Virtually Magical!
- by Joshua Olive

Sometimes you're dying to go to the Magic Kingdom and it's just not feasible for whatever reason: the money isn't there, the time isn't there, or the kids aren't old enough to really get the most out of the park yet. Never fear! Now you can enjoy the delights of the Magic Kingdom at home!

Disney has recently brought us the Virtual Magic Kingdom and, even though it's only in the Beta test phase right now, it's still a lot of fun. If you're itching for a little Disney magic, all you need is a computer and an internet connection to find it!

You start off by creating your character, and you can have a lot of fun with that. You control your character's gender, skin color (including a very interesting shade of green, for those who have always wanted to be Martian!), hair color and style, facial hair, clothing types, shoes, the whole nine yards.

After you've put your character together, you can start zipping through the Magic Kingdom. Now, if you're expecting the exact layout to mirror any particular kingdom from the parks around the world, don't be disappointed when things don't look the way you're expecting them to. This Magic Kingdom is really an amalgam of all the Magic Kingdoms around the world. The castle, for instance, is from Disneyland: Paris. The graphics in this game are cartoonish, but they're fun, and they somehow managed to capture the spirit of the ambience at the actual parks, which was wonderful surprise.

So what do you do when you're strolling through the park? I don't know why, but I expected to be able to ride virtual versions of the actual theme park rides or something like that. I was wrong, but I'm not disappointed, despite that. While you can't virtual rides, there are a lot of fun things you can do.

One of the primary draws is the games you can play. You can wage a battle with other players as one of the Pirates of the Caribbean; you can go on a Jungle Cruise photo safari; you can create your own music mix on Main Street, and you can try your hand at setting off the fireworks show at the castle. Each of these games is fun to play, and they're great for just about any age (though the pirate game can be a little difficult to work out for younger players).

One of the other fascinating options in the game is to capture Hidden Mickeys on film! You can buy a camera and film on Main Street with the credits you've earned, then zip through all the different areas of the parks, shooting pictures of Hidden Mickeys. This is a challenge, as some of them are extremely difficult to spot, but most of the other players in the game are glad to help you out if you have questions. And, in all, it's just fun to scour through the parks, looking for places where the virtual Imagineers have hidden that iconic mouse silhouette.

So what's the point of all this? You get credits for your character for winning games, for just participating in some games, for finding Hidden Mickeys, for discovering characters within the game (the Yeti at the Matterhorn, for example), and for making and playing your own music mixes at the Main Street dance party. With the credits you earn, you can decorate your room (you get to choose what kind of room you want at the beginning of the game, and the rooms are very cool - mine is in the Nautilus); you can buy pins to wear and/or trade; you can buy posters to put in your virtual room; or you can buy new clothes for your character to wear.

Also, in the near future, you will be able to win prizes that you can use in the actual parks - Fastpasses, pins, and the like - and that's a pretty good reason to play the game right there. Just for fun, they're also opening a kiosk in the WDW Magic Kingdom where you can play the game online or complete physical quests in the Magic Kingdom (scavenger hunts and that sort of thing) to win prizes for your online character.

It's a lot of fun and, for friends or families who live miles apart and can't actually go to the parks together, it's a great way to meet up and enjoy some Disney magic. It's also a great way to meet other people who are just as crazy about Disney as you are. Who else will be playing this game but Disney aficionados?!

So what's the downside? At the moment, only Adventureland is open and fully functional - they are in the Beta Test mode, after all - and Fantasyland is partially functional. Tomorrowland and Frontierland will be up and running very soon, and they'll have all kinds of other games to play, but they're not up yet, so you can run out of new things to do fairly soon. The Hidden Mickey search will keep you coming back though; so watch out! It's a little addictive.

The other negative about the game is the Disney dictionary. In order to keep anyone from talking inappropriately online or using inappropriate words, Disney has a dictionary of words that are acceptable to them and if a word is not in that dictionary, you can't use it. Normally not a problem - but their dictionary is so limited, you can't even use words that they use on the site! For example, you can't say the word "one" when talking to other players; you've got to get around it by saying "won." No "won" is quite sure what is offensive about the word "one," but it must be a humdinger. You can't name your character's room "Tropical Hideaway," because it doesn't recognize the word "hideaway," even though it's in the chorus of the Tiki Room song. Sometimes, you can't use any punctuation. All of this makes communicating with other players very difficult sometimes. And God help you if your spelling skills aren't up to snuff!

That said, they are hard at work improving the game. It is still in testing mode and the complete version hasn't been released yet. And, best of all, it's FREE!! It's hard to justify complaining when it doesn't cost you anything to play.

If you'd like to spend more time in the Magic Kingdom, but you don't have the money, live too far away, or you just can't get away from work, you can still log in to the Virtual Magic Kingdom and, for free, enjoy a healthy dose of Disney magic! It's a great way to unwind after a long day.

If anyone sees me in the Virtual Magic Kingdom, feel free to say hello - being the Animal Kingdom fan that I am, I go by the name Anandapur! Everest was already taken. Humph. ;-)