By Leo Stevenson
To Infinity and beyond... ahem. Now that that’s out of my system, let’s get to it.
Disney Infinity appears – on the surface at least – to be a Disney take on Skylanders. It’s an adventure game that requires physical toys to unlock additional content, set in a colourful kid friendly world. The toys are placed on a base and through the magic of near field communication (NFC) appear in the game world. It’s here that the two properties begin to diverge. Sure the Disney Infinity characters can set off on action platforming adventures full of collectibles and they can level up and fight bad guys. Where Disney Infinity differs is its tone and intentions. Where Skylanders is meant to be an epic – self contained – adventure, Infinity is all about recapturing your imagination and childhood. In Disney Infinity, toys are king.
In Disney Infinity, you don’t play as Sully from Monsters University, you play as the toy of Sully. As with all the characters, they are digital representations of physical toys and thus act accordingly. Infinity is less about creating worlds with strict rules and rigidly defined gameplay. It’s about recreating the feeling – and magic – of playing with all of your toys on the living room floor. It does give you the option though; as Infinity comes in two flavours, Play Sets and the Toy Box
Play Sets are the vanilla, structured adventures based on Disney franchises. I say vanilla without an ounce of disdain. Vanilla is tasty, necessary and a solid foundation for any ice cream sundae. Speaking of which, the Toy Box is a quadruple scoop, rainbow flavoured sundae, with hot fudge, chopped nuts, sprinkles and whipped cream. To put it another way, Play Sets are the starter, a tasty morsel that only makes you hungrier for the main course. That main course is the Toy Box. Let’s begin where all good meals do, with the starter.
Upon purchasing Disney Infinity you’ll receive the game, three character figures, a Play Set figure, the Infinity base and a Power Disc. The Play Set figure includes three Play Sets, one for each of the figures, Mr. Incredible, Sully and Captain Jack Sparrow. By placing the Play Set piece and one of the character figures on the Infinity base, you’ll be prompted to start whatever Play Set corresponds to the character on the base. Play Sets are set within the existing universes of each Disney property and are separate, self contained adventures. Sully can’t sail the seas with Captain Jack, nor can Mr Incredible go scaring at Monsters University.
While it may seem silly to restrict the Play Sets in this way, allowing any character to participate in any Play Set simply wouldn’t work. Gameplay for each adventure is based around the universe the figures come from and their various powers and abilities. Each Play Set also serves as a kind of tutorial for the different play styles of the characters, their powers, abilities and items. The three starter pack Play Sets are quite different to one another and each has something fun and unique to offer.
Monsters University is a stealth action game that sees Sully sneaking onto the Fear Tech campus to pull pranks in order to win “Fearit Week”. Pirates of the Caribbean tasks Jack Sparrow with retrieving the five pieces of the “Kraken Bane” in order to put a stop to Davy Jones once and for all and The Incredibles has Mr. Incredible battling to protect Metro City from Syndromes evil Omni-Droids before eventually stopping the mastermind altogether. Each Play Set adventure lasts between 5-8 hours – depending on your desire to do, see and collect everything – and are surprisingly varied from one another. Sitting somewhere on the LEGO games scale of difficulty, the Play Sets include missions and challenges. The missions further the story or teach a new play mechanic, while challenges are based around three or four activities. In The Incredibles there are checkpoint chase challenges for the vehicles and in Monsters University there are BMX based collection challenges.
Together, the challenges and missions provide an entertaining romp through each world. Some people will definitely find that the Play Sets offer no real challenge and are very repetitive. I can appreciate this point of view, but it's not one I share. The game is so charming and so full of character that I was too busy having fun and noticing fan service that I never got bored or frustrated. One thing to be wary of however, as Play Sets only allow characters from their universe to play, if you want to play co-op you'll need to make an additional purchase of another character. While it's great to have the variety of the three Play Sets, some will be put off by having to pay extra for co-op. Although, with solo character figures costing $18 AUD and the starter pack costing $89 AUD, buying both roughly equates to the purchase of a standard full priced game.
