Disney Infinity is a free roaming, toy-based video game that allows players to explore the Disney universe with their favorite characters. This review of Disney Infinity covers the Starter Pack, which is available for the Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii U. The starter pack costs $75, with additional character toys, power discs, and play packs costing around $10 to $35. Disney Infinity is unquestionably Disney’s biggest video game franchise to date, and the company has invested significantly into the promotional push to get people excited about the game.
The stakes are high: success could dethrone Skylanders, Activision’s $1.5 billion franchise, as the leader in this genre. Failure could be yet another black eye for Disney Interactive, one of Disney’s few underperforming business units that has hemorrhaged hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. I’ll be honest, before seeing and hearing more about it at the Disney D23 Expo, I was not at all enthusiastic for Disney Infinity. That piqued my curiosity, but I still doubted its gameplay. It seemed like something geared towards collectors and kids as a way to sell toys; I figured the game probably wouldn’t have a whole lot of substance or merit. In order for it to be a success, both the toys and the gameplay needed to be solid.
Before digging into whether Disney Infinity accomplishes that, I’ll start by addressing Skylanders. I’ve heard a lot of people call Disney Infinity a “Skylanders rip-off.” There’s little doubt that the folks at Disney Interactive saw the success of Skylanders, looked at Disney’s vast library of intellectual property, and thought maybe Disney could do something in the style of Skylanders. Who cares? It’s not like we look at the first film in a genre as the only legitimate entry into the film canon. It’s not as if the zombie genre died after Night of the Living Dead. It’s not like medical dramas became off limits after Dr. Kildare. The point is that Skylanders established a new type of gaming, and Disney Infinity probably won’t be the last game of the sort to follow in its footsteps. Disney can combine the characters of just about anyone’s childhood (try to find a person alive today that didn’t grow up on Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney animation…or The Lone Ranger for the older folks) with creative tools to let them play and build in those environments, giving Disney’s entry into this type of gaming a lot of appeal.
The only thing I care about is whether Disney Infinity is a good game or a bland cash grab?
I’m happy to say that it’s most definitely a good game. A shockingly good game, especially for the much-maligned Disney Interactive. It has an absurd amount of depth, few control/camera problems, and is a game that is not just enjoyable, but actually a positive experience for kids and adults alike.
For those unfamiliar with it, Disney Infinity is split into two types of gaming options: Play Set, the story mode that’s specific to distinct Disney franchises and characters, and Toy Box, which is basically a free-for-all as gamers can create own open-world arenas using just about every ‘toy’ and ‘accessory’ in the Disney universe–at least the ones players have access to.
The Starter Pack contains Play Sets for Incredibles, Monsters University, and Pirates. Although the Toy Box is where players will be able to unleash they’re creativity, I’d recommend starting with the Play Sets. As tasks are completed in the Play Sets, items are unlocked in the Toy Box. Thus, finishing each Play Set starts you out with more variety of materials to use when building in the Toy Box.
Each of these Play Set missions is a fun, with missions that ramp up in complexity as gamers continue within them. While not as vast as individual, stand-alone games, the environments in these Play Sets are more thought out than I expected, and appear to be extensions of their films, rather than simple video game recreations. (At least in the case of Pirates and Monsters University…it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Incredibles). My favorite of these was the Pirates one, for its sheer variety, and because playing as a pirate appeals the most to me. Kudos to Disney Infinity here for allowing players to simultaneously juggle multiple mission assignments from the characters in a particular Play Set; this prevented them from ever becoming a tedious cycle of ‘collect this, return, repeat’ as is so often the case with games geared at kids. Another plus is that these initial three sets vary substantially from one another–Monsters University is not just a reskinned version of Pirates–not even close. It will be interesting to see whether Disney can keep up this level of variety over time as subsequent Play Sets are released.
The Play Sets are a lot of fun and will keep gamers occupied for about 5-10 hours each, but the Toy Box is probably where most players will spend their time. Toy Box is where any character can be a part of any environment, allowing infinite possibilities for cross-over. To put it into terms for those who haven’t played it, it’s like virtual LEGOs (and just like LEGOs, you’ll find yourself wanting to add on expensive sets to keep building!). As a kid who was basically raised on LEGOs, this was awesome for me.
