Home » Remember Any of These 8 Video Games That Brought Disney Parks to YOU? You Might Be Surprised…

Remember Any of These 8 Video Games That Brought Disney Parks to YOU? You Might Be Surprised…

Whether we like it or not, there are simply times when going to Walt Disney World or Disneyland is downright impossible. As finances, jobs, and families shift, sometimes things just come up! Sure, we might not have expected a global pandemic to be the cause, but the point remains: when you can’t go to Disney Parks, why not bring Disney Parks to you?

There’s never been a better time for us to reach down through the archives and explore these eight throwback video games that will put Disney Parks right in the palm of your hand. For each, we’ll include a link to a YouTube play-through or clip for your memory-making convenience! Did you play any of these games as a kid? Have you managed to dig any of them out of the attic to help get through the Disney Parks drought we’re in the midst of? Which would you like to see a modern revival of today?

1. Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour (2000)

Platforms: PlayStation 2, Sega Dreamcast, PC, and Game Boy Color

Super Mario Kart debuted on the Super Nintendo in 1992, and as they say, “the rest is history.” Cartoon kart racing became a game genre of its own, encompassing titles like Sonic Drift (1994), Diddy Kong Racing (1997), Looney Tunes Space Race (2000), Nicktoons Racing (2000), and even Muppets RaceMania (2000). But for Disney Parks fans, the most memorable must be Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour.

This Disney Interactive game allowed players to race through twisted kart courses themed to Disney World classics in ride-appropriate go-karts, popping Mickey balloons for power-ups (like dizzying teacups to release on fellow racers, or acorns to drive competitors off the road).

From a resort-wide world map, players could select courses themed to the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion (a personal favorite), Space Mountain, and the Tomorrowland Speedway; Test Track; “Disney Studios” (omitting the MGM) and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster; DINOSAUR, Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon.

Though the game received mixed reviews (mostly criticizing its difficult and its late arrival and similarities to the Mario Kart genre), Magical Racing Tour is still remembered by nostalgic fans today for its music, charms, and, y’know, actually celebrating the theme parks and the incredible worlds and stories they contain! You can catch up on a complete collection of all the Magical Racing Tour kart courses in a play-through here.

2. Epic Mickey (2010)

Platforms: Nintendo Wii 

Long before Disney was “The Mouse House,” Walt’s cartoon star was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. However, Disney famously lost the rights to Oswald in 1928, leaving him behind with Universal while he and animator Ub Iwerks were forced to create something new: Mickey. In fact, Universal retained the rights to Oswald for nearly 80 years until, in 2006, Bob Iger traded Disney’s ABC sportscaster Al Michaels to Universal’s NBC in exchange for Oswald’s return. (Referring to his own trade, Michaels told ESPN, “Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.”)

With Oswald in hand, Disney Interactive Studios created Epic Mickey. It’s a surprisingly dark video game where players control Mickey himself (armed with both constructive paint and destructive thinner) as he’s drawn into a dark, twisted, eerie cartoon version of Disneyland populated by “forgotten” rides, attractions, and characters, and run by a resentful and scorned Oswald. From a “Partners” statue replacing Mickey with Oswald to “lost” versions of Main Street, New Orleans Square, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland, players can use paint and thinner to either rebuild or destroy Wasteland while earning “Tickets,” beating platforming levels, and defeating bosses (like – and this is real! – fighting the “small world” clocktower)!

Naturally, the game ends with Mickey and Oswald realizing they’re not enemies, but brothers – the launching off point for Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two with a co-op mode where players can play as Oswald. 

By the way, we suspect that Epic Mickey at least somewhat inspired the 2012 re-opening of Disney California Adventure, wherein Oswald (and his “lost” friends like Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar) became de facto icons of the park via the 1920s-themed Buena Vista Street. In fact, Imagineers seemed to set up an intentional dichotomy, with Oswald plush and rabbit ears sold only at Disney California Adventure, as if a direct complement and counterpart to the Mickey plush and mouse ears of Disneyland! Get a glimpse into the shadowy world of Mean Street, U.S.A. – the hub of Wasteland – here.

3. Walt Disney World Explorer (1996)

Platforms: PC

It’s not quite right to call the Walt Disney World Explorer a game, per se, yet for plenty of ‘80s and ‘90s kids, this interactive software was just as exciting a way to spend an afternoon. After all, you’ve got to remember that before broadband Internet and sites like YouTube, this CD-ROM was the only way for many fans to hear their favorite music from the parks at home, to see videos and pictures of rides, to plan trips, and to get kids excited about a visit to Disney World! Essentially a computer promo piece for the resort, the Walt Disney World Explorer is exactly what it sounds like: a guide book on a disc, displaying an interactive map of the whole resort from which players can select hotels, parks, or games with a Tinker Bell cursor.

