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Rather than rushing to be one of the first outlets to have a review of Disney Infinity published, I decided to let things marinate a bit. Give myself and my kids ample time to really get to know the whole thing before committing to a verdict. That said, this review will be longer than usual, as there is a lot of ground to cover with Infinity, as well as what helped shape its core mechanics. Thanks in advance for your patience.

Being a gaming parent is difficult enough. Finding games that both parent and children can engage with and enjoy has been known to prematurely gray many moms and dads out there. When it comes to my kids, they teeter on the precipice of being able to play some LAN Halo matches with their old man, but they still cling to the games that are squarely marketed at a younger—or at least parent/child crossover—demographic. I’ve been thankful for the Traveller’s Tales block-based renditions of Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Lord of the Rings universes. We’ve even enjoyed the non-licensed offering, Lego City Undercover.

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But other than that, there haven’t been too many games that have fit the bill in a true crossover way. I’m usually a very strict adherent of the ESRB ratings on games, you won’t find my kids playing any Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto titles. It even took quite a while for me to give in to let them play Halo, and that’s mainly because the antagonists don’t resemble a recognizable human form. I don’t state this to start a discussion on the appropriateness of games for children—that’s another opinion piece for another day—but only to give some background to where we stand as a family when it comes to gaming together.

Which is why we enjoyed Avalanche Software’s 2010-licensed title, Toy Story 3. The in-universe scripted sequences didn’t seem too forced, and did justice to the source material. Much like Pixar’s movies, both sides of the age spectrum in my family were laughing at the same gags, just for different reasons.

But to be honest, what really set this game apart and gave it legs was the separate sandbox mode included. Aptly named Toy Box Mode, it would allow players to complete missions and create their own version of Woody’s Round Up. As players completed missions from the likes of Hamm and Slinky, more area, play sets, and items would be available for purchase at Al’s Toy Barn. You really got a sense of ownership there, helping townsfolk and creating the area the way you saw fit.

Fast-forward to Infinity. It touts some of the same features that Toy Story 3 did, but removes others, and hamstrings even more. When you purchase the starter pack, you are given a plastic base, which the characters will use to interact with the world (a la Skylanders), a Power Disc, and three characters: Mr. Incredible, Jack Sparrow, and Sulley. Most importantly, there is a plastic crystal that the player must place on the base in order to unlock the Play Set universes that the characters inhabit. These characters are from the Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Monsters Inc. universes, respectively.

As a longtime Disney and Pixar fan, I salivated over the possibilities that could arise from having the entire Disney universe at my fingertips. And then I realized that each Play Set is a walled garden unto itself—you can’t bring Mr. Incredible into Monsters Inc. or vice-versa. I can certainly understand some of the corporate reasoning behind this—licensing and all—but it really stinks and in some ways is a major detraction from the allure of the game. Each Play Set will offer players around 5-6 hours of missions to complete, which can be stretched out longer depending on how adept the player is or how fastidious they are about completing missions quickly.

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Like its predecessor, Infinity has a Toy Box mode. Here is where the characters from each universe can truly interact. You can have Captain Jack race Lightning McQueen from Cars, on a track that you build yourself, and Buzz Lightyear can team up with Jack Skellington to foil Syndrome’s latest evil plot.

The problem with this Toy Box mode is that players don’t earn assets to build their world as they see fit through missions. They are given page after page of 16-spot grids, which will randomly go around and choose one of the assets (think roulette wheel) once the player earns a token. These tokens are earned by leveling their characters up, which are level-capped at 15. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that in order to unlock a lot of the assets, players will be forced to go out and purchase new characters in order to level them up and get the requisite number of tokens to ‘spin the wheel,’ as it were.

Another thing that is frustrating is that players can create ‘games’ within the Toy Box, but they aren’t games like the ones in the Disney Play Sets. Where one might need to scare, say, 10 monsters with Sulley in the Play Set to activate the ending state of the mission, there’s no such thing in the Toy Box. You can certainly set up things that way and have Sulley go around doing that, but once the monsters are scared, there’s no end mission. You just go on your merry (or scary) way. You also cannot use the same assets that are available in the Play Sets in the Toy Box mode. This seems like a huge oversight, unless Disney purposely did it for licensing reasons, etc. It almost makes the Toy Box feel bland by comparison, and it should be the other way around.

What’s also troubling is that if a player ventures into the Hall of Heroes in the Toy Box mode, they can see what characters have been selected for the game. The game is already complete; consumers are just wont to wait for the next wave of character statues to be released. Now, I don’t know if Disney is planning on supplementing this game with new content each year (a la Rock Band – buy the instruments once, purchase the new game and new songs annually), but I find it hard to believe that they’re just going with what’s available in the HoH right now. There’s too much money to be made.

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Similarly, it seems quite odd (not really) how Disney is packaging their Play Sets and Heroes/Villains Packs. For example, if you buy the Toy Story Play Set, you get Buzz Lightyear and Jesse. Now, I’m not trying to say that only boys will play this game or that Jesse is more of a second-tier character (she’s not), but ask anyone and I’m sure that they’d agree that the Play Set should come with Buzz and Woody. In the Cars Play Set, you get Lightning McQueen and Holly Shiftwell. Not Mater. Not Sally Carrera. Not even Doc Hudson. This seems to me like an obvious cash grab to get unwitting parents to purchase not only the Play Set, but the all-but-requisite complimentary characters. Brilliant economic strategy, Disney, but a little slimy and below the wallet if you ask me.

Okay, a fair bit of vitriol so far. Infinity is a really fun game that will give children and parents alike a huge set of universes to explore and even more to create, if you’ve got the stomach (and cash) for it. Some players will be happy with a few characters and their imagination will take flight and they’ll create wonderful worlds to play in and explore. Others will want only to collect the figures and play the prebuilt Play Sets that Disney offers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either way, it just depends on how much you’re willing to spend.

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Disney Infinity is developed by Avalanche Software and published by Disney Interactive. It is available on the 360, PS3, Wii U, Wii, and 3DS at $74.99. Play Sets and Heroes/Villains Packs range from $29.99 to $39.99. Individual characters are $13.99. Power Disc Packs are $5.99.

A copy of this game was independently acquired by the reviewer. Reviewed on the 360.

 

Tagged in: 3DS, Featured, Nintendo, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, Reviews, Wii, Wii U, Xbox, Xbox 360

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