Disney Infinity is back on Wii U with Marvel toys and adventures, expanded upgrades and harder difficulty levels. Less positively, Disney Infinity 2.0 drops Wii support and forces existing players to purchase another Starter Pack to access new Play Sets. The big ticket this year are the three headline Marvel adventures for The Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a foot in the door for the possibility of more comic adventures yet to be announced.

As is now familiar, toy figures are used to access in-game characters and save progress and upgrade choices. The Starter Pack comes with The Avengers Play Set campaign and two figures, but you need to buy more toys to access the Spider-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy content on the disc. It also includes two Toy Box mini-games that provide a tower defence and dungeon crawler experience. With 21 Marvel characters to collect, the total cost of accessing everything on the disc is considerable. Provided families see this as a collectable toy-line as well as a video-game, this should not come as a shock.

Either way, to get good value from your initial investment you need to make use of the game creation Toy Box mode, as well as using the figures themselves as play-things (or collectors items to adorn your shelves). The adventures last around six hours apiece with additional time required to collect all the items and complete all the side quests. Each Play Set has its own story, but are largely similar in terms of form and progression. Things follow the tried-and-tested LEGO video-game blueprint of puzzles, platforming, brawling and fetch quests, although it should be said that in many ways it is better executed here. Sadly lacking though is the level of variety introduced by the Pirates of the Caribbean high seas action in the first game.

That aside, the adventures and character development are much improved. A substantial new upgrade tree creates a more meaningful connection between player and character — and toy. With limited resources you have to choose particular upgrade paths that shape how your particular hero develops. It’s a simple change, but one that makes a big difference. Along with this comes more meaningful video-game death. If a character dies in the game you can no longer use them to progress for a good five minutes. Unlike the first game, where you could jump straight back in, this creates a more substantial challenge for experienced players while running the risk of frustrating youngsters who don’t knock the difficulty level down a peg or two.

Each of the Play Set adventures provides an impressive (and expanded) open world to explore. This inviting playground not only adds to the overall duration of the game but encourages players to invent their own fun — either working together to progress or getting in each other’s way. This fun, flexible side of Disney Infinity 2.0 is still its biggest strength. You may find that younger players spend as long playing their own invented games around the city — such as hide and seek, fighting and enemy killing competitions — as they do with the campaign proper.

This is no accident and naturally leads players to investigate the Toy Box mode. Here you can create your own challenges for friends and families to play. As well as construct levels you can add interactive elements that keep track of progress or crate puzzles to solve. It takes some time to achieve but the results are very impressive. You can also share these creations online as well as sample the best that other players have created. In the Toy Box, unlike the Play Set adventures, you can use any of your Disney Infinity characters. Owning a good set of characters from the first game adds to this value, not only in terms of variety but also because you can now upgrade them via the new ability tree system.

While the Wii U controls don’t differ much elsewhere, in Toy Box mode it felt considerably more flexible being able to have a second screen to select and manipulate objects. These aren't as fully featured as they might be but certainly some thought has gone into supporting the Wii U’s unique features. It's just a shame that elsewhere in the game, the menus displayed on the GamePad look so shoddy — it's almost as if they're unfinished place holders. You can also play Disney Infinity 2.0 with the TV off by using the GamePad screen. This is the same as last year but is a nice feature to include for families who may compete for screen time on the family television.

The biggest enhancement to the Toy Box mode are the additions of Interiors and automated builder characters. The former enables you to create explorable buildings as part of your games, while the latter quickly generates all manner of game elements without all the donkey work. Drop a treehouse builder on the map and watch as a fairytale treehouse grows in front of your eyes.

Power Discs also make a return this year. These are the plastic discs — purchased in foil “blind packs” — that offer temporary buffs and upgrades when stacked under figures on the Infinity Base. New in 2.0 are the Team-Up discs that bring in additional Marvel characters to fight long side you. Also new are the Outfit discs that render characters in special outfits with particular abilities.

The weakest aspect of Disney Infinity 2.0 is that you can’t use your 1.0 Play Set campaigns in the new game. Naturally, you also can’t use the new 2.0 Play Sets in the original game. Claims that Disney Infinity was offering an expandable platform haven’t yet rung true; in an age of downloadable digital content, Infinity remains strangely tied to owning particular game discs. We have been promised a downloadable upgrade for owners of the first game to give them access to the Toy Box 2.0 features, but it seems this won’t support the Play Set adventures themselves. This means that families will have to buy a Starter Pack again with another Infinity Base peripheral they already own if they want to access the new Marvel adventures.

Perhaps sensibly, after the less functional Wii version of the original, Disney Infinity 2.0 isn't available on the Wii. Wii owners who have the first game can download a 2.0 Toy Box game on the Wii U and then re-use their Infinity Base. Still, this doesn't grant access to the new Play Sets.

To linger too long on these negatives, however warranted, is to miss the joy and creativity on offer here. The Wii U version of Disney Infinity 2.0 not only looks great but plays well — baring slightly slow load times. It offers a fresh take on the toy-video-game genre and extends the experience in meaningful ways with the Toy Box and Play Set enhancements. Although Marvel is the main thread this year on Disney Infinity there are also some new Disney Original characters coming, and a Disney Originals starter pack. This focuses on the Toy Box game creation side of things and doesn't come with a Play Set.

Conclusion

On balance the Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes The Avengers Starter Pack — to give it its full name — offers a lot of value on its own. Providing families understand that the additional toys are optional extras rather than necessities they should be able to resist over-spending at super market checkouts. The improved upgrades, enhanced Toy Box experience and Marvel franchise make this year’s game an enticing proposition. Provided parents are willing to say “no” now and again to children’s pestering for more figures, it also offers good value on the Wii U.