With Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney's toys-to-life video game has come of age.
The first game was a fun twist on the "real world toys get zapped into your video game and come to life" notion first pioneered by Skylanders. But Disney had the strength of its brand to build upon, including its entire library of television shows and motion pictures from both the parent company and Pixar. Plus, there was the Toy Box. This innovative, "anything goes" virtual sandbox was a huge hit with kids in particular, who loved using their imaginations to fight bad guys, race opponents or just construct worlds to their hearts' content.
The second game ushered Marvel into the Infinity family, adding superheroes and Playsets from the Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Getting to play as Hulk, Groot, Iron Man and the rest was a blast, and Disney's developers nailed the move sets of each one. But two of the three Playsets were repetitive and outright boring. The Toy Box, on the other hand, was a huge leap forward, with all sorts of new toys that helped budding creators build their worlds easier than ever before.
In the third entry, with its long-awaited addition of Star Wars characters and content, Disney Infinity feels like it's become the game it always wanted to be.
From the start, Disney Infinity's figurines have always been one of its best features. A marriage of high quality toys and in-game moves and abilities unique to every character, the figures always stand out, and 3.0's collection is no exception. I've always wished that the figurines had articulated joints, so you could actually play with them. But as it is, they make attractive collectibles that would be worth owning even if there were no video game.
The Jedi in particular -- namely Anakin, Ahsoka, Obi-Wan and Yoda -- are powerful Force-users with slick lightsaber moves and the ability to shift forward over short distances at super-speed. After you grind them up to Level 15 or so, they become unstoppable warriors.
[Note: Over a dozen 3.0 characters were provided to us for review, but each one is highly unique, so we're going to examine them in a separate article.]
The Twilight of the Republic Playset, an 8-10 hour game set amid the Clone Wars that comes with the Starter Pack, takes you to Geonosis, Coruscant, Tatooine and Naboo, with large areas to explore and multiple missions on each. There are battles in space above each world, and you get your pick of starship to pilot. Dogfights are pretty basic, similar to the space battles in the Lego Star Wars games, but still challenging enough to feel rewarding. Each space area also has a tiny base or moon where you can land and engage in a fun minigame or two.
Lucasfilm worked closely with developer Ninja Theory to ensure the quality and tone were up to their standards, so its story takes itself a little more seriously than you might expect. The simple fact that you're playing in the Star Wars universe lends it a gravitas that few other franchises can match. And the worlds Ninja Theory crafted for the game are beautiful, faithful to the source, and overflowing with nooks and crannies to explore and secrets to find. The races are a rush, too, like the thrilling vehicle chase sequence through the skyscrapers of Coruscant.
One of the strategies Disney Interactive seems to be employing for this third outing is a drastic reduction in the number of Power Discs produced, in favor of more figures. With the figures always being one of the game's greatest strengths, this should turn out to be a smart move. The few Power Discs that there are, are now sold in packs of four instead of two, and no longer in "blind bags."
Again and again, you get the sense that Disney Interactive is devoted to giving the fans exactly what they want in 3.0.
An Ingenious Nerve Center
The first time you fire up Disney Infinity 3.0, you're immediately introduced to a new central play area called the Toy Box Hub. This much-needed home base for the entire game organizes its every aspect into a single, unified foundation upon which everything else is built. It's a sublime way of introducing newcomers to the Infinity experience.
The Hub is a fully playable Toy Box world that's split into six regions, each one representing different kinds of play. Every one of these six areas has a portal that will take you to new Toy Boxes that were specially made to teach you how to do things in the game, or demonstrate the kind of limitless fun you can have in a Toy Box. With so many toys, templates and tools now available, the Hub makes it much easier to get your head around everything.
One of the areas is a replica of Disney World's Main Street USA, which functions as a hands-on, interactive menu, allowing you to access any other part of the game — be it a Playset, a new Toy Box, or what have you — from inside the Hub. So there's a vendor for the Toy Store, a theater for watching YouTube videos, and so on. There's even a Flynn's Arcade (Tron) that matches you up with three other random players online for a handful of arcade-style minigames.
