Review: “Disney Infinity” brings out the kid in all, combining creativity, collectibles, and cartoon chaos across wildly fun gameplay

in Disney, Entertainment, Merchandise

Since its announcement eight months ago, Disney Infinity has captured the attention of Disney fans worldwide, eager to see what fun could be had by combining characters from across classic animated and live action films into one giant video game universe. And with its recent release, there’s much to be excited about with seemingly endless possibilities in this open world adventure that’s only just beginning.

The concept of play isn’t foreign to anyone. Children can find enjoyment in almost any toy, given the right amount of imagination. Disney Infinity encourages exactly that type of experience, largely doing away with linear storytelling in favor of letting gamers simply have fun with a few favorite faces. Whether it’s playing “Pirates of the Caribbean” with Jack Sparrow or defeating “The Incredibles” bad guys using the superpowers of the entire Parr family, there are few limits to be found while exploring the virtual reaches of this game.

Disney Interactive created the unlimited possibilities of the game’s open-ended Toy Box mode, allowing players to unlock thousands of characters, costumes, vehicles, and building blocks and combine them with a bit of inventive logic to create just about anything – from a go-kart track to a wacky roller coaster to a super-sized basketball court to a castle in the sky. This mode is my favorite, removing almost any restriction that other games hold over their players, allowing me to simply let my brain go wild with rule-free fun.

My first time hopping online in Toy Box mode with two friends resulted in connecting the Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds roller coaster to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, alongside an ESPN-themed castle-turned-sports arena, next to a series of targets that each played a different classic Disney song, across from the Cozy Cone Motel, and nearby a teleporter connected to a floating series of platforms. The point? None whatsoever. But it was a whole lot of fun to assemble these bizarre concepts and simply play around with them. In the end, all our “work” was deleted, as if putting away the toys to play another day. There was no goal other than to just share a few laughs as we chased each other around, one in a Dumbo ride vehicle, another in Cinderella’s carriage, each firing rockets while avoiding falling canon balls. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not supposed to. In this way, Disney Infinity is the purest form of fun.

But those looking for a bit more structure will still find it in the game’s Play Sets – the other half o Disney Infinity. Out of the box, Disney Infinity comes with three play sets based on three successful Disney film franchises: Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Incredibles. Two others are available, The Lone Ranger and Cars, with each of the five featuring its own unique characters and style of gameplay across sets of mini-missions.

Monsters U allows players to sneak around campus, scaring rival Fear Tech students and going crazy on sorority row. Pirates of the Caribbean offers more traditional hack-and-slash gameplay with the extra fun perk of helming a pirate ship amidst all the swashbuckling and sword fighting. The Incredibles takes the game to new heights, sprawling across and urban expanse, utilizing superpowers to defeat evil robots sent by villain Syndrome. The Lone Ranger brings out the wild west with customizable trains, galloping horses, and plenty of gun slinging. And Cars turns Disney Infinity into an animated racing game, with opportunities to win challenges and leave opponents in the dust of Radiator Springs.

The missions of each can range from a quick 30 seconds to 5-10 minutes, depending on the complexity of the task. Whether toilet papering Fear Tech trees or saving a burning saloon, play sets offer enough variety to keep them interesting without ever being bogged down by too much story.

Between these two gameplay modes, there is enough variety to keep any type of gamer entertained, as long as they’re willing to suspend the usual linear path that so many games take. The fun of Disney Infinity is found in hopping around between experiences, accomplished easily by the real-world items required to play.

Character figures and play set pieces are purchased and placed atop the included Disney Infinity base to activate them in the game. It’s a mechanic first made famous by Activision’s Skylanders series, but now enhanced with Disney’s library of characters spanning decades. Also adding in power discs as power-ups, there’s a world of collecting unlocked in conjunction with on-screen gameplay. Disney Infinity’s detailed stylized vinyl figures would look great on a shelf on their own, even if there was no video game component to them.

But with all of Disney Infinity’s pluses, there are a few flaws. On launch day, bugs plagued the Playstation 3 version causing lockups that have since been fixed. But beyond opening day jitters, the game doesn’t always make sense. There is so much to understand, particularly in Toy Box mode, that even the included tutorials don’t explain it all. It can be frustrating to know what you want to build but not know how the tools work to build it – or if they even exist. There is an element of exploration and invention to the game, allowing players to learn as they go, but that learning curve is rather steep.

Sadly most (if not all) of the voice acting of these many famous characters is not performed by the original actors. Johnny Depp is definitely not Jack Sparrow or Tonto, Sulley sounds nothing like John Goodman, and Lightning McQueen only slightly sounds like Owen Wilson. They’re close, but not good enough.

Another frustration occurs during 2-player local co-op mode in play sets. When teaming up to complete a play set, only player 1 receives the credit and thus only that player’s Toy Box gets filled with all the goodies earned during the session, while the second player only gets the satisfaction of helping a friend. If that second player also wants the same items in his or her Toy Box, they must replay the play set while signed in as first player.

And there’s the large cost to get the most out of the game. Having a variety of characters and play sets adds tremendously to the fun of Disney Infinity, but to do so requires somewhere in the range of $200 to purchase everything – for now. When even more characters and play sets come out, those will have to be bought as well to play in those worlds, despite the fact that all of the data already exists on the disc. (And then there are accessories to hold all the figures, base, and power discs…) It’s a lot of money for a single game, though there is the collectible factor figured in as well.

Despite these somewhat nit-picky flaws, the gamer in me is having a blast exploring the possibilities of this truly infinite virtual experience and the Disney collector in me is excited to get my hands on future figure releases like Jack Skellington, Anna, Elsa, and Rapunzel. Disney Infinity succeeds at creating a game that’s simply fun to play and does so on many levels, providing a richer experience than most titles that are played through once and put away forever. I will be playing Disney Infinity for many months to come, excited with each new release of a play set and figure to add to the ever-growing collection.

Disney Infinity is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Wii.

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