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Disney Infinity review: Dream it. Do it.


Activision's Skylanders series is doing big business – big enough for the House of Mouse to take notice and develop a multi-million dollar competitor. The result, Disney Infinity, shares surface similarities with Activision's series, but its gameplay skews toward an older audience, in the hopes of capturing a universal appeal. Disney Infinity makes a lot of promises, boasting gameplay that takes cues from big-name hits like Minecraft and LittleBigPlanet. The finished product is a rousing success, offering lightweight but solid co-op gameplay built on a foundation of undiluted nostalgia.

Gallery: Disney Infinity Action (8/15/13) | 5 Photos

Disney Infinity is divided between the creation-focused Toy Box mode and Play Set mode, which offers a series of open-world platforming challenges. Gameplay is driven by sculpted figures that sit atop a USB-powered base. Characters that are placed on the base are given life in-game, complete with familiar animations, voices, and abilities.

Both Toy Box and Play Set modes take place from a third-person perspective and share similar gameplay mechanics. While the Skylanders games focus on combat, Disney Infinity takes a different approach, placing more of an emphasis on platforming. The result could frustrate some of Skylanders' younger fans, though adults will appreciate the added complexity.

Disney Infinity players can equip multiple Power Discs, which are physical, blind-boxed bits of plastic that stack underneath character figures and unlock new abilities and Toy Box toys. While the Toy Box bonuses are welcome, stat-boosting Power Discs have a negligible impact on gameplay, largely thanks to Disney Infinity's lack of difficulty or punishment for player death. They might be useful if you need an experience boost or some quick in-game cash, but Power Discs otherwise have very little use during gameplay, even when stacked for bonus buffs.

Toy Box mode comprises a large percentage of Disney Infinity's appeal. Starting in either a pre-built playground or a custom world, players can add terrain and all sorts of interactive elements to a non-canonical Disney universe filled with unlikely crossovers. Players can populate Aladdin's Cave of Wonders with a gang of Muppets, for example, or they can place Disneyland's Haunted Mansion next to Epcot's Spaceship Earth. Even if you have minimal knowledge of Disney movies and characters, you're bound to find a favorite among Toy Box's offerings, and mixing legacy Disney characters with modern-day faces has an unquestionable appeal.

Those who enjoy structureless sandbox games will get the most out of Toy Box mode, but its sheer breadth of content will win over pretty much anyone. Even if you lack the imagination or patience to create a world within Minecraft, Toy Box mode eases the creative process, making it a cinch to craft racetracks, platforms, and various oddball tributes to Disney's legacy.

Multiplayer shines in Toy Box mode. During one session, my partner built a replica of DuckTales' Killmotor Hill, topped with Scrooge McDuck's Money Bin and a small army of wandering Beagle Boys. On a nearby continent, I constructed the world's worst race track, filled with hairpin curves, huge dropoffs, and a finish line placed at the brink of a bottomless cliff. Despite their noble efforts, many Cars figures sacrificed their lives at the hands of Death Track, and it was hilarious.

While much of the content within Toy Box mode can be unlocked by completing Play Set missions, some of it is tied to specific figures. Unfortunately, players will need to purchase full sets of franchise-specific figures in order to access some of the best Toy Box elements (including pre-built Toy Box worlds, large themed structures, and toy characters) via Play Set Vaults. It's worth noting that the bulk of Skylanders' content can be accessed with just a handful of characters, while Disney Infinity's approach to unlockable content basically requires a full set of figures.

Disney Infinity's figure-collection aspect introduces a major drawback to its co-op component. While Toy Box mode is open to all characters, Play Sets are restricted to figures from their respective franchises – Sulley from Monsters University is unable to join the Incredibles Play Set, for instance. As Disney Infinity's Starter Pack only includes one character from each of its featured Play Sets, players will need to purchase several additional figures if they wish to join a partner for the duration of the game's campaign.

Disney Infinity review Dream it Do it
Gameplay within all of Disney Infinity's Play Sets is noticeably laid-back, compared to other open-world games. Exploring these worlds with a capable partner in co-op mode is especially enjoyable, as an experienced team can tackle multiple missions and objectives at once, turning gameplay into a satisfying conquest. Outside of challenges, players are free to explore on their own and pursue missions at their own pace, and are rarely at the mercy of their partner's actions.

All Play Sets are also distinct in style. The Incredibles Play Set focuses on open-world action and combat, while Pirates of the Caribbean features shooting mechanics and surprisingly in-depth ship navigation sequences between levels. Monsters University was my personal favorite Play Set, as it involves playing pranks on those uppity snobs at Fear Tech by toilet-papering their trees and tossing firecrackers in their windows.

Though all Play Sets offer a variety of simple, low-impact challenges, they're definitely targeted toward the youth market and pre-teens, in particular. Challenge is practically non-existent, and the lack of complexity may be a turnoff for those who are old enough to play other open-world games.

At the same time, Disney Infinity's challenges may prove too difficult for young children. The platforming challenges could be particularly frustrating, as they require much greater dexterity and coordination than what Skylanders demands. A parent-and-child team is an ideal setup for Disney Infinity, letting kids delegate platforming to adults while they focus on the simplified combat and exploration elements.

Adults who have a fondness for Disney will get the most out of Disney Infinity, thanks to its expansive Toy Box mode, and the Play Sets will provide hours of entertainment for kids who have prior experience with platformers. While the Play Sets may be a little too simple to be enjoyed by adults in single-player mode, they're a lot of fun with a co-op partner, as long as the both of you can revel in the fact that you're playing with childrens' toys. Despite some missteps, Disney Infinity does a solid job of appealing to a broad audience, and lives up to its lofty promises.

This review is based on the retail release of the Xbox 360 version of Disney Infinity, provided by Disney.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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