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Toying with Disney Magic in the Big, Beautiful Kingdom Hearts III

Grab your keyblade, wake up Goofy, and prepare to smack a Heartless with a rollercoaster: Kingdom Hearts III is almost here.

Kingdom Hearts III will be the first franchise entry to appear on an Xbox platform, and it’s clear that this is a game for both new and old fans alike. With evolved gameplay punctuated by exhilarating attacks modeled after Disney attractions and characters, Kingdom Hearts III is shaping up to be an action-packed ride for everyone.

Action was exactly what we found during a recent hands-on demo touching on two of Kingdom Hearts III’s many worlds: the craggy mountains of Olympus from the 1997 “Hercules” film and a trip to Andy’s Toybox from Pixar’s “Toy Story”.

Built to show off the game’s verticality, Olympus charged us with taking down a massive Rock Titan. Dashing up the sheer mountain face while dodging huge boulders hefted by the mighty Titan, we were immediately struck by the game’s newfound sense of scale. Once they reached the summit, Sora and his trusty sidekicks Donald Duck and Goofy were face to, well, foot with the monstrous Titan.

After climbing up to the beast’s twin heads, we had access to one of the brand new “Attraction” ultimates inspired by real-world Disney theme park rides. In this case, it was “Big Magic Mountain,” a glittering, technicolor train yanked right out of the Main Street Electrical Parade. Sora and crew hopped aboard and blasted the Titan with colorful fireworks before exploding in a breathtaking, fight-ending light show.

Kingdom Hearts III Screenshot

The second half of the demo was just as magical. Warped into the not-so-small world of “Toy Story” – the first time a Pixar property has appeared in Kingdom Hearts – Sora and crew promptly meet up with Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm and other famous Toy Story faces. Watching Sora and Woody casually chat while wandering around Andy’s room is exactly the sort of thing that sets Kingdom Hearts fans’ hearts aflutter, a seemingly incongruous character mashup that somehow makes perfect sense.

Off we went to rescue Woody’s pals from Galaxy Toys, a brand new “Toy Story” location introduced in Kingdom Hearts III, but not before a few more Heartless battles demonstrated the game’s flexible combat system. Hammering on the attack button yielded combos that powered potent keyblade transformations. Players will wield several different keyblades over the course of the game and can switch between them at the press of a button. After dispatching a few grunts, we transformed the keyblade into the Tangled-inspired Mirage Staff, clearing out the rest with fierce, flowery blasts of light.

A Link attack brought forth the muscular star of “Wreck-it-Ralph”, who laid down a handful of explosive bricks before tackling enemies like a linebacker. Later we turned the world into water as Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”, diving beneath enemies and flipping them into the air. Another attraction, the Mad Teacups, turned the stomach-churning ride into a destructive, nauseating whirlwind. We even channeled “Pacific Rim” by controlling three giant toy mechs at various spots in the toy store.

Combine all of that with more keyblade modes (at one point we wielded a “Toy Story”-inspired hammer that would make Thor jealous), a wealth of magical attacks, and handy defensive dashes and you get a cinematic, laugh-out-loud system so grandiose, even Maleficent would love it, though she may frown at Kingdom Hearts III’s unbelievable looks.

Speedy and smooth with picture-perfect character models and bright, cheery colors, it’s a visual stunner. From the stiches on Woody’s pants to Goofy’s iconic gait, Kingdom Hearts III evokes the mouse house’s inimitable style and attention to detail. It feels like you’re playing through a bizarre Disney film.

Precisely when you’ll get to do that remains to be seen, as Square-Enix has yet to reveal a specific release date. But like the best rides, this big, bold, and beautiful romp through Disney’s unforgettable worlds looks like it will be well worth the wait when it arrives on Xbox One.