Disney Infinity 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes review: Super friends

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes is adorable. From the plucky way characters stride toward danger, to the fantastic, real-world figures that power their adventures, it's hard not to be enamored with the sequel.

Each time I plop a new figure on the base and a hero emerges from its magical Disney dust (made up of money and acquisitions), I revert back to that little Canadian kid from the early 90s, spellbound by Saturday morning cartoons.

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes is sold as a base set featuring three figures: Thor, Black Widow and Iron Man, along with a clear plastic tchotchke that acts as a "playset" figure. Playset, in the Infinity universe, is essentially a fancy word for the campaign. The Avengers playset features an Avengers-themed campaign, while the other two currently available playsets – Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy – are centered on their respective characters. While the base game includes three figures, which transport them into the game as a playable character when placed on a special portal, additional figures are compatible only with specific campaigns. Other Avengers such as Hulk and Captain America can be purchased separately and used within the Avengers playset, for example. There is some crossover with non-traditional Avenger characters, more on that later, but for the most part not every character is compatible with every campaign. Venom, for instance, won't be fighting alongside Black Widow in the Avengers playset.

Unlike the original Disney Infinity, which focused more on platforming, the base set of Disney Infinity 2.0 is very combat heavy, akin to Activision's toy-powered series, Skylanders.

When placed on the portal, each playset figure – the one included with the base set looks like a tiny Avengers Tower – offers plenty of missions revolving around the plots of Loki, MODOK and more. The locales range from Avengers Tower to the streets of New York City, as allies like Nick Fury send you on assignment to take out evildoers. But the non-player characters – Fury in the Avengers set, Cosmo in Guardians of the Galaxy and so on – are impatient to the point of being insulting. If you take too long to accomplish a task or if you decide to take a moment to explore, they chastise you. For me, arguably an adult, it was frustrating to hear the same pieces of dialog spouted again and again. I get it, Fury, you need me to punch Frost Giants. It's not my fault someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. hid a metric ton of experience point orbs all over the city!

I think it's completely possible that, for newer players or children, constantly being fed the "you're not doing what we want" lines could diminish their confidence and/or entertainment value. Some of this surfaced while playing the game locally with my girlfriend, but otherwise we had fun beating up bad guys as a team.

Each hero in the game is unique and translates their characteristics from both movies and comics quite well. Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, can be used strategically by throwing it and repositioning the God of Thunder so its return flight sweeps through a swath of enemies. Iron Man's combo of attacks feature both fisticuffs and classic character moments like firing his chest-mounted Unibeam. The characters and their voices, all of which are spectacular, really itched my nostalgia for lost Saturday mornings.

The missions themselves are very basic, mostly revolving around standard beat-em-up objectives. You could be told to go to one place on the map and beat up bad guys, or protect someone – by pounding bad guys – or escort people from one area to another. Oh, and if you see some bad guys on the way, smash 'em. It's simple and can get repetitive, but Disney Infinity 2.0 manages to remain entertaining thanks to the combinations of characters and its progression tree. Your heroes start with a few of their signature moves, but the more experience you earn – both by completing missions and collecting orbs that burst out of nearly everything – you can upgrade each individual hero. Skill trees can be very detailed and require some form of strategy early on. If you select one branch, it opens the door to connected powers. You can bank points for bigger skills, like Iron Man's missile barrage or a mighty lightning blast for Thor.

The world itself, however, is barren. What few civilians there are rarely react to anything happening around them, mostly oblivious to Black Widow single-handedly fending off a half dozen monsters from another world. Environments also nudge players to remind them that other heroes, and therefore toys, are available. Billboards plastered with the faces of other heroes litter rooftops, special missions for specific heroes can be found in the environment, and then there are crossover tokens. Crossovers allow other heroes not normally associated with a playset to be added as a playable character. In the Avengers playset, for example, Rocket Raccoon and Nova can be unlocked by collecting ten tokens featuring their faces, which are spread around the world.

Collect all of a character's token and you can use that token in your current playset. Just remember: Additional characters sold separately. You may have the ability to play as Nova in the Avengers set, but you'll still need to own his figure to use him. The crossover theme makes sense for the Marvel Univese. For instance, Iron Man is a crossover character in all three playsets – and in the comics Tony Stark has had his run-ins with guys like Rocket Raccoon. It's a neat idea, but there's a perceptible build up for many of the crossover characters, and after finding the tokens – not a difficult task, by the way – you realize that it only really pays off if you make a separate purchase.