Zooming into any land, you can click on rides, shows, and attractions to learn about them from a pleasant narrator, then see “Backstage” or “Trivia” to view commercials, concept art, and models of each. The game also included games and trivia, information on the Reedy Creek Development Area, a “Hidden Mickey” challenge, and a timeline to watch the resort expand. Initially released in 1996, it was re-issued in 1998 to include Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

If you have any memories of the Walt DIsney World Explorer, it’s worth scrolling through the massive, 4-hour “play-through” linked below just to stir up some memories. (The music alone will really take you back…) If not, give it a look just to see what the parks looked like at the time! After all, the Walt Disney World explorer is forever frozen in 1996 when the Lost Legends: Alien Encounter, The Timekeeper, The SkywayMr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Kitchen Kabaret, Universe of Energy, The Living Seas, Kitchen KabaretJourney into Imagination, and Horizons were all still around. (Within eight years, every single one would be gone… Yikes!)  Zip through every nook and cranny of the Walt Disney World Explorer in the mega-play-through here.

4. Kinect Disneyland Adventures (2011)

Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC

Kinect Disneyland Adventures is one of the most peculiar creations to come out of the then-emerging area of motion-based gaming. The game allows guests to walk through a practically brick-for-brick recreation of Disneyland, with pretty much every conceivable detail in place from flowerbeds to payphones; every corner, pathway, and shortcut has been accounted for, and almost every ride is there, perfectly in place (though Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones Adventure are excluded due to licensing issues… after all, the game predates Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm that would’ve at least admitted the latter two). 

The point of the game? Well… mostly, just to walk around Disneyland! There are mini-games associated with several rides as well as ongoing challenges like collecting character autographs, assembling costumes, performing fetch quests, visiting gift shops, and collecting snapshots for a photo book. But especially today, Disneyland Adventures is a spectacularly calming and much-needed way to return to the pathways of Disneyland to explore, take in the atmosphere and music, and at least feel like you’re around people again in the Happiest Place on Earth!

The exhaustive detail of Kinect Disneyland Adventures is practically mind-blowing, and oddly, it would be especially great for fans who typically align themselves with Walt Disney World and guests who have never stepped foot in Walt’s “original Magic Kingdom” to get their first taste in such a to-scale, lovingly crafted recreation. Those players would be especially likely to get lost among the park’s lands – forever frozen in their 2011 appearance. Take a virtual tour through Kinect Disneyland Adventures here.

5. Adventures in the Magic Kingdom (1990)

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is about as nostalgic a throwback as you can get. Initially released in 1990 for the NES, the game places players in an overworld map of a “Magic Kingdom” (purposefully taking elements from Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland given its global release). That overworld is about as large (and about as detailed) as a town in any Pokemon game, but its Main Street U.S.A. leads out into the park where visual icons representing classic rides await. The goal is to collect six keys – five of which are discoverable by playing ride-themed mini-games, and the sixth by answering trivia questions about Walt Disney Pictures). 

The game features two top-down perspective stages where players control a vehicle – one based on Autopia (avoiding obstacles in a race against Panhandle Pete) and another based on Big Thunder Mountain (choosing the correct track switches to avoid dead ends for the runaway train).

Two side-scrolling stages are dedicated to the Haunted Mansion (completed by throwing candles at ghosts) and Pirates (rescuing villagers from the plundering pirates). A Space Mountain level is a first-person trip through the stars, avoiding and blasting asteroids. Best of all, in an era before “saving your game” was an option, the entire playthrough of Adventures in the Magic Kingdom can be viewed in less than 20 minutes, here(That’s probably by video games were so much less expensive back then…) 

6. Kingdom Hearts III (2019)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

2002’s Kingdom Hearts was crafted through an almost-inexplicable collaboration between Disney and Square-Enix (Japanese developer of the long-running Final Fantasy RPG franchise). Somehow, though, the world-bending crossover became a cultural phenomenon, seeing protagonist Sora join forces with Donald and Goofy in an epic quest to save the worlds of beloved Disney films. From Agrabah to Halloween Town; Atlantica to Neverland, players battled alongside Ariel, Aladdin, Beast, Peter Pan, and more to rescue the seven Princesses of Heart from Maleficent… and the dark forces collecting around the ultimate battle for hearts.

