Disney’s Infinity promises “infinite possibilities” and “endless fun”. It can’t quite live up to that hype, but it’s still an exceptionally good experience for gamer families.
Disney Infinity: On the plus side
Disney Infinity is about toys. That might seem like the most obvious thing to say since “Uncle Walt rather liked money”, but it’s absolutely core to the Disney Infinity experience, and the key difference between it and the competing figure-based suction hose on parental wallets, Skylanders. Skylanders is a video game that uses its toy figures to unlock DLC (it’s not really downloaded, but bear with me here) and act as extra lives in a pre-determined action fighter world.
Disney Infinity uses the same “place a toy on a special reader” mechanic, but there’s no buying extra figures for extra lives, and the focus isn’t strictly on videogame mechanics per se; instead it’s focused on what children do with toys — and that’s play.
Disney Infinity broadly breaks down into two sections. There’s the Play Sets — you get three in the starter pack representing Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates of The Caribbean — which are your more traditional “game” environments, with objectives, enemies and lots and lots of fetch quests to pad out the action. More mature gamers might find these bland, but in the kids and family markets, they’re very much par for the course, and well laid out for the most part.
Each Play Set will take you around 5-10 hours to complete depending on your attention to detail and the age of those you’re playing with, and at launch, two additional play sets for Cars and The Lone Ranger are available as paid extras. The Play Set experience is much like any other family-centric game; a dash of Skylanders there, a pinch of the Lego games here.
The quality of the execution varies a little (which I’ll get to shortly) but it’s generally good stuff, and it’s not as though the Mouse(™) is lacking in intellectual property to turn into new playsets down the track. My own kids are, as I write this, pestering me for a Phineas & Ferb playset that doesn’t even exist yet.
Yes folks, Disney well and truly understands the value of pester power.
Where Disney Infinity marks itself out is in the Toy Box mode, and it’s where the “Toy” aspect of the game really shines through. Toy Box is a blank slate that you can drop pre-determined elements into to “create” your own “games” to play with any of the Play figures you own.
Want a rowdy soccer game between Mr Incredible and Davy Jones? It’s on like Calamari, sucker! Want a simple cart racer, but with Violet racing against Mike Wazowski? Totally feasible. In fact, the first thing I built (and I’m still honing) was a racetrack game. As you play, you level up your characters, earning you new spins on a board that gives you new pieces to drop into play, and it’s possible to share your creations with other players (even across different console types, although not to the Wii or 3DS) or download some of Disney’s own creations.
The mission modes held my attention for a while, and those of my kids, but it was the prospect of making their own play experiences that really captivated them, which gets back once again to the simple truth that this isn’t a game about games — it’s a game about toys, and how to play with them.
I also love the fact that it includes female characters; my daughter isn’t quite as keen on video games as her younger brothers, but once she realised that Violet (from The Incredibles) was available as a figure, she knew exactly what she wanted to spend her pocket money on. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
Disney Infinity: On the minus side
Uncle Walt can’t stay frozen for free, folks. That’s the nice way of saying that Disney Infinity can be seriously expensive. In a sense the market’s been primed for this by Skylanders, which uses the same “content that’s already on the disc unlocked with a figure” mechanism to make its money, but the starter kit is only the beginning of Disney Infinity dipping into your wallet.
You get Sully, Mr Incredible and Captain Jack Sparrow in the box, and that’s enough to see through their playset adventures… on their own. Want a second character in there? That’ll be $17.95 for a single figure, or a three-pack for $34.95. The Cars and Lone Ranger play sets are a further $39.95, and even that’s not the most egregious financial assault. That would be the “power discs”, which give you a character benefit (circle discs) or unlock specific content (hex discs) within Toy Box mode. Two power discs will cost you $5.95, which seems cheap, except they’re sealed packs, and there’s no way of knowing what’s inside until after you buy.
Actually, it seems like there is one way, but you’d have to be lucky to find a store with a plugged in base; apparently the base will read the discs through the pack. Something tells me stores won’t be keeping too many bases near the discs once that becomes widely known, but I’ve little issue with mentioning it, because this is the one bit of Disney Infinity’s pricing scheme that really irks me.
Figure pricing I can deal with, because you know what you’re getting, and they’re mostly nicely sculpted figures anyway. As I type this, Syndrome is sitting on top of my monitor, keeping my other monitor adornments in line. But with the power discs, it’s a random lottery, and while Disney can talk about kids “swapping” discs with friends, to even get the 20 discs in wave one you’re up for a further $60 if you were fantastically lucky to get no doubles. Experimentally I bought two packs over the weekend, and I’m already up to one double! Anyone got a disc they’d care to swap for the Nemo terrain disc?
Toy Box is undeniably cool, but Disney’s not exactly giving away the keys to the Magic Kingdom(™) here either. Play through a playset world like Pirates, and you’re going to want to create a swashbuckling open world game… which you can’t quite do. That’s because what you’re making are play experiences with little in the way of actual rules.
It mimics the way kids play with actual toys (there’s that word again) in the real world, but that includes the limitations that if a player in a race wants to hop out of their car and just start shooting, there’s not much you can do about it; you’ve just got to trust in the goodwill of all those playing. You’ve also got to play a fair amount of the game to earn randomised spins on a board that unlocks further in-game content. I don’t mind the grinding so much as the random nature of the spins; it would be greatly preferable to earn an unlock and be able to decide that I want all the road parts, or all the princess parts, or whatever. Getting them randomly makes it tougher to create some concepts.
There are also intermittent bug issues. Loading one quick adventure for Davy Jones I was dropped in a field of nothing and couldn’t actually move… at all. That one took a restart, but smaller glitches aren’t uncommon, from jumping onto ledges that aren’t there to some redraw issues in both Toy Box and Play Set modes.
The quality of Play Set games varies a bit; I love the Pirates and Incredibles game, but the Monsters University game is comparatively very bland. You can’t drop characters into each other’s worlds, either. Also — and I’m just nitpicking here — Sully’s smoothed over fur is all wrong.
Disney Infinity: Pricing
Disney Infinity is available now for Xbox 360 (which is what I tested with), PS3 and Wii U with online features, and in somewhat cut down forms for 3DS and Wii. The starter pack has an RRP of $89.95, with Play Sets at $39.95, Triple Packs of characters at $34.95, individual characters at $17.95 and power disc boosters at $5.95.
Or in other words, like Skylanders, if you buy this for yourself or your kids, be prepared to spend.
Disney Infinity: Fat Duck verdict
Spending is not bad if you get value out of that spend, and there’s a lot to the Disney Infinity experience that can lead to good value. I’m still irksome about the power discs issue, because it’s such a blatant cash grab mechanism, but at least for now it’s largely cosmetic stuff that’s on offer, as well as some mild buffs. I’m willing to bet somewhere down the line, Disney releases a disc that absolutely enthralls me. I mean, they own Howard The Duck. The moment that hits store shelves, I will black out, and come to with it sitting in front of me, and the expense can be damned.
No game could really live up to the “Infinite Possibilities. Endless Fun” tag that Disney’s stuck on the game, but on its own merits it’s a great mix of family-centric gameplay and creative potential, set against the backdrop of some of Disney’s best-known IP. There’s little doubt that Disney will ride this particular horse hard — and with IP such as Star Wars and Marvel in the wings, there’s a lot of scope for them to do so — but at least it’s been done with a game that has mostly solid foundations.