Two other Play Sets are available at launch, Cars and The Lone Ranger. Each additional Play Set will set you back $40 and includes a new Play Set piece and two figurines. While not essential they each add roughly another 6-8 hours of Play Set time and hundreds of new items to the Toy Box. You can -- if you're so inclined -- completely bypass the Play Sets and dive straight into the Toy Box, but you'll find it a fairly sparse experience first up. Toys in the Toy Box must be unlocked. Avalanche doesn't give you the keys to the workshop without some training first. While it may frustrate some that they can't simply skip the Play Sets and start creating their own worlds with everything unlocked, it's actually a very clever way of gradually teaching players the ins and outs of Infinity and how best to use the Toy Box.
It's in the Toy Box that Disney Infinity earns its moniker. It's the digital equivalent of tipping out a real life Toy Box and simply playing. It's in Toy Box that your wildest ideas can come to life and the characters can all interact like never before. Jack Sparrow and Syndrome can play a game of paintball, while Randall Boggs and Lightning McQueen race on a custom race track through Agrabah. The only limits in Toy Box are the number of toys you've managed to unlock and your imagination. Want to recreate your favourite 2D platformer? You can. Want to recreate tracks from Mario Kart? You can do that too. The tools given to you in the Toy Box are deceptively deep and complex, which is perfect for the broad audience Infinity is going after. Kids will love playing with the toys and seeing the favourites on screen together and big kids will get a real kick out of building and creating their own worlds with the list-based logic programming.
Many of the toys in the Toy Box can be connected to one another in meaningful ways. A touch pad can be connected to an enemy spawner so when a player stands on it enemies flood out. A glowing area can be set to teleport a player when the enter. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of connections on each toy is only limited by the coding, so theoretically around 64,000 connections could be created. This is obviously an extreme example, but once you begin exploring the possibilities and power of the Toy Box, the connections start to rack up.
As the potential of the Toy Box is gradually revealed, the ideas for creations begin to flow thick and fast until it boggles the mind, but you're never forced to do anything. If you have no interest in creating anything, there are a number of pre-built Toy Boxes to tool around in and Disney will continue to release more. Additionally, as people upload their own Toy Box creations, those too will become available. Content for Infinity isn't going to stop anytime soon and once the community get their heads around the tools be prepared for some truly incredible creations.
It's nigh on impossible to sum up Disney Infinity in a few hundred words. It's a game that was meant to be played and played a lot. At the time of writing I have racked up over 35 hours in the Play Sets and a dozen more in the Toy Box and I'm still only starting to scratch the surface of what's available. It's a game that requires a serious investment of not only time, but money. There is of course no obligation to buy and collect all the figures, Play Sets and Power Discs, but let's be honest; Infinity is tapping into that part of our brain that made us collect Pogs, Tazos, Yowies and Pokémon cards. When I came across an area or item that could only accessed by a certain character I mentally started checking my bank account.
There's likely to be two camps when it comes to Infinity's cost. Those who are happy to pay the price, collect the toys, buy dozens of blind packs of Power Discs in the hopes of collecting them all and those who think the whole thing is just Disney nickel and diming their fans. I'm in the former camp. While I can appreciate that Infinity is by no means cheap -- if you want everything -- it offers pretty excellent value for money, if you enjoy it. Those who find the idea of locked on-disc content abhorrent will never be fans. But that's OK, more chance for me to get those rare figures and Power Discs.
Disney Infinity is filled with real magic and there's something for everyone. Kids and adults alike will get a kick out of the collectible figurines and there's no denying that placing a toy on the base and seeing that character appear in game is super cool. The Play Set world's offer fun structured gameplay if creating isn't your thing and if it is, Toy Box will keep you busy for a long, long time.
Disney Infinity is all about play. It was made to be played, and played a lot. If you pick up a copy expect dozens of hours of smiles, laughs, excitement and discovery. The potential is truly limitless. Infinite, even.