Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, 3DS Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios..."/> Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, 3DS Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios..."/>

Disney Infinity Review – Bring Your Imagination… And Your Wallet


Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, 3DS
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: August 18, 2013

If it’s possible for an idea to be a risk and a no-brainer at the same time, it’s “Disney Infinity.” The gamble came from trusting relatively unheralded Disney subsidiary Avalanche Software with a reported nine-digit development budget. As for the no-brainer part, it’s worth noting that “Skylanders,” which certainly inspired “Infinity” with its action figures-meet-video games concept, has seen its toys outsell every other action figure line combined in 2013. Of course the whole thing doesn’t work if the game attached to the figures is no good, but “Disney Infinity” succeeds more often than it stumbles in its creative multi-mode play and canny combinations of multiple Disney properties.

For anyone who has somehow missed the massive marketing push behind “Disney Infinity,” here’s what you need to know to get started. The essential purchase is the Starter Pack, which contains the game disc and the Infinity Base that connects to your console of choice. It also comes with figures of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mr. Incredible, and Sulley, none of whom should need any introduction to Disney or Pixar fans.

Placing a figure on one of the two round slots on the Infinity Base allows you to control that character in the game. Just like the portal in “Skylanders,” characters can be swapped out simply by switching the figure, though the loading process each time you do it is a little longer than you’d expect. The remaining six-sided slot is for the transparent piece that contains the Play Sets that correspond to each figure.

Play Sets are essentially light RPGs for each property—and only that property, so you can’t bring Mr. Incredible into “Monsters University.” The developers promised (and apparently Disney and Pixar insisted), that the play style in each set matches its source material in tone and content. So while Captain Jack wields a sword and pistol in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Play Set, Sulley’s adventures on campus revolve around scaring people, toilet papering the Fear Tech campus, and other hijinks. But the common thread is that all of them involve completing quests, most of which are simple enough that even younger or more casual gamers can figure them out without too much trouble.

There’s also a lot of smashing inanimate objects, a la the “LEGO” console games, in order to get more sparks to help level up your characters. You’ll also find timed challenges with multiple difficulty settings, some of which can only be activated by specific characters. Some of the basic game mechanics, like the ability to grab onto glowing yellow platform edges or to jump onto and slide down rails, ropes or power lines, remain the same between sets, which is helpful.

Of the three Play Sets that come with the Starter Pack, the one that shines the brightest is “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Working in elements from several of the movies and even the theme park ride, it’s got swashbuckling missions on land, naval battles aboard a customizable ship, and a race against Davy Jones’ nautical henchmen to control the power of the Kraken. The “Monsters University” is a step down but still fun thanks to a storyline that explores the rivalry between MU and Fear Tech, and the “Cars” Play Set (sold separately with Lightning McQueen and Holly Shiftwell figures) is a good change of pace as you take on mostly racing-related tasks in and around Radiator Springs.

Surprisingly, it’s “The Incredibles” which turns out to be dull, despite being based on an action-packed movie. The heroes just don’t feel powerful or heroic enough, and the simplification of combat—Mr. Incredible only has two attack moves, for instance—really hamstrings their adventures. It’s the one set that could have benefited from being expanded into a more full-featured game instead of being merely a part of the overall “Disney Infinity” system.

There’s an important reason to play through all of the Play Sets at least once though, and that’s to unlock more items for use in the sandbox mode called the Toy Box. A Disney fanatic’s dream, Toy Box allows you to combine structures, items, characters and themes from the company’s movies, TV shows, and amusement parks and use them to build and then play in whatever you can dream up. It’s the mode that had the most gamers excited when it was announced, and it comes darn close to fulfilling all of its promise.

Everything from the terrain to the scenery is editable in the Toy Box, though doing so takes a little getting used to at first. The game recognizes the amount of space taken up by each object and prevents them from being placed in ways that allow them to overlap. Other than that, items can be rotated, moved, raised and lowered in three dimensions using the thumbstick and d-pad before being dropped in. The physics are impressive too. Drop in a giant ESPN baseball, for instance, and you’ll be suitably impressed the way you can roll it around.

Objects can also be given logic and linked to other items, like getting fans in a grandstand unit to cheer if you drive a vehicle across a finish line. Speaking of vehicles, it’s possible to import both ground and air types into Toy Box and cruise around. Weapons and other gear from the Play Sets are also accessible, and there are no restrictions on who uses what. If you want Sully to run around with Jack Sparrow’s sword and the Lone Ranger’s pistol, knock yourself out. But it’s the small touches that probably will tickle big Disney fans the most, stuff like the Autopia car playing the ride audio asking you to keep your hands and feet inside at all times when you first hop in.

Two players can play on one console in the Toy Box in split-screen fashion, and online multiplayer supports four players at once with everyone able to edit the world. Most of the fun is in free-form design and play, of course, but a villain generator can supply bad guys if you want a fight. My review world popped out playing cards from “Alice in Wonderland,” guards from “Aladdin,” and the robot from “The Incredibles,” just to name a few.

While it may seem like the only limit to Toy Box is your imagination, there’s actually a technical limit as well. Each object you place into your created world fills a little (or more than a little, if it’s a big piece like Pride Rock from “The Lion King”) bit of a meter on the left side of the screen. Once it’s full, the Toy Box is at capacity, and you’ll need to remove something before you add anything else—kind of like I’m supposed to be doing with my closet.

After tinkering with the Toy Box for an hour or two, you’re going to have a strong desire to have as many toys as possible at your disposal. Fortunately there are three ways to get more: unlocking them in the Play Sets, taking spins on a random toy wheel each time you level up a character, and using Power Discs. The last method is where the ingenious monetization of “Disney Infinity” takes hold, as they’re sold in blind-bagged packs. Sure, they’re only a few dollars a pack, but that can add up quickly when you’re also buying more figures or Play Sets. Items on Power Discs also don’t stay in the Toy Box memory, so you’ll have to put the disc on the Infinity Base every time you want to have those objects on hand.

The only real drawback to Toy Box is that its interface might be a little too complicated for the youngest end of the “Disney Infinity” demographic. My kindergartener and first-grader found it more difficult to modify the world than in “Minecraft,” for example, and needed some help to get things laid out the way they wanted. Reading skills are also important for the Play Set quests, as not all of the objectives are spelled out through the voice-acted dialogue.

Visually, everything in “Disney Infinity” is unified through an art style that tends to make everything a little softer and cartoony than it may have originally appeared. This has the most obvious impact on live-action characters, but it also affects more extreme animated types like Jack Skellington. Whether this is a big deal is a matter of personal preference, and it didn’t bother this reviewer. The figures look almost exactly like the characters do on screen, and they’re solidly built, feeling like they’d stand up to plenty of offline play.

With another wave of figures and Play Sets already announced for this fall, Disney is clearly feeling like this was $100 million well spent. The company’s ridiculously deep line of properties gives “Disney Infinity” a nearly endless supply of future additions, and if early reaction is any indication, plenty of people should be taking part in the cycle of buying and playing for quite some time. Maybe this was all no-brainer and no risk after all.


+ Offers great freedom to create and mash-up everything Disney in the Toy Box

+ Play Sets offer different gameplay styles in light RPGs for each property

– Can be an expensive proposition when buying figures and Power Discs

– Toy Box interface may be a bit too complex for younger gamers

Score: 9/10 for Toy Box, 8/10 for the Play Sets