Disney Infinity 3.0

In the third iteration of its massively popular toys-to-life series, Disney drops the hammer on the most revered franchise in its stale. I know an expensive new addiction when I see one and tried to hold out on the Disney Infinity craze, but dropped my guard when wave two brought the Marvel superheroes into the mix. It’s hard to imagine the defences of many self-respecting geeks continuing to hold in the face of the relentlessly appealing Disneyfied versions of your favourite Star Wars personalities.

For those choosing to jump on to the Disney Infinity bandwagon with 3.0, congratulations, you’ve picked the absolute best time to do so. But with so many different packs and add-ons, the toys-to-life genre can be difficult to jump right into; this review breaks down the individual available components and walks you through the options as a newbie. If you’re already au fait with the world of Disney Infinity don’t worry, you’re getting an in-depth review of it all as we go.

Character figurines

Let us begin with the most attention-grabbing element of the Disney Infinity experience; toys! Playable characters in the series are each represented by a character figurine, about 10 centimetres tall and sculpted in the inimitable Disney animation style. The first edition of the game featured many fan-favourite Disney and Pixar characters, 2.0 gave us a range of Marvel Comics heroes and villains, and now we have the cast of Star Wars films old and new, along with the animated spin-offs, joining the ranks. By placing a figure on the Disney Infinity USB base, which plugs into your console, that character pops into the digital world to begin adventuring.

Of the various toys-to-life brands out there (Skylanders being the closest rivals, though I haven’t laid hands on the forthcoming Lego Dimensions goodies yet), Disney’s are easily the best made and most aesthetically pleasing. If you’re the type who likes a good toy display in the home, the Disney Infinity figures will fit right in with any proud collection, and the new Star Wars versions are no exception. The designs are sleek and minimal, poses dynamic and natural, and the colouring on each could have been done by a meticulous table-top gaming fanatic.

The Twilight of the Republic starter set (which we’ll get to shortly) comes with both an Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figure. Adapted from the excellent Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, the designs didn’t have far to go to get into Disney-approved shape, but they’ve been crafted perfectly and will be a joyous unboxing experience for any fan. Additional character figures from the same world are also available, including Yoda and Obi Wan, who also look fantastic. You can also pick up characters from the new Star Wars Rebels show; though I’m not familiar with the franchise, they’ve got a coolly functional combat styling that looks to be a nice cross between Republic-era military and Rebellion-style guerrilla outfitting.

Coming soon are figurines from the beloved original trilogy, so if you’re only looking to get hold of your childhood heroes Luke, Lea, Han, and Chewie, you’ll have to hold out a few more weeks, but previews make it look worth the wait. There’s also figures featuring characters from the forthcoming The Force Awakens film on the way, timed to coincide with the theatrical release around Christmas. Disney Infinty 3.0 also brings some new non-Star Wars characters into play, including Frozen favourite Olaf the snowman, Mulan, the protagonists of Tron, and classic Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic

The bulk of Disney Infinity’s gameplay content is spread across two modes; campaign-based play sets, and creative Toy Box play. We’ll deal with the former first.

Twilight of the Republic is the first play set available for Disney Infinity 3.0, and it can be purchased either as part of the Starter Pack, or as an individual play set. The Starter Pack comes with everything you need to get started; the game disc, USB base, two figures (Anakin and Ahsoka), and the Play Set piece – a smaller transparent sculpture that also sits on the Disney Infinity base alongside the character figures and unlocks narrative-driven missions. The Play Set box simply comes with the character figures and play set piece, so you’ll need to have a Disney Infinity base and access to the software (you can purchase it separately online). The most cost-effective way to go will depend on what you already have, and how much you’re looking to spend.

The Twilight of the Republic campaign is a short mission taking place between Episode II and III of the prequel trilogy, thankfully taking much of its energy from the Clone Wars cartoon rather than the stodgier films. A droid manufacturing plant on the planet Geonosis mysteriously springs to life and two of the republic’s finest Jedi set off to investigate. The story takes players to a handful of iconic Star Wars planets, including the urban metropolis of Coruscant, scenic Naboo, and barren Tatooine. You’ll rub shoulders with such galactic celebrities as General Grievous, Mace Windu, Darth Maul, and Jabba the Hutt.

Those familiar with past Disney Infinity games will immediately get a sense for the improvements made in this latest version as they plunge into combat right off the mark. Where its predecessors’ button-mashing battles were an uninspiring chore to wade through, 3.0 has judiciously tweaked the system to add depth, subtlety, and energy to the many clashes. The influence of co-developer Ninja Theory is no doubt responsible for much of the progress, with such notably sophisticated brawlers as Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil May Cry under its belt.

