Pixar seems to have a rule that its kid-friendly movies must be as enjoyable for grown-ups as they are for rugrats. After all, why shouldn’t those shuttling the wee ones to the theatre and back get something out of the experience other than a migraine? This has led to many adults anticipating the release of the Disney subsidiary’s films as much as any of the kids they are ostensibly aimed at. Unfortunately, Disney Infinity – which is essentially Pixar Infinity at this stage –does not possess the same cross-generational appeal.
Infinity functions much like arch-rival and inspiration Skylanders. The game’s Starter Pack comes with a USB base onto which toys are placed that appear in-game with a sparkle and a flourish. Co-op play is possible by placing two figurines at once, a power-up disc under each will confer certain in-game advantages in the form of skills or items, and there is a spot for a campaign cube as well.
The Starter Pack comes with three figures (Pirates of the Carribean’s Captain Jack Sparrow, Sully from the Monsters franchise, and The Incredibles’ Mr Incredible), along with campaigns in those characters’ universes, and a random power-up disc. The figures are well-made and attractive, but not posable and stuck to a base, limiting their use as out-and-out playthings.
The game’s introductory sequence is a giant gulp of what might have been. Here, the player guides a literal spark of creativity through the darkness and as they do so, the worlds of Disney’s major modern franchises all gradually assemble and spring to life. It’s an early high point the game proper struggles to match. The first destination for most will be Infinity’s campaign mode, each story of which is referred to as a Play Set.
However, Play Sets may only be attempted with characters of their respective worlds, so co-op is immediately out the window unless extra money is spent on another figurine. This is fairly galling, and an early taste of the paywalls that crop up later on in the form of character-specific quests and chests.
The campaigns have the same basic controls: that of a standard dual-stick third-person open world action game. Each character has a basic attack, a special attack, a grab, a throw, and the ability to double jump, block, drive vehicles, and use weapons. Some also have special abilities on top of that – Sully can sneak and scare, Mr Incredible is super strong, Jack Sparrow can sword fight, and so forth. However, each Play Set shifts the gameplay emphasis slightly. Monsters University is stealth-focused, Pirates of the Caribbean has a ship sailing segment, and The Incredibles involves a lot of melee, for example.
The potential here is vast but goes under-realised. Despite their numerous inhabitants, the environments feel empty and soulless, but the real problems are the basic mechanics, unsteady framerate, and utterly dull missions. The Monsters missions are worst, a series of tedious, samey fetch quests and roughly-implemented sneaking sections. Conversely, Pirates’ sailing is exciting, but its terrestrial quests are flaccid. The world of The Incredibles is the only one where any fun may be had away from the missions, but that’s only because you can pick up citizens or cars and fling them into the front of buildings, which then deform in a purely cosmetic but satisfying manner.
The gameplay itself is serviceable, but certainly not stellar. Given the target audience, it’s unsurprising that Infinity is incredibly easy, but that’s no reason for the cars to feel like speed-restricted go-karts, or for the shooting to be so flavourless. On top of that, there is no penalty for “dying”, characters simply respawn exactly where they were, or about 10 seconds jog away. It’s all very clinical, and just not particularly fun.
Most probably wouldn’t bother to hang around campaigns for the three to four hours it takes to complete each, but doing so is the only way to have a decent time in the game’s real draw, the editing mode. Missions and challenges completed in the campaigns earn the player a spin of a toy vault wheel, which wins them one of 16 objects up for grabs.
There are apparently more than 1000 items to collect, from basic building blocks to full pre-built castles and crucially, things like monster spawn points, switches, and other machines. The available selection of 16 can be changed out if none look attractive, but even so, the result is a massive grind that even hours later will not result in all the pieces the player wants being acquired. To get the majority of the useful objects, extra campaign packs obviously need to be purchased.
In the editor itself (Toy Box mode), players can modify pre-built worlds, or start from scratch, placing land and altering the colour and texture of objects as they go. The tutorials here are solid, and make it easy to make simple machines by connecting switches to gates and so forth. It’s more LittleBigPlanet than Minecraft, but the range of game types that can be constructed is pretty wide: pinball, racing games, third person shooters, 2D platformers, and even top-down shooters are possible provided you have access to the right materials. Yes, that includes the correct camera to change the player’s viewpoint. Good luck.
Anyway, once each masterpiece is complete it can be shared directly with a friend, or uploaded for approval by Disney and added to its level hub, and this is probably where the game's best content will be found in the future.
The final game mode is Mastery Adventures, which is basically a series of extended tutorials and minigames for each of the game’s mechanics, including editing. These give a good glimpse of what it’s possible to build, but none will hold attention for long.
Disney Infinity's Starter Pack is NZ$128, with extra figurines NZ$25 each, or two and a campaign cube for NZ$50. With Disney now owning the Star Wars and Marvel IPs, along with all its classic properties, there is massive potential for expansion. However, it needs to provide better, more challenging content if it wants to capture the imagination of anyone out of primary school.