The wilderness must be explored! — Russell, PIXAR’s Up

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a new game, open since early June, thus joining Magic Kingdom’s two games and Epcot’s cell phone based game (hmm, will DHS get one? Will it be Star Wars themed? I kind of think Muppets would be a hoot). DAK’s game is called Wilderness Explorers, and it is decidedly low tech. It uses a single handout packet and human interaction–no robotics, no screens, no electricity. There are a couple of props out in the scenery, but they don’t move or anything. And actually, it’s pretty fun.

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The name is borrowed from the Pixar movie Up, where Russell is a scout-type Wilderness Explorer who wants to collect badges. We collect badges in this new game, too, using a paper booklet they hand us and visit stations around the park.

The game actually builds upon the infrastructure already there for the Kids Discovery Club (KDC) activities that were scattered around the park. Almost all of the KDC stations have been converted into WE stations, including the one with ant-eyes behind the Tree of Life that was closed for so long due to fears the tree was losing its artificial branches.

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Whereas the KDC stations previously had no real connection to each other, now they are strung together via this new storyline about collecting badges. The badges in question are actually just stamps. If there’s anything disappointing about the game, it’s that the stamps don’t lead up to anything. I don’t expect them to give away awesome products, but it could pretty cool if you were allowed to buy something limited only if you finished the booklet. Maybe they could make the collection of ACTUAL patches something you could buy? The set they have at the main WE booth near the front has these actual patches as a prop, and they look pretty cool. I guess a whole set might be a bit much. If so, why not just the WE patch itself? At present, the booklet when fully completed and stamped functions exactly like a booklet with one stamp in it: a keepsake and collectible. Not having an ability unlocked or a gift at the end removes a lot of the motivation to finish all of it.

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And it would take a while to finish it all. We were told as we signed up that it’s a multi-day activity. I think that was a very clever thing for them to do. Had they said nothing, I’m sure some guests would go away expecting it to be a fun diversion for an hour or two (the way other WDW interactive games are), but this one has too much in it.

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They made use of KDC stations (minus Camp Minnie-Mickey, which is clearly on the way out to judge by this map) and added other interactions. Many of the other interactions end up being taken over by merchandise cart workers now doing double-duty. They wear slings decorated for the WE activity and when not doing their sales job, they can interact with people on the hunt for a particular clue (most of which is guided by the handbook, but sometimes there is interaction needed with the live cast member). I can only imagine this is tremendous fun for the cast members. They were hired to do one job (merchandise) but now get to do things that are more akin to entertainment. That’s kind of a win-win, since the CMs get rejuvenated, and their enthusiasm comes through to the visitors. Plus, it’s the sort of interaction being a Disney CM is supposed to be all about anyway, just magnified. Kudos from me.

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I was pleased with how well integrated the game was into the surrounding environment. Some of the interactive games intrude into the rest of the experience, despite the best efforts of designers to the contrary. The sound bleed is especially bad in some of these games. But WE has no sound effects (and no physical robotic effects to break) so in some ways, the low-tech solution is the best one here. You can tell they went out of their way to locate the new props in places that do not distract. I pride myself on my eagle eye to see things that are new in the parks, but a bunch of these things escaped my attention until the booklet told me to look for them in this area.

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It’s an overall good addition to the park and I’m glad it’s there. It’s not just for kids, though I imagine adults may do fewer overall of the tasks than kids. For them it might be a diversion, but for the kids, it just might be the thing which elevates this park one notch higher.

What do you say? Is this a game you’d devote multiple days to?