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To be completely fair and totally honest, these are not our first impressions of Disney Infinity for the Wii U. Our first impressions came to mind long before we had a chance to play the game, and they were assuredly similar, if not identical, to most people’s thoughts. Our first impressions of Disney Infinity were something along the lines of “this is a brazen Skylanders clone,” and while it would be a lie to say that our initial assessment was completely off, now we’ve actually been able to see what this game can do.

To say that Disney Infinity is a big game would be a phenomenal understatement. Saying that it is one of the most expansive and far-reaching games that we have ever had the pleasure of experiencing still doesn’t quite capture the feeling, but it’s getting close.

At a glance, and then even after experiencing the core gameplay, it’s obvious that this title draws influence from the Skylanders series, but that’s akin to saying that any modern turn-based RPG draws influence from the Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior series. For those readers unfamiliar with what the hoopla is all about, Skylanders is a third-person adventure game that uses a peripheral “portal” device on which players can place physical character figures and then use those characters in the game. Disney Infinity follows the same formula, but all of its playable characters are from the expanded Disney universe, ranging from Monsters, Inc.’s Sulley to Tonto from Disney’s recent live-action venture The Lone Ranger. Sure, Skylanders may have come first, but Disney Infinity has taken the groundwork that it laid out and is building upon it in huge ways.

The core gameplay is a by-the-numbers action adventure that puts you in control of Disney characters in a variety of situations modeled after the company’s iconic properties. The game controls simply and smoothly, just as one might expect from this type of 3D platformer. Switching between characters is seamless and can be done easily by swapping out character figures on the Infinity Base while still in game. The character figures can be used with any version of the game regardless of console, so there’s no need to repurchase characters that you want to play on different consoles. There is also co-op play available for the campaign missions, assuming you have two character figures from the corresponding universe.

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Beyond the campaign is Toy Box mode. This is where the game is really, truly something special. Those of you who played Toy Story 3 may remember the fantastic Toy Box mode in which players had creative control on who and what appeared around your customizable space. Disney Infinity builds off of that same model, expanding it in mammoth directions. Players now have full customization over their Toy Box, taking a page from the book of Minecraft. Not only are there more customization options in this new version, but you are now able to build upward and outward to great distances. Co-op is also available in this mode, allowing up to four online players to work with – or against – each other to build or destroy your personal universe.

Once you’ve crafted something in your Toy Box that you’d like to share, you can then upload it online and give the world access to your creation. But it doesn’t end there. Using a sprinkle of Disney magic, it has been made possible to share your creations cross-platform. In case you missed that, not only are you able to bring your figures with you and play as your favourite characters on a different console, but you can actually play in what is essentially your own sandbox on a PS3, Xbox 360, or PC hardware instead, assuming you’ve uploaded it online. Due to gameplay differences, this option is unfortunately missing from the 3DS version, but no matter what way you look at it, cross-platform user created DLC is still an incredible accomplishment.

Disney Infinity is a good looking game, but its cartoony art style doesn’t exactly lend itself to impressive visuals. The characters are all smoothly animated and look as thought they fit naturally in their environments – even when they’re out of their own universe – and the settings are vibrant and full of life. We did experience some dull environmental textures that looked far less than perfect, so we’re definitely hoping that these get smoothed out in time for the final release.

From our limited time with the game, it’s easy to tell that Disney Infinity is so much more than a Skylanders clone. There are obvious similarities between the two games, but this one goes off in a direction entirely its own, creating a clear difference between the two franchises that is absolutely worth exploring.

As a closing thought, it’s worth keeping in mind that Disney also owns Star Wars, Marvel, and ESPN. And while these franchises are not represented in Disney Infinity at this time, the hint of their future inclusion is always lingering.