For the past several years, Disney has struggled to assert its presence within the video game industry despite its status as one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious multi-media icons.
At the turn of the current console generation, the company upped its efforts to deliver completely original gaming experiences, releasing titles such as Spectrobes, Split/Second, and the vastly underrated Pure. Though well-received, none of them seemed to meet Disney’s expectations and from there things only got worse. The company was soon forced to shut down Black Rock Studio as well as Propaganda Games after it launched Tron: Evolution, a shame considering this also meant the cancellation of Pirates: Armada of the Damned.
Since then, Disney has completely refocused its efforts, leaning heavily on its vast gallery of existing IP while continually branching into the mobile/tablet sector. It seems to be a more effective strategy for the company, yet the quality of its licensed games (Cars 2, Brave, Tangled) has stagnated, with any glimmer of originality -Epic Mickey, for instance- failing to live up to expectations.
It’s taken some time but finally the entertainment giant has found its solution with Disney Infinity. Solving all of its problems in one fell swoop, this latest gaming innovation speaks to modern industry trends whilst presenting Disney with a platform to channel new and existing Disney franchises. It’s not completely original, however; much of its creative inspiration can no doubt be traced to LittleBigPlanet and other games that have a user-generated content (UGC) focus like Minecraft. Then there’s the inevitable comparison to Activision’s Skylanders, which we’ll address in a further article.
Disney Infinity is best described as an open-world adventure game. It’s not on the same scale as say, Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto, but is structured similarly, with exploration, collectables and bite-size missions being its three core features.
The game’s starter kit comes with everything you’ll need to get going, guaranteeing a good fifteen or so hours of gameplay without even touching Infinity’s expansive Toy Box mode. Aside from the game itself, the kit includes three figures, a USB peripheral, and a “Power Disc” loaded with three Playsets. These are basically self-contained games with their own, explorable open worlds, fitted with missions, objects, and NPCs all based on existing Disney franchises. With the starter kit you’ll be able to wreak havoc with Sully at Monsters University, save Metroville as Mr. Incredible, or take to the high seas as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Characters can be levelled up and, when in Toy Box mode, use a variety of Infinity's gadgets, weapons, and vehicles.
Taking a look at the three core Playsets, it’s clear that some are better fleshed out than others, though not by a huge margin. First up we have The Incredibles, based on Pixar’s sublime superhero flick that, believe it or not, is nearly a decade old. Set in the modernised city of Metroville, the Playset kicks off with wannabe hero-turned evil genuis, Syndrome, releasing three of the world’s most notorious villains.
As you attempt to recapture the trio, you’ll get to grips with The Incredibles’ strong melee focus which is accompanied by an assortment of helpful gadgets. At first you’ll only be able to explore one district of the city and have access to a few basic attacks as well as a car for quick transport. As you complete missions and amass coins, however, you’ll soon have access to the entirety of Metroville as well as a hoverboard, helicopter, and even a device capable of telekinesis. Enemies get harder, and combos slightly more complex.
The real downside to The Incredibles is just how limited the Playset is in comparison to the other two. Though fully explorable thanks to Infinity’s platforming and vehicles, Metroville is fairly one dimensional, the Playset often failing to embrace its superhero context.
Next we have Pirates of the Caribbean, which is more akin to the sort of standalone action game you usually come across. It still features an open world, though it is much more vast and perhaps not as concentrated. Here the game will prod you from one locale to the other as Jack and his crew go in search of the Kraken’s Bane. It’s your everyday treasure-hunting romp but one that will take you to some interesting places, including sunken ships, jungle ruins, and of course, the high seas.
Like The Incredibles, Pirates has a deep emphasis on melee combat, swapping fisticuffs for swords. You’ll also be free to carry a flintlock pistol or, later on, a blunderbuss and throwing bombs. What really sets it apart from the rest however is its use of rowing boats and pirate ships. The latter is particularly distinctive, presenting players with their own, fully-customisable galleon, fitted with a variety of cannons and attachments. Ships also offer a rare slice of co-op action, allowing one player to steer as the other fire off shots against incoming vessels.
Power Discs unlock new backgrounds, items, and buffs. They can be purchased separately in blind packs of two.
Also, instead of featuring melee combat, Monsters University prefers a more subtle approach, introducing a stealth mechanic used to creep up on unsuspecting Fear Tech students. This is eventually combined with third person shooting, though instead of flintlocks you’ll be carrying a paintball gun and toilet roll launcher. Transport is also scaled back slightly, swapping out cars and boats for bicycles and grinding rails which prove just as fast and useful.
No matter what you do in any of Infinity’s Playsets, it all feeds into something much larger called the Toy Box. Here, players can throw down an assortment of items they’ve unlocked to create whatever takes their fancy, whether it be a football stadium, race course, or platforming adventure. Disney Infinity has the tools to create some amazing content which can then be shared via the web, though these tools won’t be available from the off. Either individually or in sets, you’ll need to collect components from green capsule within Playsets or by spending spin tokens (you gain one each time you level up) in the game’s Vault.
It creates difficulty for those who just want to build and share, though encapsulates the feeling of a real toy box in which you can only use what you have collected. Creating levels and objects is fairly straightforward using an amalgam of building blocks and easy-to-use dynamic items. The in-game tutorials do a fine job of walking players through the basics though imagination and experimentation will be your two main tutors.
There are limitations however and, after ten or so minutes or messing around, it’s clear that the Toy Box is no way near as sophisticated as Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet. Objects come in prescribed shapes and sizes and cannot be shrunk or modified in terms of their base structure. The omission of a reverse button is also noticeable, especially if you happen to delete something of importance. Accompanied by a few other niggling issues and limitations, it can become a problem but only for those who aspire to create something very intricate. For kids, who the game is engineered towards, it’s simple and perfect for dipping in and out of, however.
Another key point that will deter prospective buyers is the need to purchase add-ons for Disney Infinity. If you want to play co-op, for example, that’s fine in the Toy Box but if you want to plunge into a Playset you will need two characters from that particular universe. Davy Jones can’t go swashbuckling in Metroville and the The Incredibles are barred from the MU campus.
Disney Infinity is largely a success and great fun for all ages. Though there’s the odd barrier here and there, the Toy Box is exactly what was promised and will only continue to grow bigger and bigger as Disney pump out more content. Playsets are also done well with plenty of content and re-playability, creating authentic characters and worlds that share the same vibrant palettes and robust design. Everything may feel slightly scaled back and simplified, yet its a solid mid-ground for younger and more mature gamers.
It’s not a game for the financially weary yet, unlike so many titles aimed at kids, gives them something they can come back to again and again. In this respect Disney Infinity could be described as more of an investment; with Playsets and additional character being cheaper than movie tie-ins and other action games, in the long run it could be a cost effective solution with an additional second wave of content already planned for the coming months.
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