The game worlds also seems to favor specific types of characters. New York is a large city, and getting around is easy with Spider-Man's web-swinging ability – which feels and looks awesome – or flying around as Thor and Iron Man. Meanwhile, Black Widow and other grounded characters get the short end of the stick. Walking around is slow, and while the world has bounce pads to spring you onto rooftops or poles to traverse buildings, they're all few and far between. So, Disney Infinity 2.0 just gives in, and very early on gives players a motorbike that transforms into a flying hover contraption thing. It's a band-aid for a design flaw, and it's not even a very good one, because there isn't one vehicle in Disney Infinity 2.0 that I ever want to drive or pilot again. Vehicles are too loose, and sudden adjustments with speed can send you soaring in unintended directions. The camera is also problematic at times during these sections, and issues – being too close or too slow – creep up during fights.

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Vehicle controls aren't the only wonky thing. Combat can get hairy when you're using a character with tendencies toward ranged aggression. Rocket Raccoon is a great character in the Marvel universe, but his combat is abysmal early on in Disney Infinity 2.0. His weapon fire is slower than Drax's thought process, and his melee combat is a boring charge toward enemies. For what could be the most popular character in the Guardians of the Galaxy set, he's not fun to control. Melee combat at least looks and feels more exciting in comparison; however, the majority of your hand-to-hand combat is relegated to hitting the same button again and again.

The playsets are where I spent most of my time, but Disney Infinity 2.0 is split into two major components. The Toy Box is the second piece of the puzzle, allowing players to create entire worlds and unique experiences. It's a little like LittleBigPlanet in a way, and much like LBP I am terrible at making things work. While some will create completely new side-scrolling adventures, or bring the characters into new genres, I made a city with a building that accidentally put holes in before I could figure out how to fix it. And then I made a racetrack (with similar holes) and then a nice ramp. The tools are in here to make something grand, but I don't posses the intellect to cobble anything together. (My ramp was pretty sweet, though.) There's just so much to the Toy Box that it's a learning process you have to accept. You start by creating basic elements and core pieces of an overall entertainment experience ... and before you know it, ramp. What's new to 2.0 are templates that ease players into creating specific types of Toy Boxes. It simplifies things by giving players a foundation from which they can build their own content.

The restrictions found in playset campaigns, such as which characters can play in what world, do not exist here. It's a free-for-all. You earn new items to use in Toy Box by completing challenges in the campaign, or simply by owning figures, and you can bring any character into any world you develop.

If creation isn't your strongest attribute, and it was not mine, Disney Infinity 2.0 features a robust system to search out and download new content from its community. Content is curated by the Disney Infinity team and surfaced to show off the best designs. I didn't run into any limitations based on figures used here, but it may be possible to come across Toy Box Games meant for a specific character's unique abilities.

Much like the original game in the series, Toy Boxes and characters can get a boost with a series of Power Discs, plastic accessories that are sold separately (at a lower cost than new figures). Discs range from new stuff like alternate costumes for heroes – like Black Suit Spidey – vehicles and gear and visual trappings inspired by the Marvel universe for your Toy Boxes.

Although Disney sent us every toy in the series for the purpose of this review, I focused my attention primarily on the base set. I wanted to exhaust entertainment out of that first set because, at $75, it's likely many players won't expand right away. How much value you'll get out of it will definitely vary based on who's playing. Disney Infinity 2.0 is very much aimed at a younger and more casual audience - who will enjoy clobbering bad guys and following the cute story – though you can ramp up difficulty to make it much more challenging. Meanwhile, the Toy Box mode has the potential to offer a ton of great and unique community driven content. Even if, like me, you're not the creative type, you can download other player-created experiences.

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes features more variety than its predecessor, but the campaign content included in the base set is still quite repetitive. Combat can become monotonous over time, but being a Marvel fan will certainly help you overlook some of these gripes. If you can, Disney Infinity 2.0 just might make your Saturday morning dreams come true. You won't just be watching your favorite heroes battling evil on TV – you'll be part of the team.

This review is based on a retail copy of Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes for the PlayStation 4, provided by Disney. Images: Disney.

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