'Disney Infinity' is a multi-platform video game system, which uses Skylanders-like toys to send kids on digital adventures within the Disney universe.
It is very easy to be cynical about 'Disney Infinity', because while on one level it's a colourful, robust and well-designed gaming system, on another it really is about selling toys. Lots and lots and lots of expensive toys.
But then again, that's not exactly new for Disney. They've been trying to rake in money through various nefarious schemes for decades now. But they've also been responsible for some of the greatest cinematic and interactive art of the last 100 years.
'Disney Infinity' isn't invalidated by being an exercise in commerce. It just has to have something worthwhile at its core - and, yes, in true Disney style it has to have a heart. And the good news is that it does. But as ever in Disney narratives, there are villains here too.
The concept is broadly familiar to fans (or enemies) of Skylanders. Place one of three plastic figures included in the £50-ish 'Starter Pack' on the base, and they magically appear in the game. Buy more figures - both from the included franchises and new sets - at £15 a pop, and you get more content. Cheaper 'Power Discs' and other expansion sets are available too, until all the money in the world is safely locked away inside Scrooge McDuck's vault.
The game itself is divided roughly in two. On one side you have Play Sets - pre-made, separate games set in each of the specific Disney universes. Place Captain Jack on the base, and you're playing a Pirates adventure. Replace him with Sully from Monsters Inc, and you're running around a University laying pranks and tricks for other students. Each of the adventures is well designed, if not all that novel, but they allow you to unlock content for the game's real heart (and it's main innovation) 'Toy Box'.
'Toy Box' is essentially Minecraft meets the Magic Kingdom: a 3D world builder and level editor where creativity and invention are king. There are no rules here - toys from different franchises can play together, scenery, textures and other mechanics can mix and match and players can literally make their own games, linking elements with basic logic to create rich and surprising results. You can send in Sully to race the motorised demons from Cars around a Tron-themed race track. You can make Captain Jack pull stunts on a skatepark while fighting off trolls. You can plop the Magic Kingdom castle in one button press, and retheme the entire world in new wallpaper with another. It's amazingly deep and fun especially in co-op mode - if you've unlocked enough 'toys' through the more pedestrian Play Sets that is - and there is huge scope for continued expansion.
The downsides are numerous, though. The Toy Box is well designed, but compared to Microsoft's upcoming Project Spark is a bit clunky and isn't always easy to place terrain accurately, or complete more complex logic puzzles. The need to unlock and randomly 'spin' for items in the Toy Vault is a little cynical, keeping players churning through the game for longer than they need to. And the Play Sets feel restrictive and straightforward in a way that the more fluid, porous Skylanders games do not.
But it's hard not to applaud the effort, and see the potential here. And it's also hard not to have fun. 'Infinity' is polished and engaging. The technical guile and genuine freedom of the Toy Box is impressive. And the system has room to grow, and depending on sales will have chances to fix its flaws.
So in that sense it's just like going to Disney World. You'll arrive bright eyed and in awe of the magic. You'll spend a lot of money, and the kids will cry. But you'll leave happy and inspired, and with the world looking just a little bit brighter than it did before you arrived.
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