Disney Infinity preview - first look
When asked how Disney Infinity, Disney Interactive Studio's recently revealed collectible toys/videogame venture differs from Activision's Skylanders series, executive producer John Vignocchi precedes a hearty chuckle with "Well, first of all, our characters can jump." With that good-natured jab out of the way, Vignocchi adopt's a more matter-of-fact tone, "We do share a common element with Skylanders in that there are these interactive figures, but really, the comparisons stop there. If you look at our game, we have open-world play sets that you can explore. We are not a linear experience. You can go anywhere. You can choose to do missions, you can choose not to do missions. And when you look at the toy box, the toy box is your own virtual sandbox. You can create, customize and even make your own games inside it." The clearly passionate producer concludes with, "This is a totally different experience and a much different offering than Skylanders."
Based on our conversation with Vignocchi and, even more so, our eyes-on time with what the studio's calling a "platform" rather than game, Infinity indeed appears to be a far more ambitious project. Similar to Skylanders, Disney's take does include a portal-like platform--dubbed the "Infinity Base"--that collectible figures are placed on. Doing so brings them to life in-game, allowing users to embark on adventures with toys that have essentially just been zapped into their televisions. The first major difference though, is Infinity's Play Sets, virtual worlds filled with their own story-based missions inspired by the characters you're playing as. The starter pack, for example, is bundled with three characters--Captain Jack Sparrow, Monsters Inc.'s scare-master Sulley, and Mr. Incredible--as well as their accompanying play sets.
For players, this means enjoying three separate campaign-like experiences, complete with their own missions, puzzles, challenges, collectibles, and open-worlds. Whether battling Omnidroids as Mr. Incredible or taking to the high seas as Sparrow, players will dive into 2-3 hour (4-6 for completionists) story modes that expand on each respective property's existing fiction. On top of this traditional campaign progression--which also see players unlocking goodies and earning experience along the way--each set features a highly customizable area, encouraging users to modestly shape their story and surrounding world. In the Pirates play set, for example, Capt. Jack's ship can be tweaked in a variety of ways, while Mr. Incredible can build out a headquarters complete with a prison and training center in his set.
These play sets, however, only scratch the surface of the Infinity experience. You see, any item or character unlocked in a specific character's world will then be accessible in Toy Box mode--an evolution of the popular mode of the same name from the Toy Story 3 video game adaption. The toy box allows creative players to let loose within this do-what-you-want world. This could mean turning the keys to Buzz Lightyear's jetpack over to Jack Sparrow, letting Sulley tool around in Cinderella's royal carriage, or pitting The Incredible's Dash against Lightning McQueen in a high-speed race to the finish line. Within the toy box there are also adventures, tutorial-styled challenges and mini-games that help newcomers get comfortable with Infinity's various mechanics.
While the toy box can be continuously filled with new goodies collected from play sets, it also comes well stocked with tons of items used to build and create. Some of the cooler architectural pieces include familiar structures from the Disney theme parks, such as Cinderella's Castle or EPCOT's huge Spaceship Earth sphere. So yes, recreating your very own virtual Disneyland is possible within the toy box. More than just building stuff and messing around with your buddies--4-players are supported online, 2 locally--though, the toy box can be used to create its own games. Utilizing a number of what the developers at Avalanche Software are calling "logic toys", players can create deep, specified challenges by tweaking physics, using timers, and setting certain conditions. An example cited by Avalanche was that one of their in-house guys was able to recreate Bower's Castle track from Mario Kart.
If the potential of the play sets and toy box mode isn't enough to convince you Infinity is little more than Skylanders in mouse ears, consider the added depth and nuance brought by power discs, plastic circles and hexagons placed on the base. The former, which can be stacked beneath the collectible characters, add in-game buffs, such as more damage out-put, while the latter drops specific toys, like Aladdin’s Abu in elephant form into the toy box. Fueling the collectable craze aspect of Infinity, these power discs are sold separately in “blind” packs, two-per. Individual characters, sold without their own play sets, will also be available.
Given Disney's stretching stable of characters, both classic and contemporary, as well as the expansive worlds they inhabit, it's easy to see how this promising property could evolve, well, infinitely. And that's not even factoring in the possibility (which Disney Interactive would not comment on) of introducing Marvel and Star Wars characters into the fold.
While the overwhelming potential of this fan-pleasing project has us whistling zip-a-dee-doo-dah, we hope Infinity can deliver on its promise of staying true to the characters and worlds we love. There's no denying the geek-pleasing beauty of the Vinylmation-inspired sculpts, but whether or not we'll want to follow these plastic playthings on interactive adventures will be determined by the quality of the game supporting them. Disney Infinity is expected to ship sometime in June 2013.