"Disney Infinity" is quite the undertaking — to summarize, to play and to pay for.
Labeled by marketers as an "ambitious video game initiative," this multi-faceted, innovative new release is overflowing with options and creativity. Infinity features tangible toys, a seemingly endless supply of digital building elements, and familiar animated characters and settings that are, in all likelihood, close to the heart.
Picture a melding of "Skylanders" and "Minecraft" taking place in the middle of Disneyland. The parallels were apparent within an hour of playing the first game, and have been pointed out at sites such as USA Today, mashable.com and wired.com.
The gameplay possibilities here seem, well, infinite. (Pardon the word choice.) But as captivating as Infinity is, experiencing all the game has to offer will cost you.
Parents will definitely want to understand Infinity's setup and structure before committing. And commitment starts with a "starter pack," which retails for $74.99. The pack includes the game disk, a platform called the "base," one "play set" piece and three character figures.
Like Activision's Skylanders series, plastic figures are required to import different characters into the game. Place the physical character on the base, and the digital version appears on screen. Seemingly gone are the good old days when the heroes and villains actually came with the game.
The starter pack features characters from three different Disney films — Mr. Incredible, Sulley and Jack Sparrow. But don't get any ideas about using the enigmatic pirate to crash the dorms at Monsters University. (More on that later.)
Once in the game, there are two distinct play options — "play set" mode and "toy box" mode.
Each play set is like a video game unto itself, filled with unique levels and challenges based on the theme of a particular Disney movie. The piece that comes in the starter pack actually contains three play sets — Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean — and the physical piece must be placed on the base in order to access those worlds. Currently, two other play sets are sold separately — Cars and The Lone Ranger. Each comes with two additional figures and sells for $34.99.
The second play option, toy box mode, is basically video game freelancing, and it's where Infinity's wealth of creativity resides. Players essentially build their own worlds with a random and robust collection of vehicles, characters, costumes and objects. Separately sold power discs ($4.99 per pack) increase the number of options.
So, if they choose, gamers can hop in Cinderella's carriage with Mr. Incredible and run over a host of Agrabah guards, or send a giant ESPN-labeled hockey puck sliding across a grass field at one of Syndrome's robots. Or maybe put Buzz Lightyear's blaster in Jack Sparrow's hand and speed off on Mulan's horse.
Then there are pieces of terrain that can be used to build landscapes, hence the Minecraft comparison, along with options for buildings, roads and other settings.
The enormity of toy box mode is simply staggering. (Just watch one of the tutorials, which teaches you how to enter an arena and trigger blaring music and confetti cannons). The actual process, though, can be cumbersome for the inexperienced.
Disney is also releasing custom-built toy box worlds that are free to download. One of the first released was the Tron vs. Sugar Rush toy box, where characters race through a hybrid world of candy and computer graphics. There's also a maze based on Wonderland, a medieval jousting arena and a Jungle Cruise, to name a few.
The game-play is fluid and the controls respond appropriately. Driving, with all its options for tracks and vehicles, is particularly fun.
While Infinity stuffs the senses with cartoon characters and bright colors, it's no kiddie game. Infinity is quite sophisticated and can be experienced on many levels, making it an ideal game to play together as a family.
Which, again, will cost you. While all characters can play in toy box mode, they can't cross platforms in play set mode, a drawback that becomes quickly apparent. In other words, Sulley can't enter the Pirates of the Caribbean play set, and Mr. Incredible isn't admitted into Monsters University. Those who want to play with two characters in play set mode will have to invest in additional figures beyond the starter pack. Individual figures sell for $12.99, while a three-pack costs $29.99.
Kids — and, perhaps, their parents — will find the tangible character figures and the prospect of tapping into their special abilities irresistible. After one day of playing the game, my kids were pooling their money to buy the Dash character.
Of course, since they are actual toys, the figures also come with the risk of breaking or getting lost. We've experienced both, but were able to reattach Sulley to his base using some strong glue and eventually found the missing play set piece.
Cost-conscious parents should ask themselves whether the starter pack will be enough for their little gamers. On its own, the starter pack provides plenty of shelf life and game-play depth. But everywhere gamers turn in Infinity, they'll be enticed by all the upgrades waiting for them on the store shelves.
Infinity can be enjoyed as a group, swapping out characters, collaborating or just simply watching. Kids will revel in the randomness. They'll be captivated by the creative options. This game simply oozes color and cuteness.
"Disney Infinity" really is an ideal family game. Parents just need to be prepared to shell out money.
Either that, or get really good at saying no.
Game: "Disney Infinity"
Platforms: XBox 360, PS3, Wii U, Wii
Cost: $74.99 (starter pack)
ESRB rating: E 10+ (cartoon violence)
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