Rumours suggest that Disney invested US$100m in Infinity. This sounds absurd until you consider that Activision has crossed the US$1b mark in just 15 months with Skylanders. Infinity will be a hit with parents thanks to its familiar and friendly IP. But is it worth the effort? Matt Maguire takes a look.
Pixar seems determined that its kid-friendly movies should be equally enjoyable for adults as they are for rugrats. Why shouldn't those who drive the little ones to the theatre and back not get something more than a migraine? Many adults are anticipating the Disney subsidiary's films just as much as the children they are supposedly aimed at. Disney Infinity, which is essentially Pixar Infinity at the moment, doesn't have the same appeal across generations.
Infinity functions in the same way as arch-rival and inspiration Skylanders. The Starter Pack includes a USB base on which toys can be placed. These toys will appear in-game with sparkle and flourish. You can play co-op by placing two figurines at the same time. A power-up disc underneath each will give you in-game skills or items. There is also a place for a campaign cube.
The Starter Pack includes three figures (Pirates of the Carribean's Captain Jack Sparrow and Sully from the Monsters series, and The Incredibles' Mr Incredible), as well as campaigns in each character's universes and a random power up disc. They are attractive and well-made, but they are not posable and cannot be used as toys.
The game's opening sequence is a huge gulp of what could have been. The player guides a spark of creativity through darkness. As they do this, the worlds of Disney's major modern franchises begin to assemble and spring into life. This is an early high point that the game itself struggles to match. Infinity's campaign mode will be the first destination for most. Each story is called a Play Set.
Play Sets can only be used with characters from their respective worlds. This means that co-op is not possible unless you spend extra money on another figurine. This is quite galling and a first taste of the paywalls later on in the form character-specific quests or chests.
The campaign controls are the same as a standard open-world action game with a third-person, dual-stick controller. Each character has a basic attack and a special attack. They also have the ability to grab, throw, double jump, block, drive cars and use weapons. Some characters have additional abilities, such as Sully's ability to sneak and scare, Mr Incredible's super strength, Jack Sparrow's ability to sword fight, and so on. Each Play Set changes the gameplay emphasis. Monsters University is stealth-focused, Pirates of the Caribbean includes a ship sailing segment, while The Incredibles has a lot of melee.
This area has a lot of potential, but it is not fully utilized. The environments feel empty and soulless despite the many inhabitants. However, the real problems are the basic mechanics and unsteady framerate. The Monsters missions are the worst, with a series tedious and repetitive fetch quests, as well as a few poorly executed sneaking sections. The Pirates' sailing is thrilling, but the terrestrial quests are a bit boring. The world of The Incredibles has the most fun, but it's not because you can pick up citizens and cars and throw them in front of buildings. This causes the buildings to deform in a satisfying, but cosmetic, way.
Although the gameplay is good, it's not great. It's not surprising that Infinity is so easy given the target audience. However, that doesn't mean that the cars should feel like go-karts or that the shooting shouldn't be enjoyable. There is no penalty for “dying”, characters simply return to their original location or jog away for about 10 seconds. It's all very scientific and not very fun.
While most people wouldn't want to spend the time to complete campaigns, it is essential to enjoy the editing mode, which is the real draw of the game. The player earns a spin on a toy vault wheel for completing missions and completing challenges in campaigns. This gives them one of 16 items up for grabs.
There are more than 1000 items you can collect, ranging from basic building blocks to fully-constructed castles, and, crucially, monster spawn points, switches and other machines. Although the 16 available pieces can be swapped out if they are not appealing, it is still a tedious grind that will not lead to all the pieces desired. Extra campaign packs are required to obtain the majority of useful objects.
The editor (Toy Box mode) allows players to modify pre-built worlds or create new ones. Players can also place land and change the texture and colour of objects as they go. These tutorials are solid and make it easy for beginners to build simple machines, such as connecting switches and gates. Although it's less LittleBigPlanet than Minecraft in terms of game types, it offers a wide range of options: pinball, racing games and 2D platformers. Top-down shooters can also be made if you have the right materials. You will need the right camera to change the viewpoint of the player. Good luck.
Once each masterpiece is completed, it can be shared with a friend or uploaded for approval to Disney. This is where the best content of the game will be found in future.
Mastery Adventures is the final game mode. It is basically a series if extended tutorials and minigames that cover each game's mechanics including editing. These are a glimpse at what it is possible to build, but they won't hold your attention for very long.
The Disney Infinity Starter Pack costs NZ$128, and includes extra figurines NZ$25 each. Or two campaign cubes for NZ$50. There is huge potential for expansion with Disney now owning the Marvel IPs and Star Wars IPs. It must provide more challenging content to attract the imagination of children beyond primary school.