Disney Infinity Review
It was only a matter of time until another publisher attempted to replicate the success Activision had found with its Skylanders series. Combining toys with video games seemed like a no-brainer solution to easy sales, but it wasn't until Disney Infinity arrived that another company dared brave the waters occupied by Activision. With Disney Infinity comes a wealth of instantly recognizable characters and franchises that have been deserving a proper video game for quite some time. The development arm of the company hasn't had much luck in recent years, but Disney Infinity's flexibility and collectibility could help turn things around. That is, if Disney Infinity is any good.
For the uninitiated, Disney Infinity uses an included peripheral to create the game world and inject playable characters into said game. Out of the box, you'll have playsets based on Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters University and the Incredibles to play with characters like Jack Sparrow, Sulley and Mr. Incredible. Overall, Disney Infinity plays like a 3D action-platformer, with fully explorable worlds inhabited by familiar faces and locales. That said, each universe plays a bit differently. The Incredibles missions are all about beating up villains and stopping Syndrome, while Monsters University is about beating Fear Tech in the Scare Games by pranking the rival school's students.
There's definitely a different vibe between every playset, even if the same basic rules apply to each one. There are overall story missions to complete, with some random side objectives to finish off in every playset as well. You'll also find some optional timed challenges and races in each playset. Finishing these tasks will earn you sparks, which help level your character up, and tokens to buy more custom objects like vehicles and weapons to use within that playset. Like Skylanders, your progress with a given character is saved to that figure. That way, whatever progress you have with Mr. Incredible in his playset will carry over when you start goofing around in the Toy Box, Disney Infinity's do-it-yourself creation mode. But we'll cover that in a moment.
While Disney Infinity does ship with three characters right in the box, you won't be able to enjoy any of the multiplayer in a playset without purchasing at least one additional figure from any of the three films. Only characters from a specific movie or franchise can interact with others within that playset. As such, Sulley can't hang out with the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean when completing that playset's story, but you can add Mike or Randall into the Monsters U mix. Right now, the Incredibles has the most additional figures to choose from, though each of the starter pack playsets has more than one character you can choose to add to your collection. There are also separate playsets available for Cars 2 and The Lone Ranger, which include two figures each and a world based on that film. Each playset takes about four hours to finish, though you can revisit these places time and again to collect more sparks and tokens.
Still, adding a second person to the mix is as easy as placing another figure on the base. Disney Infinity also allows you to drop in or drop out with any character you want merely by replacing them on the included peripheral. The figures still have to be from the same universe, but if you get tired of playing with Sulley, you can switch to Mike or Randall whenever you feel like. Also, if you're gallivanting around as Jack Sparrow, a friend can plunk down Davy Jones on the pad to enter the game instantly. However, the second player can only level up and help earn you spins. All progress made in Infinity is tied to the primary player's save.
Like LittleBigPlanet, a large part of the potential of Disney Infinity lies within the user. With Toy Box mode, you are limited only by your creativity in the types of levels you can create. At least, in theory. When you first get the game, you'll also be limited by what you can do by the lack of available creation tools at your disposal. Items for the Toy Box are unlocked in a rather bizarre manner. When you level up a character at any point in the game, you earn a spin in the Vault. In the Vault, there are 16 items up for grabs at any time, and when you spin, one is randomly awarded to you for use in the Toy Box. There are hundreds upon hundreds of items in the Vault to unlock. If you manage to get a character up to level 10 by the end of a playset, you haven't even earned enough spins to clear one screen of unlockables.
It can be a bit daunting when faced with such terrible odds, but there are other ways to earn spins in Disney Infinity. Completing Adventures, which are short games (races, paintball fights), in the Toy Box built around specific characters and playsets, but playable by any and all figures, earns you more spins. There are also spins hidden around the Toy Box worlds pre-made specifically to show off what's possible. Still though, you're left with a lot of grinding to do for very little reward. It's a shame people interested in Disney Infinity for the creation aspects will have to jump through so many hoops before they can start crafting their own levels. If unlocking wasn't so random, and you could pick and choose what you wanted as you went along, it might not be so bad. However, that's just not the way Infinity has been designed, and the Toy Box suffers a bit as a result.
That said, it's incredibly easy to craft worlds in the Toy Box once you've gotten enough items. The few tutorials offered give you a good sense of how to get things done, and it takes just a few button presses to get going. Though you can't share or download any user-created stages, you can play online with a few other friends. Have an idea for a great racing stage? Start building it with your buddies, and get their input immediately as you build it. Unless of course, they throw a few monkeys in the wrench by adding bumpers and traps to completely derail your progress, albeit hilariously. Obviously, you can get really creative and complex if you want, and despite how frustrating the unlocking process can be, making things in the Toy Box is still fun.
Even though the actual figures have very little impact on the gameplay, outside of offering you a new character to play with, they're a big part of Disney Infinity's appeal. Each has been stylized to fit in with the game's design, which borrows heavily from Pixar Studio's sensibilities. The Incredibles are all posed for action, and look fabulous. Mike and Sulley from Monsters University appear a bit more friendly and jovial. The Pirates all have a sense of adventure. These figures have personality, and the sculptors have done a nice job characterizing each one with just a few nuances. The idea is to get you to buy more to fill out your collection, and the visual appeal would have you picking these toys up already just to have on your desk, let alone for the added benefit of their use in Disney Infinity. Not buying these figures is going to be a problem for a lot of collectors.
Disney Infinity could have skated by on the faces and franchises the studio has carefully cultivated over the decades. Lucky for all of us, there's actually an enjoyable game inside. Though Toy Box doesn't quite meet its potential, it's still reasonably fun if you can deal with a hefty amount of grinding. The playsets where the core game lies are fun to play, and that's really where the meat of the success needed to be for Disney Infinity to work. With more playsets due to drop sporadically throughout the year, there's no shortage of fun to be had with Disney Infinity. Now if you'll excuse us, we've got to clear some shelf space for all the figures we're inevitably going to be picking up.
This review was based on a publisher supplied copy of Disney Infinity for the Xbox 360. Disney also provided additional figures and playsets for this review.