Disney Infinity Starter Pack review
"You're a toy!" shouts Woody to Buzz Lightyear in the 1995 classic movie Toy Story, which stars toys that are alive - despite their young owners having no idea. It's one of those movies that touches upon the childhood imagination.
Disney Infinity taps into the idea of realising such imagination - it's an adventurous project that combines real-world collectable toys with on-screen console gaming. The Disney Infinity Starter Pack comes complete with a platform to sync-up the physical characters with their on-screen counterparts.
Sounds innovative, but it's not a new concept: The Skylanders series has taken a similar approach throughout a number of game releases already, which includes its own set of collectable characters. But Infinity is all about Disney, the name behind so many much-loved characters - and that makes it a whole different ball game.
By putting the player in the driving seat of such characters can Disney Infinity do all that's necessary to capture the hearts and minds of not only young fans but also gamers of any age from around the globe?
Gotta catch 'em all
Disney Infinity's big sell is the physical toy characters available from around the Disney and Pixar universe. There are 17 toys currently available, with three included in the starter pack: Mr Incredible from The Incredibles, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Sully from Monsters Inc. (and Monsters University).
Other characters can be bought individually or in "Play Sets" - prices will start at £12 - including characters from Cars, The Lone Ranger, Pirates of Caribbean, Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Disney isn't being shy about saying that more character figures will be introduced in the future, so it will get pricey to collect the full set. At the moment there's no Mickey Mouse, for example, while characters from A Bug's Life, Planes, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and other classic Disney films are all on the cards.
The colourful toys appear well made, although our 18-month-old did manage to snap Sully off his base within about five minutes. Nothing a bit of super glue couldn't fix, but still frustrating.
Bring them to life
The beauty of the toys is that they have heritage, a back-story that young fans will be familiar with. Our kids enjoyed playing with them as standalone toys, but that's not their sole purpose: also included in the Disney Infinity Starter Pack is a "power plate" plinth - don't worry parents, not the exercise kind - known as the Disney Infinity Base that can be synced up to your games console to import the characters into the included video game. Pop them on the Base and an electronic chip in each toy character will bring them to life by "teleporting" them on to the screen.
Assuming, that is, you have one of the main console setups - Infinity is available on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC with full character compatibility. There will also be mobile, tablet, and Nintendo 3DS versions but it won't be possible to utilise the real-world toys with these versions.
The game itself feels a bit like Skylanders, even if Disney won't want to be compared to such a title. If you're familiar then you'll know how it works, if not the basis of the game is a series of mini adventures based in a 3D world.
These story-driven campaigns are character led, so in the case of the Starter Pack that means you'll have the chance to swashbuckle against other pirates with Capt. Jack Sparrow, destroy robots in Megacity as Mr Incredible, or run around the Monsters University campus as Sully. Different toy characters will have their own stories which gives even more encouragement to collect the full set.
Throughout play the game breaks out into side missions, where you can jump away from the main missions that you're playing or access what's known as the Toy Box - more on that later. However story-lines don't follow the same well-known ones as their respective movies. It's all fresh material here.
The games for all the characters that we've played with are fun and easy to master, as they're aimed at a younger audience - although we've enjoyed having a little play too. There's widespread appeal here for collectors and gamers alike.
In addition to the toys there are what Disney calls Power Discs that act as power-ups. These plastic discs can also be placed on the Base to add special extras to the game and its characters. There are 20 Discs initially, but again we've been told that more will come, including "blind bags" that will go on sale to allow you to buy the discs with pocket money in a similar guise to the Lego minifigs packs. Think of it like buying stickers for a sticker album - you don't know exactly what you're going to get, but that's all part of the fun.
The Toy Box
Buying into the Disney Infinity characters brings around six hours of play per character. That's standard video game stuff and will keep the kids busy enough.
But where Disney Infinity expands into something much bigger is with Toy Box - it's a holodeck-like landscape, if you will, that enables you to build your own puzzles, tracks and other personal whims and wishes. This is where things get extra adventurous. And it's a lot of fun. Think Little Big Planet but with a more physical approach and that will give you an idea of Infinity's best feature.
Because it's a sandbox experience you can play whatever character you like and manipulate features between characters. Not that's where the fun really begins - we never thought we would see Mr Incredible driving around in Cinderella's pumpkin chariot.
You get hold of various extras by either finding them in the mini-adventures throughout the game, or by physically buying more Power Discs and putting them on to the Base plinth.
Once you've constructed your world, level, racetrack - or whatever you want to call it from the extensive range of options available - it's possible to share your creation among the online Disney community. Following upload your creation will need approval - a great idea as it will keep any untoward stuff from appearing, keeping this strictly safe for kids - whereafter it's possible to use the Top Box feature to play up to four players (two on your own console, two more online). Racing, platformers, puzzles - it's an almost endless set of possibilities. An apt title for the game then.
We had great fun playing Toy Box, although it has to be said that to achieve anything you do need to really commit. Younger children might not have the capacity to build up well-designed levels, so we wouldn't recommend unaided gaming for young kids - although letting them loose is harmless, even if they don't achieve anything on a grand scale.
On the surface Disney Infinity could easily have been seen as a Skylanders clone, but it's got so many things going for it that make it a fresh experience.
The physical toys are eye-catching and stand on their own merits, not least because they're those well-known Disney characters. They have heritage and appeal to fans. Then the Power Discs add in another level of play - think of them like "swapsies" were when collecting stickers for an album, which may add a level of playground fun.
We feel like we're yet to really scratch the surface of what is possible in Disney Infinity, but we've had a lot of fun playing it. After investing plenty of time in the standalone and side missions, it's the Toy Box experience that really opens things up. In just an hour, for example, we build a track and raced around it - that's not even a part of the main game, but goes to show the possibilities available.
With an affordable entry price - although it's not cheap and collecting will add up the cost - wide variety of characters and hours of endless gameplay ahead of you Infinity will feel, well, infinite. If you've got young kids, a games console, and a love for Disney movies then there's nothing amiss: Disney Infinity is a great success.