I found Toy Box mode to be really fun and greatly nuanced, but it can be time-consuming and if gamers are impatient, it can be a bit of a drain. To me, it was all worth it as the payoff is immense after you drive around on a race track that you built from the ground up. Besides, patience is a virtue kids these days don’t often have in abundance, so maybe Disney Infinity is doing us all a service in teaching kids this important value. I was able to start with a blank canvas in Disney Infinity and customize everything about it–from the trees, shrubs, flowers, topiaries (yes!) to where I wanted to install my Monstro the Whale mouth, a la Storybook Land Canal Boats at Disneyland. (For those curious, added initially going crazy and dropping about 10 Monstros, I decided the best spot for him would be covering a moat going around my castle.) In fact, throughout the Play Set and Toy Box modes, I was impressed with details the game developers thought to include–clearly there are some passionate Disney fans behind the scenes on the game!
Much like LEGOs foster creativity and development of other skills, so too does Disney Infinity. That’s why I called it a positive experience (for lack of a better term). Of course, there’s the typical racing, collecting, and bad-guy fighting (non-graphic) found in many video games, at its core, Disney Infinity is focused on creativity and problem solving. The basic challenges won’t stump most kids for too long, and they will be enough to keep most adults engaged, too. More advanced ones I found quite difficult, but everything that I encountered could be conquered with some persistence. Granted, I suspect the hardcore gamer who is not a Disney fan won’t have any interest in Disney Infinity since the gameplay is “beneath them,” but I also suspect they know that without reading a single review of it. For those who are not hardcore gamers, I think there is a lot to love about the deep ‘free world’ gameplay in Disney Infinity.
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Not everything about the gameplay is perfect. The pre-made Toy Boxes supplied by Disney for free download are neat, and the idea of fusing Tron with Sugar Rush is equal parts awesome and nightmare-ish, but these Toy Boxes are mostly just worth a few minutes of exploration. I did notice some frame rate choppiness in these Toy Boxes, so I’m wondering whether the game will have any issues with lag once the worlds that I build myself are similarly complex or when in co-op mode (which I didn’t touch). Aside from that, my only real issues to speak of with the gameplay are some minor camera issues when stuck in tight quarters and a shooting interface that doesn’t offer much control over aim (but this is a children’s game).
The other issue is going to be the cost of investing in Disney Infinity. The initial Starter Pack is $75. Given the collectible toys that are included and the amount of entertainment that can be obtained from the Starter Pack (the Play Sets alone should total around 25-30 hours and the Toy Box mode will easily entertain most people for at least that much time), I’d consider it a good value. However, the potential for upselling is close to infinite and something to keep in mind before becoming hooked on Disney Infinity. Since toys to be used in the Toy Box come largely from unlocking them in the Play Sets, additional Play Sets are going to be needed if gamers want to fully realize their “creative vision” in the Toy Box. It’s presumably tough to even unlock everything in the Play Sets unless you play in co-op mode, which can’t be done unless you purchase additional characters. Likewise, reskinned environments require a Power Disc; your characters acquiring certain abilities also require Power Discs (and Power Discs are “blind” purchases). In other words, while there are a mountain of creative possibilities available in the initial Starter Pack, unlocking the full creative potential of the game is going to require further spending.
When all is said and done, completionists are going to be dropping around $150 just on the first wave of Disney Infinity. When factoring in subsequent waves, this could become one expensive game. I don’t see myself buying add-ons unless there’s a Play Set that’s really appealing to me…but I already find myself wanting The Lone Ranger Play Set (even though I didn’t like the movie). With just the Starter Pack, I was still able to spend a ton of time on marathon sessions of the game, playing more to unlock more, which I could then use to create more. Your mileage may vary on whether you’re able to avoid buying more as new add-ons for Disney Infinity are released. Just know that it could be a slippery slope.
