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Kingdom Hearts 3 is a whimsical spectacle full of Disney cheer

We played two sections of the game for the first time

Kingdom Hearts 3
Disney/Pixar/Square Enix
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Kingdom Hearts 3 captures the whimsical charm of Disney and Pixar’s animated films in an action-packed game that, even if you don’t follow the Kingdom Hearts series religiously, is likely to put a smile on your face.

Square Enix gave fans and members of the media a chance to play Kingdom Hearts 3 for the first time this week, offering a brief glance at two of the game’s worlds: Mount Olympus from Hercules and Andy’s room and toy store Galaxy Toys from Toy Story. And though I am by no means a Kingdom Hearts devotee, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience, which is dazzling, lighthearted and visually spectacular.

In Olympus, we join our heroes Sora, Donald and Goofy in the midst of a battle with the Rock Titan, previously seen in Kingdom Hearts. The titan rained down boulders on Sora and friends as they scaled the sheer rock face of the mountain. Once the trio reached the summit, the battle began. It was a fireworks show — sometimes literally, as Sora and Donald partner up for the explosive Flare Force attack — as we cast magic and team-up attacks against the Rock Titan.

The climax of that battle arrived when Sora performed one of Kingdom Hearts 3’s new Attractions attacks, special abilities based on Disney theme park attractions. In the demo we played, there were a handful of attractions: Mad Tea Cups, based on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland; Big Magic Mountain, based on the roller coaster Big Thunder Mountain; the Pirate Ship, seemingly inspired by the vessel from Frontierland; and Shooting Ride, a vehicle that appears to be based on Disney’s Buzz Lightyear attractions (yes, things get a little meta).

Square Enix

Attractions are some of Kingdom Hearts 3’s flashiest, most stylish attacks. They appear to draw visual inspiration from the Main Street Electrical Parade, the nighttime Disney spectacle constructed of thousands of light bulbs. Attractions are cathartic, sometimes screen-clearing moments of pure theme park nostalgia.

Of course, Sora still has his trusty keyblade for hand-to-hand combat. In Kingdom Hearts 3, his keyblade can transform, and Sora can equip up to three forms at a time. In the demo we played, Sora could swap between the Monsters, Inc.-inspired Twin Yo-Yos, the Tangled-inspired Mirage Staff and the Toy Story-inspired Hyper Hammer. Each themed keyblade has its own attack style and flair. The Tangled keybalde, for example, shoots magical beams of energy in a choreographed display of light, while the Twin Yo-Yos saw through and chomp down on enemies.

The game’s most grandiose attacks come in the form of Links, Kingdom Hearts 3’s brand of summons. Fans are likely aware of the summon that brings Ariel from The Little Mermaid into the game for a gushing, fountain-like attack, but Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph will also appear as a Link. Sora can summon Ralph, who can then place explosive blocks on the battlefield and, naturally, wreck ’em.

Square Enix

While the fast-paced hack-and-slash action and doses of nostalgia were enjoyable, some of the best moments from the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo came while visiting the game’s Toy Story world. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Rex the dinosaur and Hamm the piggybank are holed up in Andy’s bedroom, waiting for the return of their fellow toys — and Andy himself — who seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. Suddenly, Sora and friends show up, as does a group of Heartless. Seeing Sora, Donald and Goofy team up with the earnest Toy Story crew is great fun. The writers sneak in a handful of solid jokes — for example, Rex is certain that Sora is actually a character named Yozora from a video game he plays. “I’ve leveled you up to 47 but I still can’t beat Bahamut,” Rex says.

After the Toy Story crew teams up with Sora, Donald and Goofy, they make their way to an original Kingdom Hearts creation: Galaxy Toys, a toy store level designed to fit into the Toy Story aesthetic. From there, things go south when series bad guy Young Xehanort brings some toys to life for his own evil purposes, kicking off a first-person mech battle as Sora jumps in and out of massive robots called Gigas.

The journey through Galaxy Toys eventually becomes a rescue mission as Hamm is kidnapped by an extremely creepy doll. The whole quest is delightful. Seeing the Kingdom Hearts heroes befriend and bond with the Toy Story gang feels authentic and earnest in a Disney Pixar fashion.

There is still no announced release date for Kingdom Hearts 3. Game director Tetsuya Nomura said that he expects to announce the launch date sometime in June. In the meantime, check out some new images of Kingdom Hearts 3 in the gallery below.

The next level of puzzles.

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