An expensive letdown: Disney Infinity offers glimpses of fun through poor execution of good ideas
- Wii U
Disney Infinity is the mixture of Disney characters and settings with the toys-meets-DLC model of Activision’s Skylanders. You get a core game, along with three toys and a portal that connects to your gaming system, for $75. Extra toys will cost more, but will allow you to play as different Disney characters in the game. You can also buy new playsets that come with both toys and the ability to play campaigns based on the world of those particular characters.
This is clearly a cash grab; why release one $60 game when you can charge $35 for just two characters and their game world? The question is whether Disney is giving you as much as they’re taking, and whether the rather large cash investment needed to play co-op is worthwhile for most players.
I’ve been playing the game all weekend with my children, and at some points by myself, and the basic ideas behind the game are all solid and moderately well executed. Despite this, Disney bungled a series of basic decisions that leave the game feeling like a pile of missed opportunities.
The plastic: The best part of Disney Infinity
The good news is that the toys themselves are high quality, heavy, and feature detailed, attractive paint jobs. These will look just as good on your desk as they do in the game, and being able to hold a tangible object that unlocks content in the game is fun. Putting a Captain Jack Sparrow toy on the portal to begin playing as that character is a much more satisfying action than selecting a character from a menu.
You’ll want to look out for your toys however, especially if you have smaller children. Some of the sculpts feature thin limbs, making heads and arms distressingly easy to remove. The characters look and feel more like collectibles for an older audience than toys for children.
It’s hard to fight the need to collect ‘em all, especially after holding one or two in your hand. This desire for direct ownership, of a physical artifact from the game, is part of what makes the product so appealing. The toys deliver on their promise, especially for Disney fans.
The play sets: Your favorite worlds, made boring
Each play set comes with two toys, and a toy that you place on the portal that unlocks the world of that brand. So the Lone Ranger playset comes with Tonto, the Lone Ranger, and a clear toy that allows you to play through the Lone Ranger campaign.
You’ll notice that the core set comes with a toy from The Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Monsters University. You get three campaigns in the core set, but you’ll need to buy a second toy from each world if you want to play co-op. The $35 play sets include two characters from each world, so co-op comes built into those packages, but the core set will require one more toy per world if you want to play with your kids.
Why can’t you bring in Sully to play with the Lone Ranger while you’re playing the missions? “Play sets are specific Disney worlds,” the FAQ states. “In order to keep our guests immersed in those environments we don’t allow characters from other worlds to enter.” Oh, okay. It has nothing to do with trying to get an extra $14 per world out of players?
There is also the slight problem that these campaigns aren’t much fun. Each world is shallow. You’ll find characters, talk to them, get some fetch quests, and then go around collecting things.
There are some good moments in each one, but the games can too often devolve into drudgery. Younger children may think it’s amusing just to be in the world of Monsters University, but even pre-teens will likely grow bored with the fetch-it quests and bland item collection.
Of the three campaigns that come with the core set, Pirates does the most with its setting, but that’s not saying much. I have yet to play the Cars campaign, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try. Hopefully, Disney will improve the content in future play sets. Expect between three to six hours of content in each campaign, depending on your need to see and do everything.
The toys should enhance an already great game, not make a mediocre experience tolerable. We wouldn’t be talking about these games if the Infinity platform didn’t involve toys and such a huge marketing push. Disney Infinity would likely be given to whichever game reviewer was lowest on the totem pole at each gaming publication so they could dutifully stamp it with a five or six out of ten before throwing it their kids.
The campaigns are only part of the story, but they’re still distressingly bland. This is especially depressing considering the quality of the source material.
The Toy Box: Fun idea, broken execution
This is where things start getting good. The Toy Box is an open world that allows you to edit not only your surroundings, but also the very rules of the universe. So you can create race tracks for the game’s various characters and vehicles, or create a 2D platformer to explore. It’s reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet in many ways, and Disney will likely be releasing new Toy Box content regularly. You can also create levels to share with your friends or upload for consumption by the greater community.
There are no rules here, and all of the different characters can play together and interact. This is the promise of Disney Infinity, a Disney-themed space where you can be creative, enjoy unstructured play, or check out some of the minigames and challenges strewn across the game. You can play with another person in split-screen, or play with up to three other people online. The Toy Box mode is the heart of the game, and this is where things really begin to take off.
This is all great stuff, but the developers, for some ridiculous reason, decided to hide all of the content for the Toy Box behind a system of random unlocks. You can find items that you redeem for “spins” in a slot machine type system that gives you the basic, and sometimes elaborate, items you need to build anything in the Toy Box, meaning you have to grind through the campaigns before you can build much of anything. You also earn spins for leveling up each character, and this seems to be the only incentive for doing so.
What’s worse is that, after exploring much of the three worlds that come with the game, I’m not even close to having unlocked all of the content in the Toy Box. So now what do I do? Is that content, which is obviously on the disc, blocked off until I spend more money on play sets in the hope of finding more spins to unlock the items I want? Do I grind to gain levels?
Why not just give me the run of the place? It's frustrating to know that there are pieces that would help me with my latest creation, but there is no clear path to earning them. I have to go around and collect spins and then hope I randomly land on that piece. The Toy Box should reward experimentation and creativity, and this system hinders both.
This luck-based method of giving players access to the meat of the Toy Box is ridiculous, and all but ruins the game for people who don’t want to spend hours playing through the often boring campaigns, just to collect spins to maybe get the content they need to create anything of worth.
The entire Disney Infinity platform is rather disappointing at the moment. The campaigns aren't nearly as good as they could be, the Toy Box requires you to grind through content you may not want to play, and the overall experience is filled with bugs.
Why did the game randomly slow down to around 10 frames per second in the Monsters University level? Why doesn’t the flintlock pistol make a sound? The background of the Battle Mastery Course turned into flat shaded polygons during my final moments of battle. There is no auto-save, so I ended up having to do the interminable beginning sections where you start as a spark and then end in the Toy Box about three times.
The frame rate is often low, even though there isn't much going on that would seem to stress the system. These issues, and others like them, pop up way too often for the experience to be comfortable.
The PlayStation 3 version has issues with the game locking up, causing Disney to tell players to remove the latest patch and turn off the networking features of the PlayStation 3. So that's optimal.
This are all fixable issues, and the Toy Box is great fun once you've unlocked a good amount of content. I'm also looking forward to browsing the work done by others in the community, and the official content released by Disney. There is nothing keeping them from improving the quality of the campaigns found in the play sets, and the toys themselves are a joy to play with and display… as long as you're not too rough with the more fragile models.
There is a good base from which to build here, but the product at launch is a mess of great ideas hobbled by imperfect execution. Overall I'm enjoying my time with the game, but I'm looking forward to these issues being addressed. It can only get better.