At the start of the review, I indicated that both gameplay and the toys would need to be solid to consider this a success. The assumption was that the gameplay would be the difficult thing to nail, and the toys would be rather easy to do right. Unfortunately, I think where Disney Infinity’s creativity falls apart for me is when I pick up the tangible toys that come with the Starter Pack. The figures are all static characters stuck to bases, and aren’t poseable “action” figures. Maybe things are different now, but when I was a kid, the most fun toys were those that you could manipulate and engage in battle and have participate in various adventures. If the point of Disney Infinity is to offer virtual fun side by side with physical figures that kids can use to expand upon the fun, I think the current toys are subpar.
The toys should look and feel like normal toys, rather than simply being ‘static toy-like statues’ that are a neat in theory or are nice for collectors, but aren’t something kids can actually get much mileage out of playing with. Obviously I’m not the target demographic for these toys, but I know what I liked when I was a kid, and these toys wouldn’t have been of much interest to me. The toys are nicely made and definitely have a certain stylization of their own (which I happen to like), so if you’re an adult collector, this probably won’t be a disappointment for you at all. For those of you with kids, though, it’s definitely something to consider. I hope that Disney makes these toys more dynamic going forward. There’s no reason they can’t be collectible and be action figures. Retain their current quality, but make them detachable from their bases and with moving parts. Perhaps I’m overthinking this and all kids want is something to display, too. I will openly admit that I don’t “get” the craze behind things like Vinylmations. For a kid, what’s the point of a “toy” that just sits on the shelf?
The fact that the game has a “presence” outside of the game itself, and a cool light up base definitely is going to impress a lot of kids. That alone would’ve been a big draw for me as a kid, but I think once the initial luster of that wore off, it would be a question of whether the game itself remained fun and if it evolved in a fun and dynamic way. If the toys aren’t something your kids will play with when their video game system is off, the whole set-up is more or less just a gimmick.
Fortunately for Disney, the game is a lot of fun, and I think the game will continue to evolve in engaging ways. Disney has invested a lot into making this a hit and based on all of the Disney minutiae and nuances of the game, it seems like the team behind it is pretty passionate about all things Disney. I expect continued improvements to the experience and future Play Sets and add-ons to maintain this level of quality to give Disney Infinity longterm staying power. Ultimately, I think it’s the future of Disney gaming, and the best focusing efforts on this line is Disney Interactive’s best bet for success. The sky is truly the limit on Disney Infinity’s potential, at least in my eyes. It combines elements of other games I enjoy with environments and characters anyone who has grown up on Disney will love (and going forward, presumably Star Wars and Marvel will make appearances…meaning that Disney Infinity should have the potential to appeal to anyone who had a childhood), but also adds in elements of LEGOs to allow players to jump into some of their favorite worlds and do their own creating. This makes for something that as of launch has a lot of substance. There literally are entire worlds to explore and build upon, and the directions Disney takes these worlds in the future will be the true test of Disney Infinity. Given the vast properties that The Walt Disney Company owns, Disney really is the perfect fit for a franchise like this.
As of right now, Disney Infinity is something I highly recommend for the gameplay itself. The game offers a ton of hours of high quality entertainment with numerous styles of gameplay to keep things fresh. It allows players to get creative, and it truly seems fun for all ages. I consider the toys as-is to be an expensive gimmick that are a way to ‘Trojan Horse’ add-on elements of the game. These add-ons could be accomplished cheaper via downloadable content–but presumably parents would be more likely to balk at separately priced downloadable content, hence the toys. Conversely, Disney Infinity is the perfect game for collectors, with that same fun gameplay and hours of entertainment plus physical collectible ‘tokens’ for the add-on cost. If Disney Infinity evolves in ways that maintain the high level of quality in this version, I think the game will have serious staying power, regardless of whether the toys actually become “usable” toys or just a pricey gimmick.
If you own Disney Infinity, what are your thoughts on it? Do you plan on picking up a copy of Disney Infinity? Which Play Sets do you think offer the best value? Any other tips or suggestions for the game? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!