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Review: Disney Infinity

By Chris Scullion on Monday 19th Aug 2013 at 1:25 PM UTC

After the enormous success of Skylanders and its hybrid game-toy model that took the whole industry by surprise, it was perhaps inevitable that a rival publisher would try to steal Activision's thunder.

Enter Disney Infinity, the first major challenger to Skylanders' throne, powered by the momentous commercial appeal of Disney brands such as Monsters Inc and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The game features the same toy-swapping gimmickry as Skylanders, in that the starter pack comes with a game disc, three Disney toys and a USB-powered base to place them on. Once a figurine stands on the base, the game spawns a corresponding virtual avatar to control. That obvious inspiration aside, Disney Infinity eventually proves itself as a different beast to Activision's franchise.

Instead of offering one main adventure, Disney is promoting Infinity as a 'platform' through which numerous games can be played. There are six 'playset' pieces that can be placed on the base, each unlocking a different adventure based on a certain Disney property.

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Three figures and playsets are included with the starter pack - Sully and Monsters University, Mr Incredible and The Incredibles, and Jack Sparrow and Pirates of the Caribbean. There are also playsets based on Cars and The Lone Ranger available on launch day with a sixth (and seemingly final) playset based on Toy Story planned for release in October.

While the playsets stick to the same formula of letting players wander around open worlds taking on various tasks and challenges, each one boasts a different style and gameplay mechanic, giving the impression of individual titles built with the same engine rather than, say, chapters in a Lego adventure.

Take the Monsters University playset, for example. This focuses on comedy and pranks, offering the chance to ride around in a bicycle, fire a toilet-paper gun and sneak up behind other monsters for scares and laughs.

The Incredibles playset has a different tone. Gameplay here is more action-based, with superhuman feats, special powers and large explosions the order of the day. A PG version of Crackdown, then.

Finally, the Pirates of the Caribbean playset takes more of a hand-to-hand combat approach, There's also a shipbuilding element, with sections where you have to customise a vessel then travel the seas in it.

The structure, design and environments feel similar to the Lego games, albeit with twin-stick third-person controls. Much of the environment can be destroyed, spilling blue experience orbs or currency all over the place in a manner reminiscent of Lego studs, and the combination of infinite lives and drop-in-drop-out co-op (as long as you have another character compatible with each playset) means fans of Traveller's Tales' games will feel at home.

As entertaining and surprisingly lengthy as the three playsets are, however, they are merely an accompaniment to Disney Infinity's key selling point, the Toy Box. This is a sandbox mode in which players are free to create their own worlds using a built-in editor.

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Initially, this can be a little bewildering. Objects are generated and placed using a combination of the analogue sticks and d-pad. Experienced gamers will get used to it fairly quickly but if you're buying the game for a younger Disney fan then expect an hour or two of confusion and the possibility that you'll need to hand-hold them through it for a while.

Thankfully, there are a number of tutorials in there to teach you the basics. The voiceover guide is cursed with one of the most irritating voices we've heard in a while, but the information is useful nonetheless and should go some way to help explaining some of the more complicated mechanics in place.

If Minecraft is the gaming equivalent of Lego, Disney Infinity is comparable to Duplo. With practice you can build some impressive worlds, but generally things are a little more simplistic and the size of the basic building blocks means intricate, granular structures are no-go.

That's not to say there aren't a lot of possibilities. Infinity contains roughly 1000 items that can be unlocked in Toy Box mode, ranging from standard building blocks and terrain (both of which can be customised with unlockable colour schemes) to decorations, NPC characters who run around dressed as Disney celebs, vehicles and various toys you can interact with.

The Toy Box is also the answer for older Disney aficionados who may look at Infinity's playsets and feel they're being left out. After all, with four of the six playsets based on Pixar films and the other two based on recent live-action movies, at first glance it may seem there's nothing there for devotees of the hand-drawn animation that made the spawling media giant what it was in the first place.

Instead, many of these 1000 or so Toy Box objects are based on classic Disney films and should have veteran fans grinning as they're gradually unlocked.

One minute you're staring at an entranceway shaped like Monstro's mouth from Pinocchio, the next you're uncovering a toy who looks like Elliott from Pete's Dragon. There are even slightly more obscure references, such as an unlockable 'car from the future' from Disneyland's Autopia ride.

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But despite the promise of "infinite possibilities, endless fun" on the packaging, Disney Infinity wants to ensure you go about earning such things the hard way. The vast majority of these little objects, characters and trinkets are unavailable from the outset, and to unlock them a mass of tokens must be collected.

Most tokens come via the playset challenges, so if you aren't a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean and had no intention of ever setting foot in Jack Sparrow's barnacle-encrusted boots, you might have to do so to expand your choices in the Toy Box mode.

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On top of this, the items you unlock with it is randomly selected for you. This means if you're already planning to recreate the city of Agrabah from Aladdin you can't just wade in and spend your tokens on the Agrabah guard enemy, the Genie and Jasmine characters and the Cave Of Wonders entrance (which looks ace, incidentally).

This isn't necessarily a terrible way of doing things, though not having some basic items after fifteen hours does begin to test your patience. However, unlocking items randomly does bring some excitement, leading to emotional highs (such as bringing little toy Kermit into the fold) and lows (a generic sloped hill) in equal measure.

The randomness also encourages sharing your Toy Box with friends, inviting up to three of them over at once to mess around in multiplayer mode and play with the toys you have that they haven't unlocked yet. Had everything been made available in a set order, the excitement in seeing what a friend has in their Toy Box would have been lessened.

Things get even more interesting when you gather up a collection of special 'Interactivi-toys', which can be given simple AI commands, thus allowing players to design their own rudimentary Disney game. You can program football goals to add one to a scoreboard when a ball enters them, script enemies to spawn when a switch is pressed, etcetera.

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