There are a great many things to say about Disney Infinity, some celebratory, some not so, but one thing’s for certain: it’s the most authentic Disney game ever made. It captures the company’s keen balance of the imaginative and the formulaic; its sense of inclusiveness and rapacious commercialism; its blend of immersion and artifice. It’s a game that many, if not most, children will be enthralled by and will want to spend hours tinkering with – and many, if not most, parents will begin to hate its money-spinning pulls.
Like Disney, it stretches to encompass the multitude of properties it holds, both live action and animated, featuring hundreds of artefacts, settings and styles from all of Disney’s history – from Snow White and Fantasia to Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Finding Nemo and countless others. And, like Disney, it remains internally coherent even while sprawling with various modes and settings that compete for attention. Sadly, they’re let down by a convoluted menu system that’s overly complicated for its target market, with a mess of jargony names that it’s a struggle to remember the function of, such as Adventures, Mastery Adventures and Prebuilt Toy Box Worlds.
Essentially, however, Infinity consists of two elements: Toy Box and Play Sets. The latter are themed adventures for players to embark on, either alone, with a splitscreen partner or up to three others online. To play, you place a special plastic cube on the Base. The Starter Pack’s three – Monsters University, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Incredibles – come on a single cube, while the separate Lone Ranger set has its own. You also need to place a matching Infinity character figurine on the base; just as in Activision’s Skylanders, the figurine stores a record of its XP level and the tools you’ve earned so you can use it on a friend’s console.
The adventures themselves are essentially thirdperson 3D platformers, but they’re carefully distinct from each other in tone and play and are far more than just ripoffs of Skylanders’ hack-and-bash action. They’re a direct evolution from developer Avalanche’s own Toy Story 3, which gave players a large free-roaming environment peppered with missions to play. Infinity is infused with Toy Story 3’s style, from the way buildings, objects and playthings can be placed in the world to editing the appearance of buildings and the little people that bob happily around them. The characters are controlled in the same manner too – they can pick up and throw players and objects, use vehicles, and are equipped with a handy double jump.
The Incredibles is the most straightforward Play Set. Syndrome, the film’s antagonist, is on the rampage, and you must reestablish the heroes’ secret base and fight crime in an open city that grows as your progress opens bridges to new islands. As you play, your character earns XP and money that you can spend on unlocking buildings and abilities such as the Glide Pack, which allows you to glide around the city. Crucially, they’re also unlocked in Infinity’s Toy Box, along with many incidental items scattered around in red and green toy capsules. The missions are somewhat repetitive, however. Avalanche has only found so many things for its superheroes to do – mostly punching things or throwing criminals into a paddy wagon. At least battling is effective, its child-friendly simplicity spanning a three-hit combo, dodge and a charge move.
The repetitiveness underscores Monsters University’s collection missions, too, although the focus here is on sneaking rather than combat. It’s prank season between rival colleges Monsters University and Fear Tech, and MU is trailing badly, the trees in its quadrangles festooned with toilet paper. The missions are a mixture of clean up and subterfuge, and your tools are a toilet-paper launcher and the Monsters University characters’ unique scare moves. With death off the menu, the main challenge is in sneaking to locations without enemies throwing you back.
Pirates Of The Caribbean is the Starter Pack’s finest Set, somehow squeezing ocean voyaging into Infinity’s core mission template of platforming and combat. Sailing between islands on the high seas feels appropriately swashbuckling, and even a little like Wind Waker as you stop off at incidental atolls and indulge in ship-to-ship combat that’s more immediate and fun than Assassin’s Creed III’s. If the four or so hours Pirates takes to complete (with plenty of scope for extra exploration on top) were extended, it’d easily be worthy of a standalone release.
Ultimately, the Play Sets are jumping-off points for the Toy Box mode, which is where Infinity begins to live up to its name. Toy Box starts with you standing on a block hanging in space; to extend it, you simply add another. Its enormous palette of shapes and editing interface lack the intuitive flexibility of Minecraft’s blocks, but Toy Box’s more prebuilt nature supports all kinds of informal play. There are racetrack sets and spinning platforms to challenge friends with, AI enemies for impromptu battles, and castles, mountains and wrecked ships for scrambling. Adults may be frustrated that items are only gradually unlocked with Spin Tokens, won by levelling up characters or achieving challenges, but for kids it provides a benevolent canvas.
The Starter Pack will provide involving and creative play over tens of hours, but where it goes next is another matter; very little content is gated by not owning specific characters, but Infinity always reminds you of what you don’t have. Like a trip to Disney World, you’ll always feel you could be doing more. But then that’s also a mark of Infinity’s success: it’s a Disney game that finally lives up to the name.
Disney Infinity is out now on 360, 3DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Wii U. PS3 version tested.