be to compare them to one of their contemporaries: Warner Bros. WB’s game division does a great job of making games for a wide variety of audiences, whether that’d be the family friendly market (LEGO), or the more mature (Arkham, Injustice, Shadow of War/Mordor). All of which have done well both financially and critically, helping to reinvent these iconic franchises for a new medium. And they’re still are involved in the mobile space to ensure they cover all their bases.

Summing up Disney’s approach in a word would be “safe”. Most of what they’ve done has taken existing properties and presented them as is, and while that’s certainly worked, it’s not exactly inspiring. That’s not to say that they haven’t been interesting or ambitious, it’s just rare for them.

By far the best and most recent example of this was Disney Infinity. Taking advantage of the toys to life craze, it was by far and away the best game of that limited genre. The game parts were servicable, the decision to include a major User Generated Creation element was inspired, and the figures themselves had a great design to them. It full took advantage of everything Disney had – infinite resources, sky high ambitions and a litany of iconic characters. It should’ve been something that kept going. Its failure, plus Disney bowing out of games near entirely is a bitter disappointment.

Currently Disney is focused on mobile gaming, but have maintained a presence on the PC thanks to a steady stream of re-releases of not only their backcatalogue, but also that of LucasArts’. Making sure that a new generation of people can experience games like TIE Fighter or The Curse of Monkey Island is certainly welcomed, but not exactly memorable.

It’s always possible Disney could become a major player in the gaming space, and they’ve certainly got the properties and the funds to make a big splash. While I’m thankful they haven’t taken over gaming the way they’ve taken over film, there’s a part of me that’d be interested to see what a serious Disney in gaming would be like. If it gives me less useless mage Donald and more gun-toting Donald, I’d certainly be more for it.

When he’s not spending all his time reading up on Disney lore, Jamie can be reached at @jamiemgalea on Twitter and most other social platforms.