One of the most exciting things about returning to Walt Disney World was that i’d have the chance to try out the new scavenger hunt games they’d developed in order to keep more regularly-attending season passholder-types engaged at the parks. We tried every hunt we could find, which included:
- Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot
- Wilderness Explorers at Animal Kingdom
- A Pirate’s Adventures: Treasures of the Seven Seas at the Magic Kingdom
- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at the Magic Kingdom
Here’s a rundown of each game, and what i found to be worth our time.
Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure
i had wanted to play Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure ever since i heard a talk by one of its developers at PAX Dev a few years ago. Originally intended as a Kim Possible tie-in to help make Epcot’s World Showcase somewhat less tortuous for children, the game debuted two years after Kim Possible went off the air, and was later re-skinned with a Phineas and Ferb theme. (If you’ve never seen Phineas and Ferb, by the way, it’s an absolutely brilliant and hilarious kids’ show with high production values and extremely ambitious scripts. i highly recommend it, no matter how old you are.)
After “enlisting” at one of a few kiosks at Epcot, you’re handed an Android phone and told to visit one of the nearby World Showcase pavilions. We were given the options of Mexico and England. We chose England, because we’re racist.
Short videos of dramatically variable quality introduce you to a plot by the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz to do … something evil. The videos are voiced by the show’s actors (or very passable soundalikes), but some of the clips are pixelated and look like they were produced using Autodesk Animator Pro from the early 90’s. WDW News Today reports that the crummy quality is a holdover from when the segments were developed for flip-phones that were sponsored by a different company (sponsorship? Wha??) Doesn’t matter, though — the kids won’t notice.
One of the show’s characters compels you to visit a certain, specific location in the pavilion. This is where the story and plot begin to fall apart: because the game is set up so that its segments are randomized (to ensure that guests aren’t all tripping over each other to see the same content), the story of any given adventure stops making sense entirely by the second segment. Doesn’t matter, though — the kids won’t notice.
You all huddle around the Android phone, straining to hear the clip’s audio, and straining to see the video in the beating Orlando sun. Looking around, i noticed half a dozen other families in a similar huddle. Eventually, the phone shows you a picture of your target location. In the England pavilion, it was usually a shop window. When you arrive there, you’re asked a multiple-choice question to prove you’re in the right place.
In our case, it was a toy shop window with a toy soldier, some alphabet blocks, and a toy train. The phone asked us what was written on the side of the toy train. Once we had answered correctly, the toy soldier sprung to life animatronically, and started speaking to us through the store window using Doofenschmirtz’s voice. It was … awesome.
Slightly less awesome was the fact that everyone else in the area was hunting the same locations. Sometimes you’d have to line up at a hot spot waiting for another family to finish, trying to maintain your claim to nexties, while remaining far enough out of ear- and eyeshot to not spoil your experience. It wasn’t ideal. Some of the effects in the shop windows were really neat, but the combination of sharing a teensy tiny screen, and the plot of the mission making zero sense and not meaning anything, dampened the experience somewhat. Props to the game for having technology that worked reliably, though. My youngest daughter really enjoyed the moment when we had to return the phone through a secret hatch in the side of a red British mailbox. This way to the Great Egress.
A Pirate’s Adventures: Treasures of the Seven Seas
The Magic Kingdom is an extremely atmospheric park. A lot of attention has been paid to making the sights and sounds interesting and appealing, even if you’ve collapsed onto your fat duff and are waiting for someone outside the bathroom. i recall sitting on exactly such a duff, waiting for exactly such a someone outside a bathroom in the circus-themed area of the Kingdom. Tucked away, just past an armada of rentable strollers, was a little collection of old-fashioned suitcases, hatboxes, and parasols. It was completely unnecessary and undoubtedly expensive, but it’s exactly those kinds of touches that make any other theme park pale in comparison. Take a close look at all the empty patches of gross concrete during your next visit to a Six Flags park and you’ll see what i mean.
Treasures of the Seven Seas takes advantage of this ambiance by walking you past various points of interest in Adventureland. You’re given a very well-produced paper treasure map (which makes a great keepsake) and a small octagonal piece of paper (which i’m told contains an RFID tag, but i didn’t know they come that thin?). By pressing the marker to different hotspots around Adventureland, you can activate an audiovisual reaction, much like the shop windows in Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, but better.
Without Googling it because i’m lazy, i can safely assume that Treasures of the Seven Seas was implemented after Agent P’s World Showcase, because it fixes a lot of problems with the Showcase and streamlines the game for a far better experience. Gone is the tiny screen you have to crowd around, replaced with a big beautiful treasure map that everyone in the family can easily see. The hotspots were clearly marked with distinguishable icons. Most of the reactive displays were out of the main thoroughfare and in the shade (because many of them were inside the Pirates of the Caribbean Gift Shop, naturellement). Still present is the problem of tripping over other players as you strive to complete your missions. By trying to do less plot-wise, the randomized mission segments weren’t as annoying as in the Agent P game.
