Remember when a certain open-world game caused parents, Congress and several national governments to scream in disgust? Those days seem far behind us, with sex and violence now the virtual norm. In light of that, I wanted to go counter-culture and celebrate not the release of GTA 5, but the triumph of the best family game of 2013 so far: Disney Infinity. This Disney Infinity review may be late, but it’s intentionally so. I wanted to see whether this new franchise in particular continued its momentum well after launch. And sure enough, like a fine red wine, Disney Infinity seems to get better with age.
Outside of the Kingdom Hearts games published by Square Enix, Disney’s had a rough go when it comes to original franchises. With Disney Infinity, the studio’s finally hit a home run. Disney Infinity follows in the footsteps of Activision’s outstanding Skylanders games by using real-world toys to inspire on-screen action. After placing a four-inch-tall plastic figure on a base, that character becomes fully playable in the game. The Disney Infinity Starter Pack includes three characters — Capt. Jack Sparrow, Sully and Mr. Incredible — as well as a Play Set figure that unlocks three distinct “campaigns” based on each character’s respective franchise.
The characters can obviously be used to play through their Play Set campaign, but you can also mix and match (for example: play through Monsters University as everyone’s favorite drunken pirate). Each of these campaigns lasts about eight hours, so in the Play Set mode alone Disney Infinity offers more than 20 hours of play time. They’re not wasted hours, either, as the play sets are surprisingly original in design and provide a rewarding mix of platforming, puzzle-solving and comically inspired gunplay. Different figures and Play Sets are sold separately if you want to play with some new faces or build your real-life toy collection, and certain elements of each level are only accessible by those sold-separately toys.
Disney Infinity really opens up with the Toy Box mode, though, which is what I really wanted to dig into before writing this Disney Infinity review. Sony’s world-creating LittleBigPlanet series has been a hit for some time now, and nobody’s really been able to replicate its user-created success. Disney Infinity essentially does, and it succeeds by implementing a more-intuitive toolset and a variety of Disney- and other-themed props.
Toy Box mode starts with a completely blank slate, but it’s seldom an overwhelming task to create a level, world or even a mini-game. That’s important for helping younger gamers feel empowered, and it’s vital to keeping older gamers interested in cooking up something new and sharing it online. Creating a custom level is as simple as selecting an area on the map, adding to the landmass or deleting parts of it, and choosing from hundreds of props to place on (or above) the ground to create the level of your imagination. This is a Disney game, of course, so some of the props are Disney landmarks like Cinderella Castle and Spaceship Earth, but there are plenty of non-Parks props as well. My favorites include the sports-themed toys that can be placed in an arena to create top-down mini-games, as well as some race track props that essentially let you re-create old arcade racing games with current-gen decor.
Disney wisely made new props and toys unlockable only by purchasing and playing through new Play Sets. So far, the only play sets available for purchase outside the Disney Infinity Starter Pack are a Lone Ranger play set and a Cars play set, although Disney’s actively working on a Toy Story play set and others. Upcoming Disney Infinity characters also hint at future play sets, including a Jack Skellington figure I can’t wait to get my hands on (hello, Halloween Town play set!). The farther you advance in each play set, the more props you unlock for Toy Box mode. After a while it seems like the choices and freedom are truly limitless, and that’s important for the game’s long-term fun factor.
Disney Infinity owners have created and shared thousands of free user-created levels, and Disney’s internal development team has generated some as well. This is what most intrigued me once the game released. Make no mistake: Disney Infinity would get high marks just for its excellent Play Sets and franchise-specific Challenges, which are like mini-games in their own right. But the Toy Box mode is what Disney really promoted prior to launch, so writing a Disney Infinity review before seeing what the community would actually produce would’ve been premature. Well, the community has definitely delivered, which is both a testament to the game’s intuitive world-building toolset and the sheer diversity and number of props at players’ disposal.
When I first started Disney Infinity, my kids played for hours just in the Toy Box mode, running around the world and climbing around the Castle. After I showed them they could create new parts of that world, even create their own mini-games, their eyes opened wide and my seven-year-old said out loud “WOAH! This is so cool!” Then, and only then, did we start playing through the campaigns of the play sets themselves, unlocking new toys for the Toy Box, and eventually building some really fun levels of our own.
Disney Infinity has succeeded where few games like it previously have. Mixing the world-creation elements of LittleBigPlanet with the toys-to-life popularity of Skylanders was sheer genius, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was skeptical that Disney could actually pull it off. Pull it off they have, and they’ve done so with the promise of an ever-growing game both in user-created content and franchise tie-ins that should keep Disney Infinity fresh for years. Disney Infinity is not only a fantastic value, but it’s the best family game of 2013 so far. I can’t wait to see how it grows over the weeks and months to come, and I’m eager to watch Disney duke it out with Activision creatively, pushing one another’s innovative sides in the toys-to-life genre.
Score: 9.25 — Some play sets are better than others, but they’re all generally well done, and Toy Box mode seals the deal. Disney Infinity is an outstanding value and offers a virtually unlimited amount of fun, so long as you’re not afraid to show your creative side.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360