Disney Infinity is a beautiful experiment in the power of brand marketing. It takes the loose framework of Activision‘s Skylanders franchise, and uses a large swath of the Disney/Pixar library to bolster it. So, instead of family-friendly platforming with original creatures like Chop Chop or Drobot, players will be using more recognizable faces like Mr. Incredible or Captain Jack Sparrow.
Aside from that, though, Disney Infinity is very similar to Skylanders: the base game comes with a USB-powered portal, three starter figurines, and a Play Set cube. By placing the cube on the portal, the player unlocks a “Play Set”: a level tailored to a specific Disney franchise. In order to explore those Play Sets, however, players must also place a figurine associated with that franchise on the portal. So, for example, if they want to play in the Pirates of the Caribbean Play Set, they will need to put Captain Jack (or one of the other Pirates figurines) on the portal. Pretty simple.
For this particular review, Game Rant was provided with the basic starter set, which includes a copy of the game, a portal, three figurines (Jack Sparrow, Sully, and Mr. Incredible), a Play Set cube for those three characters’ levels, and a power disc. There are also Cars and Lone Ranger Play Sets available, as well as additional characters for the base Play Sets, but for the purposes of this review we will be sticking to the basic starter set.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Disney Infinity does an admirable job of differentiating between the three Play Sets, making sure that each feels unique but is still easy to understand. The world of The Incredibles, for example, has the player exploring a small open world, completing tasks like saving citizens, capturing criminals, and ultimately taking down Syndrome the super villain. Each of the dozen or so quests scattered around the Play Set typically involve some light platforming and basic melee combat, and it’s just enough to keep younger players engaged, but not outright challenged.
The same goes for the Monsters University and Pirates Play Sets, which have their own quirks but aren’t all that different from The Incredibles. Typically the formula involves heading to a quest giver, following a quest arrow to a location, and then completing a pre-determined task — be it taking down an enemy, performing some sort of prank, or swashbuckling with a rival pirate gang. Ultimately, it becomes rather repetitive the deeper the player gets into each Play Set, but the overall experience is engaging enough for fans of the associated Disney franchise.
Of particular note, is the Pirates Play Set, which blends swashbuckling and light platforming with small-scale naval battles. Obviously, these aren’t of the scale as, say, Assassin’s Creed 3, but they add a welcome dynamic to the experience. Although each of the three Play Sets have at least one element that make them stand out – Monsters University is focused on pranks, while Incredibles features plenty of large scale super hero battles – the Pirates world seemed to offer the most variety, and captured the spirit of its associated franchise the best.
What makes Pirates stand out, and all of the Play Sets for that matter, more so than anything else, is the design of each of the worlds. Avalanche Software clearly put a lot of care into getting the details right, making sure each world doesn’t come across as half-finished or second rate. From the way Port Royal crumbles under pirate attack to the streamers of toilet paper strewn about Monsters University, there’s a lot of wondrously creative touches that give each Play Set some much needed personality. Even though the gameplay is a little lacking, the design of each Play Set is top notch.
But it’s outside of the game’s Play Sets, in Disney Infinity‘s Toy Box mode, that the game’s promise of infinite possibilities truly comes alive. Toy Box mode is Infinity‘s version of a free-form creation tool, where players can craft their own worlds based upon Disney’s most popular franchises, and share them with others. Here, players can switch their playable character on the fly — hopping from Lightning McQueen to Tonto, for example — all the while mixing and matching items from a variety of worlds. Toy Box Mode is what makes Infinity unique, and helps it carve its own path. Seeing all the creative levels other players have made, or designing one yourself, helps ensure Infinity‘s longevity. In reality, a player’s creative potential is only limited by their imagination…and of course which characters and Play Sets they own.
And therein lies the real problem with Disney Infinity, as with any game of its kind. Sure, the starter set offers a great jumping off point, but there are far too many reminders that there is more to buy scattered around each world. In a way it feels like Disney Infinity is only part of a game without all the Play Sets. That being said, it’s hard to chastise Disney too much for this approach, as it plays directly into kids’ and adults’ innate need to “collect them all.”
Disney Infinity is a smart idea done well. It represents each of the associated franchises with varied approaches, making sure the world of Incredibles is just as exciting as Monsters University, even if their gameplay opportunities aren’t all that different. Moreover, the game’s Toy Box mode takes creative freedom to another level, by letting players design their own dream Disney mash-up.
Yes, the gameplay in each Play Set reaches a tipping point, where that initial sense of discovery and excitement gives way to repetition. But there’s enough worthwhile content packed into the game that it still feels substantial, more so than a lot of family-friendly games out there. And make no mistake; Disney Infinity is geared specifically towards families, with kids likely getting the most out of the game.
The game borrows more than a few ideas from Skylanders, but it executes on those ideas in some pretty smart ways, leveraging Disney’s properties to their utmost potential. There may be better singular Disney games out there, but as a blend of multiple properties, this is the quintessential Disney experience.
Disney Infinity is available now for the 3DS, PS3, Wii, Wii U, and Xbox 360.
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