Also On: Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, 3DS
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Avalanche Software
Medium: Blu-ray Disc
"Is this Skylanders with Disney characters?? That sounds awesome!"… is what my kids said when Disney Infinity was first announced. My children (two girls and a boy ranging from 6 to 8 years old), absolutely love the Skylanders series, and we've invested plenty of time and money into Activision’s family friendly franchise. What's not to love? Cool figures with tons of personality, a magical glowing portal to bring them to life and a game fit for the younger set as well as their parents and adult gamers. So needless to say "Skylanders with Disney characters" DOES sound awesome, and with Disney Infinity that is very nearly what we got.
For the purpose of this review, I made sure to have my kids put plenty of time into Disney Infinity (not that I had to convince them or anything), and their perspective will weigh heavily on my opinion of the game. Comparisons with Skylanders will be unavoidable of course. The game is rated E10+, which seems about right, not because of content mind you, but because of the not always intuitive gameplay and controls.
Disney Infinity is certainly a magical and creative experience, and I suppose it can be best described as an open world game with a touch of LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft, mixed with Skylanders (obviously). The Disney Infinity starter pack includes the game, a USB powered Infinity Base, a Play Set Cube which unlocks story-based Play Sets for The Incredibles, Monsters University and Pirates of the Caribbean, a trio of figures (Mr. Incredible, Sulley and Jack Sparrow) and a random Power Disc. The angular, stylized figures are pretty attractive though they feel a little cheaper than what you will find in Skylanders. Interestingly my girls asked why there were no female characters included in the starter set… which my response was "I guess we'll have to buy some" though it didn't seem to affect their enjoyment of the game. The USB powered base, which features two spots for figures and one spot for a Play Set cube or Power Disc, lights up and changes color to correspond with the onscreen action. The base is not quite as cool as the heftier Skylanders portals, and it would have benefitted from some rubber feet to stop it from sliding around on my coffee table, but it's not all that important. The hexagon Power Disc which was included in our copy of the game unlocks a special walker balloon weapon from Pixar's movie UP for use in the Toy Box mode.
Upon starting up Disney Infinity for the first time, players are treated to a dramatic Disney-esque interactive tutorial/intro which is designed to teach some of the gameplay basics. The game then prompts players to place a figure (or figures) onto the base and select a story-driven Play Set world or head into the creative Toy Box mode. My kids chose Sulley and the Monsters University Play Set first.
The Play Set cube included in the starter pack features 3 wholly separate, open world style experiences for The Incredibles, Monsters University and Pirates of the Caribbean. Essentially, you have 3 unique adventures with their own stories and gameplay, which unlock pieces and customizations that can be used in the Toy Box mode. When I say "open world", I mean for the most part, players have access to a good chunk of the world and need to find certain characters or markers to kick off a mission. The game gives you the freedom to explore the game world, run around and cause havoc, or take the missions on at their own pace. Each of the Play Set worlds are littered with mission markers and events, as well as collectible toy capsules and random interactive mini-games, so there's no shortage of things to do in each of them.
The missions start out easy enough and do decent job slowly ramping up the difficulty and teaching more and more about the gameplay. The game does become more challenging at one point, and there were a few later missions where my kids asked for help either because the instructions weren't clear, or it became too difficult, or they came across a glitch of some sort (which isn't uncommon). In between missions they enjoyed destroying the city or punting things (people, vehicles, whatever) off the game world as Mr. Incredible, or creeping up and scaring characters as Sulley, for example. Like Skylanders, Disney Infinity supports local co-op gameplay for 2 players, though in split screen fashion instead of sharing one screen. One thing that definitely irked me about the co-op in the Play Set mode is that they require both players to have a character from that respective world. So if you would like a friend to join you in any of the starter pack worlds, you're out of luck unless you go to the store and buy a second figure from The Incredibles, Monsters U. or Pirates. Seeing as characters can be mixed together in the Toy Box mode without any ill effects, surely it wouldn't have been too difficult to allow the second player to use a character from a different Play Set. That decision comes off as a bit greedy in my opinion.
