The first impression that some on the periphery have of Disney Infinity is that it can easily be written off as a direct copy of the Skylanders blueprint. In truth, what we have here is an action-adventure game that uses real-world figures and implements them in the video game as playable characters, which is similar in formula to Skylanders, but that’s where the similarities both begin and end. Rather than thinking of it as ripping-off the Skylanders design, Disney Infinity should instead be considered as a new entry in this budding genre that combines physical toys with digital games. Nintendo, alongside developer Ambrella, is already delving into this new genre with the release of Pokémon Rumble U, and it could also be argued that games using AR technology, such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, are doing similar things as well. Suffice it to say, the popularity and demand for these types of games is definitely growing.
Jumping right in, the first thing that you’ll notice — after playing through the soul-filling, tear-jerking marvel that is the game’s introduction — is that gameplay is divided up into two sections: Play Sets and the Toy Box. Play Sets are the more structured style of play, placing you in an open world themed after one of several Disney universes. The Toy Box, on the other hand, is a completely unstructured world creation platform that allows you to build just about anything that you could ever dream up. Both portions of gameplay differ greatly from one another, but each creates an equally unique experience that shouldn’t be missed
The Infinity starter pack comes packaged with Play Sets from Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Incredibles. After selecting which universe you would like to play in, you then simply need to place your desired character on the included Infinity Base, and you’ll be dropped into an open world. Each Play Set contains its own plot that is conveyed through a series of story missions, but there are plenty of side missions to accept from needy citizens as well. Completing missions will earn currency that can be used to purchase items in the Play Sets that can then also be used in the Toy Box. Not unlike the popular LEGO series, the difficulty is set relatively low, and death has no tangible consequences, but it’s still fun to charge through the Play Sets and experience the worlds contained within.
Unfortunately, characters can only exist within their own universes, so you won’t be able to fight in the Pirates universe as Mr. Incredible, but that potential variety does become available when you eventually switch over to playing in the Toy Box. Play Sets also support local multiplayer, allowing for split screen action between you and a friend, but again, you will need to invest in at least one other figure from the corresponding universe if you want to play cooperatively. Despite their open world nature, each of the included Play Sets only take around seven hours or so to see and complete everything, but — at the time of writing — there are additional Play Sets featuring The Lone Ranger and Cars universes available at retail. The existence of these additional Play Sets points to the potential for unlimited expansion of the core game, very similarly to how downloadable content works with other retail titles.
As a fairly straightforward action-adventure game within the Play Sets, the controls here are kept relatively simple, but they’re not without their confusions. Controlling your character follows the standard formula of left stick to move and lettered buttons to jump and attack, but selecting objects and performing other tasks can be cumbersome. Rather than assigning one button to regularly take care of special actions, the game jumps between pressing X, Y, and A in a seemingly random pattern. The same action is always performed using the same button, but you’ll never know what button you’re supposed to press until the game explicitly tells you to do so. It’s a strange and flawed design, but once you’ve invested some time into the game, you will begin to grow accustomed to its quirks. Inconsistencies aside, the controls are tight, allowing for quick maneuvers and precision platforming when called for. You also have the option of playing the entire game off-screen on the Wii U GamePad.
Unlike the various Play Sets, Toy Box mode leaves the structured mission-based play style behind to opt for an open world creative platform. Whether your goal in life is to build and jump off of the tallest tower in the world, or if you want simply want to build a racetrack on which you can outpace all of your friends, the Toy Box allows you to make it happen. Playing through the Play Sets and earning money allows you to purchase and unlock new assets to use in the Toy Box, but then it’s completely up to you to choose what you do with them. Want to build a complex hedge maze riddled with traps? Go ahead. You’d rather build an arena and fight baddies in it Thunderdome style? That’s fine too. Whatever you can accomplish in the Toy Box is limited only by your imagination. If you’re not one for building, you also have the option of downloading previously built Toy Boxes from Disney’s server, so there’s definitely something for everyone; there’s always the promise of plenty more to come. The Toy Box also supports multiplayer exploration, allowing up to four people to join and play simultaneously online.
While most of the Disney assets become available to you through unlocking, there are certain items and effects that are only available through the use of Power Discs. These discs, when placed on the Infinity Base, give your characters special abilities such as extra strength or health, but there are also some that instead place new items or themes into your Toy Box. Collecting all of these Discs can lead to some new and interesting creative possibilities, but they are also optional purchases and completely unnecessary towards getting the most out of this game.
Standing right beside all of the great things that the Toy Box is capable of, there is also the plain fact that the system is a bit confusing at first. Not unlike the finicky controls, the Toy Box can take a while to grasp, but once you’ve got the system down it’s all smooth sailing. Exclusive to the Wii U version of Infinity, too, are the GamePad’s touchscreen controls, which are implemented intuitively into the Toy Box. Rather than having to constantly open and close menus in search of the right piece of landscape or character that you want to place in your world, the GamePad’s touchscreen allows you to access all of your assets right in your hands, never detracting from what you’ve already built on screen. This system makes for effortless switching between objects, something that is a refreshing feature when considering the complexity of some Toy Box creations.
Disney Infinity may not be the most detailed looking or graphically taxing game that we’ve ever seen, but creating a realistic and gritty game based on the Disney universe would sort of be missing the point. All of the environments here are colourful and brimming with variety, just as you would expect to see in a Disney or Pixar film. The character models are more on the cartoony end of the spectrum, fashioned to look exactly as they do in their physical figure counterparts. Keep in mind that everything in-game is supposed to be a toy, so they are designed to look the part. There are some slight graphical hiccups, such as characters getting stuck in walls or the occasional choppy animation, but this occurs no more often than one might see or expect from any other open world game. It’s admittedly tiresome to see games in which these fallacies still appear, but it doesn’t occur to the point of ruining the overall experience. There are some more grating technical flaws, such as long load times and a sometimes-wily camera, but if you’re able to overlook the occasional hitch then the complaints are mostly grasping at straws.
The soundtrack here is on par with the Disney standard, featuring music and effects from the films being represented. Characters are fully voice acted during cinematic scenes, and they even shout out some classic dialogue during gameplay. The majority of NPCs are also voice acted, giving detailed instructions on tasks that they request of you, further deepening the rabbit hole of quality that was put into making the fictional universes come to life.
Getting the most out of Disney Infinity is both an investment of time and money. Between collecting Play Sets, character figurines, and Power Discs, it can indeed be an expensive venture, but it’s also an investment that has the potential to pay off in a huge way. It’s not a perfect game with its occasionally flaky controls, long load times and low difficulty level, but it more than makes up for these flaws with its fun and engaging gameplay. Whether you’re more interested in the structured style of the Play Sets or the unhinged nature of the Toy Box, this game absolutely contains a little bit of something for everyone.
From what we’ve seen so far, Disney Infinity intends to live up to its name, constantly expanding its universe through the release of new figures and Play Sets, but only time will tell how long the trend will last. For our money, we hope that the franchise continues thriving for years to come.