The relatively brief campaign (10-ish hours if you make good use of the many side quests) splits its time between skirmishes – which are loads of fun with lightsabres flashing in timed combos, juggles, and force-assisted power moves – light-weight platforming action, and exploration. A new element of the later is space flight, in which you can unlock a range of the franchise’s characteristic crafts and sore about a planet’s orbit. A detailed flight sim it is not, but simple dogfights and weaving through space debris with that goosebump-inducing score blaring away is a lot of fun for fans of all ages.

The game’s visuals have also been tightened up, avoiding the jagged flaws and stiff movements that often plagued the Marvel iteration. The beautifully designed figurines are translate digitally without flaw, their animations fluid, supplemented by top-notch voice acting. The worlds they inhabit have received just as much care (as well they should), and fans will get a kick out of seeing familiar sights in a fresh light, through the Disney lens.

Another very welcome improvement is the way in which you unlock additional characters. You need to hunt down a single character token in order to have that specific figure be usable in the Twilight of the Republic world; previous games made you collect a whole score of the things before you could unlock anyone new, and if you couldn’t find ‘em all, well, you’re cool new Hulk figurine just collected dust on the shelf. That said, it would be great (and fairly reasonable, I think) if you could just use any of your figures, from any edition of the game, in any of the play sets you’ve purchased – but that’s more the prevue of Toy Box mode (coming up next).

It’s not a huge mission, but pitched as it is at younger gamers the duration of Twilight of the Empire is probably spot on. And for that runtime you get plenty of interplanetary bang for a slightly more reasonable buck than previous sets.

There is also another play set based upon the latest Pixar film, Inside Out, currently available, featuring character figures for Joy and Anger. I have not had the opportunity to test this out, but it looks like a more platform-heavy campaign. Also on the way are the Rise Against the Empire play set, featuring Luke, Lea, and a mission set amidst the original trilogy; and a play set based on the upcoming The Force Awakens film.

Toy Box mode

When first playing Disney Infinity, the story-based play set mode is likely where you’ll dive in first, and fair enough, it’s got the glamour and the big names. But what really moves the game beyond a modestly-sized action adventure is Toy Box mode. Here the play time shifts from a handful of hours of fun to, like it says on the box, playing without limits.

Toy Box mode introduces players to an open world without predefined stories or missions; it’s a great big sandbox for you to create with. Allegedly inspired by Pixar’s Toy Story, Toy Box mode lets you use any character in your collection to build a home, a city, a world, and your own games. Using bits and pieces unlocked by progressing through play set games and other challenges (or purchased in-game, if you want to open that Pandora’s box), you can build, decorate, populate, and programme a good portion of whatever your heart desires.

At the onset this can be a difficult mode to come to grips with, especially for younger players. There’s so much freedom, and so many instruments for creation, that getting your head around everything represents a steep learning curve. There’s a good, if somewhat plodding, tutorial mode that helps newcomers get the hang of the Toy Box’s many and varied elements – essential groundwork for players young and old.

Once you’ve learned the ropes and collected a decent amount of content by adventuring, you’re ready to start sowing the seeds of your imagination. Build and decorate a home for your character; slap on the architect hat and put together infrastructure for a whole city; indulge your inner game developer, and experiment with the interactive elements to build your own games to compete in with friends. While it may be a lot of screen time, this is the kind of game you can feel a little less guilty letting your kid sink hours into; it’s going to call upon skills of logic, design, problem-solving, and creativity.

This has been an integral part of the Disney Infinity games since day one, and while 3.0 retains much of what came before and will be instantly familiar for veterans, there’s also a good dollop of freshness. The new Toy Box is both easier and more complex. Finding what you want and discovering other people’s creations online has become a lot simpler, thanks to some user-friendly overhauls to the navigation system. But there’s also a greater depth to the gaming-making possibilities, including the option to programme enemy movement paths, and build multi-environment games that go indoors, outdoors, and link to entire other areas.

It is really great to see games putting such emphasis on these creative-focused modes; your Mindcrafts, LittleBigPlanets, and Mario Makers. Disney Infinity 3.0 sits in a sweet mid-spot on the accessibility-intricacy spectrum. It will take time, but young players will get the hang of it, and they’ll have a damn good time doing it. And more advanced gamers will find plenty of opportunity to sink hours and hours into planning, implementing, and perfecting fiendish challenges for friends.

Toy Box Takeover

If you have played through the play set missions and aren’t feeling particularly creative, there are also pre-built, genre-specific Toy Box mini-games to jump into, and Disney Infinity 3.0 expands on the premise with self-contained expansion, Toy Box Takeover. This package simply comes with a play set piece that allows you to use any of your characters in an entry-level dungeon crawler that takes place across myriad worlds.

