Last week Disney officially announced Disney Infinity, its "most ambitious gaming initiative ever", but the complicated Hollywood press event ultimately threw up more questions than it answered. This week, we got a chance to sit down with the game to find out if it really is the next big thing Disney believes it is.
For the uninitiated, Disney Infinity is being dubbed as a new gaming "platform", though anyone who knows their stuff will recognise its potential as a Skylanders cash grab. Using a special peripheral dubbed the 'Infinity Base', players can place special plastic action figures to make those characters appear in the game.
Well, that figures
Any quality concerns are shot down as soon as you pick up the figures; they're being manufactured by the same company that produces the highly detailed and collectible Play Arts Kai figures for Square Enix and boast a solid feel and weight. Disney's hope is that as well as gamers buying these figures to expand their Disney Infinity game, toy collectors will like them enough to bypass their gaming aspects entirely.
The figures' art style is interesting too, with stylised versions of the likes of Jack Sparrow and Sully looking slightly different from their movie counterparts. This makes sense to an extent because it would be jarring to feature, for example, a live-action Johnny Depp alongside a CGI monster that's supposed to be eight feet tall.
Disney stressed to us that the characters in Infinity aren't supposed to be the actual Disney characters from the movies, they're supposed to be treated like toys of them - when you place them on the Infinity Base and spawn them in the game you're spawning the toy, not the actual character. As a result, if you're playing as Sully from Monsters University and he's blown up, he falls into pieces like a toy would as opposed to exploding in furry blue chunks of gore and flesh. Which is probably for the best.
Much of the basic game mechanics are the same as those in Skylanders. Placing a figure on the base spawns that character in the game. To change characters you simply remove the figure and place a different one on the base. The figures also have a small amount of built-in memory, allowing you store each figure's level and continue progressing on a friend's copy of the game. The toys are not format-specific so you can take a character you've levelled up in the Wii U version and use it on your friend's PS3 version.
Game, Playset and Match
Disney Infinity is split into two different modes - Playsets and the Toy Box. Playsets are a series of story modes, each representing a different Disney license. To unlock a Playset you need to place a Playset piece on the hexagonal slot on the base. The Starter Pack comes with a single Playset piece that unlocks three different Playsets - Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates Of The Caribbean.
Disney treats each Playset as a different "game" and while there's more than whiff of elaborate on-disc DLC, we have to concede they are at least correct in that every Playset does have a very unique feel. The Playset for The Incredibles for example focuses on combat, special powers and explosions, whereas the Monsters University arena focuses more on collecting things, playing pranks and stealth sections and the not-yet-confirmed-but-definitely-coming Cars one will naturally focus on driving.
We first tried out the Playset based on The Incredibles, playing as Mr Incredible (you can only play as characters from each Playset's specific Disney licence). Keeping with the toy theme of the game, the city's residents are little toys that resemble the Toddle Tots featured in the Toy Story 3 game. They'll ask you to perform tasks for them, and while each task can be performed by any member of the Incredibles family, certain members can complete certain missions more easily.
As an example, one early task has one of the dinky toys asking you to put out a fire that's engulfed a nearby buildings. There's a water tower on top of the building, so the aim is to get to the top of the building and knock the tower over to extinguish the flames. To do this with Mr Incredible you'd need to find your way to the top of the building by using various other buildings and platforming skills to work your way up there. Mrs Incredible, on the other hand, can simply use her sticky hand ability to fling herself up to the top of the building in next to no time.