By now, you may be getting the sense that there's a ton of stuff to do in 3.0. You never feel like you could get bored with the game because there's always something else waiting. Need a break from your Star Wars Playset? Return to the Hub and jump through the racing portal to engage in some pre-made driving and flying races. Tired of racing? Go over to the farming portal and harvest food for your little sidekick character that accompanies you throughout Toy Boxes, helping them level up their abilities. Need a less structured approach? Head into the portal at the center of the Hub and start a brand new Toy Box of your own creation.
The "Toy Box Takeover" add-on disc unlocks a brand new Toy Box game that's significantly more fun than the procedurally generated Toy Box games in 2.0. More thought and planning went into this one, and while it's still an isometric platforming game, it has an actual storyline with voice actors and pre-rendered cutscenes. In it, Syndrome (The Incredibles) gets his hands on the magic wand belonging to Merlin (The Sword In the Stone), and decides to wreak havoc throughout the Toy Box. You and your sidekick have to fight and puzzle your way through numerous worlds — each with a different theme like the Old West or outer space — to win.
We noticed a number of other little touches here and there that help to improve the overall experience. For example, if you put two figures on the Disney Infinity base and play co-op, the two characters you pick will interact in a way that's specific to their relationship. Put Mickey and Minnie on the base, and they'll talk to each other as you'd expect, given their longtime romance. Likewise, anytime you put two characters from the same Playset on the base, they'll talk to each other as if they're still in their own world.
But match up a couple of disparate figures -- like say, Quorra (Tron: Legacy) and Olaf (Frozen) -- and these two strangers will usually introduce themselves. If they're both friendly, they'll get along; if one or both are aloof or antagonistic, they'll blow each another off or banter as you play. It's a terrific tweak that gives new life to the characters, even those you've had since the first game.
Enhancements to the INterior give you much more to do and play with, as well as loads of new rooms and decorations. And the music that plays in the Toy Box is no longer annoyingly repetitive. Now, the music rotates at random between many familiar Disney, Marvel and Star Wars themes. It's glorious.
Last but not least, the base portal hardware finally sports a longer USB cord (about five feet). At last, you can relax and sit further away from the TV instead of remaining inches from the screen — or constantly standing and sitting.
What Still Needs Work
For all its stellar advances, there are still a few areas in need of tweaking. An old gripe from the very first game, two years later, has yet to be addressed: You can't save more than one game per Playset. So if more than one person in your home wants to play the same Playset, alone, one of them will have to wait their turn -- until the other is completely finished. The fact that Infinity will save no more than one game per Playset doesn't ruin the experience. But after three iterations, it's an oversight Disney Interactive can't afford to keep ignoring.
Character skill trees have been completely reconfigured, moving to an interface that breaks sets of abilities apart across four pages instead of cramming them into one. On paper, it sounds like a good idea. In practice, it's more time-consuming to tab through multiple pages, looking for that one ability you had your eye on earlier. And every character's four pages are laid out a little differently, which only adds to their cumbersome, confusing nature.
A big disappointment is the few odd glitches from prior games that still haven't been ironed out. When building your own Toy Boxes, for example, bits of terrain occasionally disappear for no clear reason. Sound effects sometimes drop out entirely, usually after more than a few hours of play. Obviously these are issues stemming from the game engine, but it's past time for them to be addressed.
The ever-present Toy Box narrator is still as talkative as ever. Couldn't Disney Interactive add an option to turn off his relentless chatter? There's no need to hear "A spark capsule! Those will give you tons of sparks!" every time you're in the Hub. (And for the record, they don't give you "tons" of sparks.)
One last thing. In Twilight of the Republic, the story sequence set on Naboo has an entirely unnecessary, heaping dose of Jar-Jar Binks. Look, we know his silly antics are popular among kids. We get why he's part of the game. But adults will want to throw their game controller through the TV set when he appears. His stupid way of speaking is even more annoying here than it was in the films, since here he keeps appearing again and again to give you instructions — most of which aren't needed.
Disney Infinity 3.0 is a triumphant return to form after the disappointing second game. Its absorbing worlds are diverse and overflowing with riches to explore and types of games to play, and the Toy Box Hub is a stroke of brilliance. The Twilight of the Republic Playset sets the bar very high for other Playsets to reach or exceed.
Disney has always touted the gameplay possibilities of Disney Infinity as limitless and endless. 3.0 is the first time you'll believe they really are.