Some of the reactions weren’t as interestingly character-based as the ones in Agent P’s Showcase, but they were often easier to hear and more impressive; my daughter loved “firing” the cannon at people walking by (a puff of smoke machine exhaust would billow out of the thing, catching people nearby it unawares). An “exploding” rowboat served as a great climax to one of the missions. We enjoyed Treasures of the Seven Seas so much that we made sure to collect all the maps and complete every mission. It was a lesson in mo better awesomeness from a pair of kids who cut their teeth on the comparatively dull talking treasure boxes at Magiquest.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
Developed to give returning visitors and season’s passholders more bang for their buck, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a card-collecting game in which players activate “portals” around the park and do battle with animated Disney villains. Each day you visit the park, you can line up to receive a “free” (with park admission) pack of playing cards that are reminiscent of Magic the Gathering or any other collectible card game. By touching your Magic Band wristband, or wang, to one of the lock-shaped triggers, a video is beamed onto an otherwise well-disguised surface from an unseen projector. Some “portals” opened up on bulletin boards, shop window displays, or fireplaces. That aspect of Sorcerers was seamless and magical.
Somewhat less seamless was the other technology involved. Each portal display required two video cameras to be aimed at the player, in order for the (presumably?) Kinect-like tech to work. These huge cameras were far less well-disguised, and usually presented themselves as, say, suitcases with giant 2.5-inch holes cut in them to accommodate the camera lenses.
Gameplay consists of watching an animated Disney villain making a series of vague threats, and then skipping to an idle animation behind a “USE YOUR CARD NOW!!” prompt, while you fumble for what you think is the correct card to remedy the situation. We were told by a more experienced player that in early stages of the game, the card you use doesn’t actually matter. In later stages of the game, it does, but players generally just hold up sticker books filled with cards; by presenting the camera with a large swath of cards, the game actually picks the “right” card from the ones you’re holding up. Therefore, if you’re playing as a family, everyone in the family can hold up a card (although you’ll repeatedly have to remind your kids not to mash their cards against the video display, but rather to stand on the brass plaque on the ground two feet away from the display, patiently hoping that the invisible technology will “see” the card they chose).
Because the technology doesn’t provide instant feedback, and the game is never really clear about what it wants from you or what actions are required to ensure success, Sorcerers fell flat for me. It involves both standing still and being patient, two skills that kids don’t excel at in the best of times, and not least of all when they’re at a hyperstimulating theme park. The portal animations, unlike the rougher Agent P clips, were beautifully animated and voiced. The cards themselves are very attractive and make for a nice keepsake. i’d recommend trading doubles with more hardcore players around the park than bothering with the poorly explained “game” aspect of it.
My eyes nearly rolled so far back in my head i could read the warranty on my tonsils when we discovered there was an ecologically educational scavenger hunt at Animal Kingdom. Wilderness Explorers is themed after Russel’s boy scout-like troupe in the Pixar movie UP, a fact that dawned on me only after we’d spent two days in the place and i saw costumed Russel and Dug the dog walking by as we were leaving.
After passing a pretty low-bar entrance exam by making a hand gesture and reciting the Wilderness Explorers credo (doesn’t this group have standards?), my girls were handed a small, full-colour booklet packed with activities and were told to go around the park collecting Wilderness Explorer badges: round stickers designed to look like embroidered boy scout badges. On each page of the booklet were big round dotted-line circles with faded images of the various badges the kids could collect.
Give me a book with a collectible sticker angle, and the Compulsively Addicted to Crack centre of my brain starts to twitch. But this was not my vacation. It was our vacation. If the girls were interested in collecting badges, we’d collect badges. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t.
On the last day of our trip, my daughters demanded that we return to Animal Kingdom to complete their Wilderness Explorer books. We spent most of that day hauling ass around the park desperately trying to fill the entire book. Good girls. The genetic sickness survives.
Wilderness Explorers was, hands down, the best scavenger hunt of the lot, and one of the best hunts of its kind that i’ve seen anywhere. Each badge required the kids to learn a different aspect of wildernessness. While these educational aspects could have been super-dry (like “the tawny owl uses its beak to identify various types of igneous rock”) or super-idiotic (like “the tawny owl has WINGS. You know what WINGS are, moron?”), they were neither: they were exceedingly well-designed and interesting, teaching the kids a range of interesting things like cultural depictions of cryptids, currency exchange, and unique animal adaptability. i was blown away.
One of our favourite badges told us to “Meet someone from Asia.” Curiously there were no Russians in sight, but at a certain kiosk we were able to meet a nice staffer from Thailand, who showed us the Thai alphabet and used it to write our names in our books. i was just fresh off developing a phonetic alphabet for work, and plied her for more information about how the language worked. We even got to poke her with a stick and throw nuts at her. It was great.
The best thing about the booklet, and this is not at all easy to do, is that it was accessible by kids of varying abilities and levels of knowledge… even by adults, i’d say. We saw more than a few grown-ups collecting badges too. i can only imagine the amount of effort that went into producing the program, and i applaud everyone involved for an amazing effort.
With seconds to spare before we had to catch our bus back to the hotel to end our vacation, my kids were heralded as Senior Wilderness Explorers and earned their One Badge to Rule Them All. i quickly grabbed a Photo Pass+ photographer to capture their shining moment.
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