Following the success of Activision’s Skylanders game series, it didn’t come as a surprise when Disney announced they’d be applying the companion toy/DLC model to their own in-house project. The result was Disney Infinity – which allows gamers young and (maybe) old to collect fan-favorite character statues and, subsequently, unlock their respective “Mouse House” avatars inside the video game ecosystem.
Starting with a basic package that includes Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles), Jack Sparrow(Pirates of the Caribbean), and James P. Sullivan (Monsters, Inc.), gamers can collect further sets (such as Cars: Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, Francesco Bernoulli, Holley Shiftwell) or single figures (The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ Jack Skellington) – with standalone pricing starting at $11.99 a piece.
There’s no question that the business model will mean enormous sales for Disney – given they can pull from a near-limitless backlog of iconic properties for many years of Disney Infinity DLC/toy revenue. Interaction between the physical toy and in-game content will undoubtedly make the title a success with younger players; however, does Disney Infinity have anything to offer older gamers? Surprisingly, while the initial Disney Infinity package is likely to be underwhelming for most hard core gamers, the game design leaves the door open for plenty of guilty fun down the line – especially considering that Disney now has access to both Marvel branded characters as well as the Star Wars universe.
We had a chance to catch a live demo of Disney Infinity at E3 2013 – detailing new gameplay modes and providing insight into how developer Avalanche Software intends to evolve the toy/game mash-up through additional features and content down the line.
Much like Skylanders, each character comes loaded with their own character specific-adventure (which offer brief introductions to special abilities as well as play style) and the various themed starter packs (Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters University, The Lone Ranger, etc) include structured story-based missions for players to enjoy. That said, compared to other campaign experiences, the story content is very limited – and will not be much of a draw for older gamers.
However, standalone story adventures are not the primary focus of Disney Infinity – which features a fully-customizable sandbox mode with the ability to create game experiences within the game (i.e. LittleBigPlanet). The Toy Box mode is an open world environment populated by stock items (mountains, trees, and buildings, among hundreds of others) along with themed pick-ups that are unlocked via individual figurines or collector sets – such as Flo’s V-8 Diner (from the original Cars). In addition to populating the open world with items, there are options for automatic enemy spawns, as well as the ability to collaboratively build gaming experiences with up to three other players (i.e Minecraft) – across an online connection or on a single console.
After friends come together to create a Super Mario Bros.-style platformer inside Disney Infinity, their design is uploaded to a cloud server – and is then playable (or ready for further edits) across multiple platforms. Meaning, two friends could help a Wii U player design a level – then download the creation on their respective console of choice (Xbox 360, Wii U, or PS3) later on.
Additionally, Avalanche Software has included a number of ridiculous weapons (such as a shrink ray) and other abilities that can affect anything in the open world: including enemies, mounts, or even other players. As a result, there’s a lot opportunity for hijinks and fun meta-game experiences – which can further be blown-out with the addition of game-altering Power Discs. Like the figurines, the Power Discs exist inside and outside of the game, flat plastic coins that each include an in-game asset, such as a rideable Abu (in Elephant form) from Aladdin, or combat buff, like increased damage or health.
While the game may not feature the inspired art-style of LittleBigPlanet or enjoy the same amount of creative freedom as Minecraft, Disney Infinity has laid the groundwork for self-referencial gameplay experiences that even hard core gamers might enjoy – if they’re willing to overlook obvious pandering to the juice box crowd (and downright expensive cost of collecting additional characters). Still, much like the previously mentioned creation communities, Disney Infinity provides players with a very robust set of design tools – meaning the quality of the actual game is limited only by the imagination of the people that take time to learn the mechanics and test the boundaries.
Disney Infinity is not going to be for everyone, and it’s still unclear how the experience will evolve over time, but it has more potential than some regular gamers might expect. If nothing else, the idea of flying through a fully-customizable open world in an aerial Dumbo carousel car, shrinking unsuspecting friends, and causing Disney-themed mayhem, is intriguing – especially if developers find a way to implement less-conventional choices like The Avengers or Jedi and Sith warriors in creative and equally engaging ways.
Disney Infinity releases August 18, 2013 for the Wii, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS3, 3DS, and PC.
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