The long, long, long awaited final installment in the series – Kingdom Hearts III – finally debuted in 2019, ushering Sora into the worlds of Tangled, Frozen, Hercules, Monsters Inc., Big Hero 6, Toy Story, and more. Though previous installments had allowed Sora to summon helpful Disney characters for assistance in battle, one of the most talked-about evolutions of gameplay in the third was the ability to summon Disney Parks attractions in a newly-created system called Attraction Flow. Now, Disney Parks rides decked out in their Main Street Electrical Parade best could appear to offer finishing moves to waves of Heartless enemies, from filling the battlefield with spinning Mad Tea Party teacups to boarding laser-armed Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters; striking enemies from a Grizzly River Run raft and blasting light from the Carousel…

One of the game’s most talked-about moments, though, was using Big Thunder Mountain’s runaway mine train and its explosive fireworks-armed smokestack to take down a Hercules Titan (above), melding Disney Parks into the increasingly elaborate world of Kingdom Hearts added a whole new dimension to battles. You can take a look at all of the Attraction Flow cameos in action here.

7. Adventures of Tokyo DisneySea (2001)

Platforms: PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Color

Tokyo DisneySea is often regarded as the best theme park on Earth; a sort of must-see Mecca for Disney Parks fans the world over, offering nautical, adventurous, exploration-themed attractions. Not only is DisneySea the birthplace of S.E.A.: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers; it’s also home to the Modern Marvels: Tower of Terror and Journey to the Center of the Earth – the latter in particular often described as one of the best attractions to have been developed by Disney Imagineers anywhere in the world. So really, it’s no surprise that it earned its own video game. 

A PS2 version uses cel-shading like a classic cartoon (also made famous in games by the Sly Cooper series) while a Game Boy Color release is formatted as a side-scrolling platformer. The adventurous RPG allows players to explore the park’s themed “ports” in a third-person style adventure where (like other titles on this list), attractions are used as mini-games. You can ride a gondola through Mediterranean Harbor to Fortress Explorations, see the Aquasphere, and even visit the Hotel MiraCosta and its S.E.A.-stylized inhabitants.

In Adventures of Tokyo DisneySea, though, players also engage in boss battles in each, like defeating Jafar in the Arabian Coast, an Incan spirit in the Lost River Delta, Ursula in Mermaid Lagoon, and even the fabled Lava Monster hiding in Mount Prometheus (Game Boy version above). Of course, Adventures of Tokyo DisneySea was also a Japanese-only release, making this game a deep cut sought out only by the most committed Disney Parks / video game enthusiast crossovers. Take a look at all of the boss battles in the Game Boy version of the game here.

8. Virtual Magic Kingdom (2005)

Platforms: MMO

In 2005, Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary brought about the launch of a major 18-month promotional campaign for Disney Parks: The Happiest Celebration on Earth. One aspect of the campaign was Virtual Magic Kingdom (or VMK), a massive multiplayer online game. After creating an online avatar, players could explore a virtual recreation of a Disney “castle” park, interacting in real time with other players through chat features while traversing the seemingly endless park…

Deemed a “safe social network” in the era of MySpace, Virtual Magic Kingdom was a moderated spot to explore Disney Parks through mini-games, virtual pin collecting, purchasing collectables with in-universe currency, remixing music, creating fireworks shows, and playing fetch quests while also theoretically making friends with a common interest and public chat. The real Disney Parks even got in on the act, where participating in an in-park scavenger hunt could be redeemed for VMK codes.

Ultimately, the game that was created as a promotional tie-in to a celebratory campaign sort of took on a life of its own. After three years, Disney announced that VMK would be closed down, having well outlasted the 50th Anniversary celebration. Angered fans took to the Internet with petitions and calls for a protest… but unsurprisingly, Disney wasn’t moved by their plight. Despite its cult following, VMK was closed in May 2008. A fan-made, unofficial recreation – MyVMK – launched in 2013, and is still used today. Enjoy a brief tour of the look and feel of Virtual Magic Kingdom here.

Gamer Kingdom

From time to time throughout its history, Disney has smartly decided to cash in on one of the strongest, most high-earning intellectual properties in its entire catalogue: its theme parks! Far outearning Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Frozen combined, Disneyland and Walt Disney World are household names for sixty years and counting…

That’s why we appreciate when Disney decides to actually focus on the characters, mythologies, worlds, foods, and souvenirs people already love, and these video games were each unique attempts to bring Disney Parks into your living room. Did you play any of these games as a kid? Have you managed to dig any of them out of the attic to help get through the Disney Parks drought we’re in the midst of? Which would you like to see a modern revival of today?