Speaking of spending money… once gamers are done and bored with the starter pack Play Sets, Disney has created a trio of add-on Play Sets for Cars, Toy Story and The Lone Ranger which are available right now for $35 apiece. Each of these sets feature two figures from that world and a cube for the Infinity Base which unlocks it. The $35 RRP seems a bit steep to be honest, even if it includes 2 figures and a whole new game world with unique missions, toys and whatnot. Also available at retail are Power Disc Packs (for around $5), which come in blind packs of two. The random selection of discs in the packs include either a hexagon Power Disc for the Toy Box mode and/or a round character power-up Disc which sit under the character on the base and can be used all throughout the game. The hexagon discs can transform the landscape of the Toy Box mode or spawn a Dumbo ride for example, and the round discs allow your character to earn more money or take less damage. Having blank packs with a random pair of Power Discs is supposed to encourage gamers to trade with friends (since you can end up with doubles) though there's no doubt that it's a bit of a cash grab. As cost-conscious parent and as a gamer, the pricing decisions for the Play Sets and the Power Discs do kind of bother me, especially when compared to Skylanders. Thankfully I've seen a decent amount of promotions at various retail outlets which make expanding Disney Infinity a little less painful. As a side note, my girls were wondering where all the princesses were, and my son immediately asked if Star Wars figures and worlds would be available one day. So Disney Interactive, if you're listening, get to work.
The Toy Box mode is where players will likely spend a good chunk of their time in, especially the LittleBigPlanet experts and creative types. Disney included a number of pre-configured levels you can load up in addition to a totally blank Toy Box, and it’s here that you can pop open a menu and rummage through the toys you've earned/found and start building a world. These toys, which include hundreds of structures and objects, from tiny autonomous characters, to machines, to Cinderella's castle (basically everything found in the Play Set mode), can be dropped into your level and edited. You can terraform the landscape, change the sky and time of day or modify the structures and objects using a plethora of tools. Running through the tutorials which instruct on how to manipulate and populate the environment is probably a good idea, since the controls and techniques are not as immediately intuitive as you would hope. My 8 year old son was able to get a decent grasp on how to create and manipulate the levels, but my 6 year old daughters took somewhat longer, and found it a little too confusing ultimately. On the other hand, they loved teaming up and playing the Toy Box worlds cooperatively in split screen. Disney has been hard at work creating and curating new downloadable Toy Box levels, and so far they seem to be a lot of fun. To be honest, while you can create and upload little ad-hoc challenges such as a race course or a platforming sequence, you can't really make them into a "game" a la LittleBigPlanet. You can invite up to 3 other friends to create and play in the Toy Box mode online, which is a plus too. There's no lobby or any way to link up or play along with strangers, so it's strictly an invite only affair. Overall, the Toy Box mode can be a fun, if a little aimless, experience with the right group of players and mindset.
The controls in Disney Infinity work decently enough, though the stiff camera and variable framerate can ruin it at times. The UI can be somewhat confusing depending on the mode, and controls for customizing character actions, for example, aren't particularly clear. Even with hints throughout the game, it took my kids a few sessions until they became comfortable with the gameplay.
Visually, Disney Infinity looks pretty good, and the Disney and Pixar characters and figures are nicely represented. Being both an open world game and a creative sandbox, there is surely a decent amount of performance-draining processes going on behind the scenes. As a result, at least in the PS3 version, the framerate can be all over the place. Split-screen is essentially a slideshow, most notably in the Toy Box mode. The game is also fairly glitchy, with clipping, goals not registering, or characters getting stuck in places they shouldn't be. PS3 owners need to download a patch which addresses a bug that corrupts game saves, so be warned.
The audio does a decent job recreating the Disney environments with familiar sounding themes from the movies in addition to accurate-sounding voiceovers. Like the visuals, the audio is a bit off for some reason, with occasional dropped audio and an inconsistent surround sound mix.
Overall, Disney Infinity is an enjoyable and creative experience for the whole family. Is it perfect? Not at all. It's a little too unpolished as compared to a game like Skylanders Giants or LittleBigPlanet, and I’m not a fan of the pricing scheme for the retail add-ons. In the end all that probably matters is my kids final verdict of "It's awesome!".