The villain from Pixar’s The Incredibles, Syndrome, returns to wreak havoc on the otherwise idyllic Toy Box world in which characters from all manner of movies, cartoons, and comics, live peaceably side-by-side. Stealing the powerful wand of Merlin (from The Sword in the Stone), Syndrome decides to make everyone’s lives a nightmare by unleashing wave after magical wave of assorted baddies to wreck up the place. The only thing for it is to embark on a franchise-spanning quest to beat the bosses, collect the loot, level up, and retrieve that wand.

Games of a similar nature have been included in Disney Infinity titles of the past through Power Disks (more on them later), but none have been quite as comprehensive and open as Toy Box Takeover. The most exciting prospect of the game is playing with a friend using whatever characters you desire (my Star-Lord and Han Solo team-up fantasy is really happening), and mashing through the many randomly-generated dungeons, themed for the various scoundrels of the piece.

You also get to recruit a sidekick for your quest, squat little icons representing various supporting cast members from Disney’s many properties. As you grind through the dungeons your little buddy will help you fight, and in return you’ll find them stat-boosting food, as well as equipment and weapons to make them stronger. Think of it as a light, magical, family-friendly Diablo.

It’s a fun exercise, and will add a handful of gameplay hours to your Disney Infinity 3.0 experience – you can adjust the difficulty, but even at its most challenging you’re looking at four hours tops. And of course you have to pay extra for the privilege. If the main draw for you or your young gamer is the ability to mix characters and fight it out then it’s a worthwhile investment, but if you’re happy with the much richer creative experience of Toy Box, then you could skip Takeover without losing sleep.

There is another self-contained Toy Box expansion around the corner called Toy Box Speedway. This will be a kart-racing game in which courses are themed to different racing or vehicle-specific movie moments. Thanks to the involvement of developer Sumo Digital (Sonic & All-Star Racing), Disney Infinity 3.0’s vehicle portions handle much better than they have in the past, so a racing expansion definitely has potential.

Power Discs

These are the cheapest upgrade route for your Disney Infinity kit, and with 3.0 the way you get hold of them has changed for the better.

If you’re looking to imbue your character with new powers or give your Toy Box creations a fresh new look, Power Discs are the way to go. These flat plastic tokens come in two different shapes; one that fits in the circular port of the Disney Infinity base where the characters go, and one that plugs into the hexagonal play set slot of the base. The round Power Discs can be placed beneath a character figurine to give them new in-game abilities, or provide the opportunity to call in another computer-controlled character for a brief team-up. The hexagonal discs let you add additional toys and textures to your Toy Box; just enter Toy Box mode, fit the disc on the base, and your new goodies pop into existence.

The Disney Infinity Power Discs used to be available for purchase in blind booster packs, meaning it was a random draw as to what you got with any given purchase. There was a chance to pick up especially rare Power Discs, a nice touch for the collectable card game types, but mostly it meant you’d often end up with things you just didn’t want. Disney Infinity 3.0 changes this system with the release of transparent theme packs; a collection of related hexagonal and round disks clearly displayed for informed purchasing decisions.

The first available theme pack is the Twilight of the Republic pack. In here you’ll get a circular Galactic Team-Up: Mace Windu disc, allowing you to call upon the veteran purple lightsaber-wielding Jedi to help you cleave through the Droid army. There’s also three hexagonal discs; one that unlocks General Grievous’ spherical Wheel Bike, and two discs that allow you to texture your Toy Box with the exotic jungle trappings of the planet Felucia (from Clone Wars) – one for the land and one for the sky. While none of these add a great deal of substance to the game – the Windu team-up just makes me want a Mace figurine all the more – they all play their minor parts well, and the cosmetic changes are implemented beautifully.

Naturally, there are more theme packs in the mail, including one to enhance the Rise of the Empire play set and one based on the recent live action Tomorrowland film.

Final thoughts

Figuring out what everything is for and making that initial investment to get into Disney Infinity is a dizzying prospect, but those who have put it off until now have two very compelling reasons to make the jump. First, because Star Wars. And secondly, Disney Infinity 3.0 represents a significant improvement on earlier iterations, filing off many of the rough edges and helping newbies transition to seasoned Toy Box tinkerers with ease.

As far as melding kid-friendly action, sandbox creativity, mantle-worthy figurines, and the biggest cache of brand recognition the world has ever known, Disney Infinity was already in a league of its own. The developer could easily have let well enough alone and watched the money continue to roll in. Thankfully, Avalanche Software and its development partners have continued striving for more, and as a result Disney Infinity 3.0 is a well-rounded experience that young and old will happily sink many an hour (and dollar) into, be it as action romp or creative outlet.

Article originally published at Gamefreaks.co.nz

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