Disney Infinity

Disney Infinity is a fascinating game. 

I had high hopes before it's release. Disney has a lot of great characters, and Disney Interactive has done some really interesting, innovative things over the years. ToonTown Online brought the MMO genre to kids over 10 years ago and is still going strong. 

Disney Infinity is, in many ways, better than I expected. The the first 5 minutes or so of gameplay has a cinematic flair that's definitely Disney. There's a strong creative team behind this, and it's evidenced throughout. 

In case you're not familiar with it already: Disney Infinity is a game that comes with a USB base that has three RFID pads upon which you place toys. One of the pads selects which world you're playing in, and the other two pads are for the characters your'e going to use in the world. Want to play in the Cars world with Mater and Lightning? Drop the appropriate items on the pad.

There are "play sets", which are levels that are hand-crafted for a specific open-world game experience. The Cars play set is kind of a Warcraft meets GTA style, where you can just drive around smashing things up if you like, or you can do quests using the familiar exclamation mark to identify a quest-giver and question mark to identify a quest endpoint.

And then there's the "Toy Box", where you can take the items you've unlocked and use them to build things, LittleBigPlanet style. You can start with a blank slate and build up some very fun environments.

Fun is a key word here. It sounds suspicious to say that the game is designed to feel like playing with toys, but that's what they set out to build (according to John Lasseter, who's got some cred in my book) and they really nailed this. It's a ton of fun simply playing in Toy Box with my son (who is 7), creating simple scenarios, playing with them, and then destroying them in crazy ways.

One stroke of brilliance is that the game rarely forces you to work directly with the other person you're playing with. If one of you wants to go into build mode and work on a part of the world, the other person can just keep doing whatever they want to do. There are areas where this isn't true, but often enough the fun is in playing in the same world with your partner instead of directly with them.

This makes it more like playing with physical toys, where you can come together when you want, play separately when you want, and there's no mode switch in the middle. You just play.

The Disney Infinity toys are RFID based.  Activision's Skylanders uses RFID toys as well, but Skylanders has been around for a while and has a number of generations of toys available. The newer Skylanders, the Giants and Lightcore models, have lights in them that are powered by the Skylanders base. Interestingly, the Lightcore Skylanders light up when you place them on the Infinity base (although of course the game doesn't recognise them). So I expect we'll see illuminated Disney Infinity characters in the future.

One of the most amazing things in my mind about Disney Infinity is the leap of faith it must have taken at Disney to allow their IP to be mashed up this way. You can take Disney trademarks like Cinderella's Castle or the Epcot ball, drop them into your Toy Box world, and then do all kinds of crazy things in and around them. Give Jack Sparrow a jetpack and fly to the top of the castle. Switch to Mater and then drive right off. Fun stuff. But can't you just imagine someone at Disney saying "No! No! No!"?

If you're a patient sort I think it may be worth waiting until the next generation consoles before picking up Disney Infinity. The Toy Box has a limit to the number of items you can place in it, and this is determined by how much horsepower your console has. And the load times are painful, at least on the Wii U where I'm playing it. But they have promised that the toys will be forward-compatible, so getting started today won't mean buying all new toys for Disney Infinity 2.