If you can dream it, you can do it.
As a critic, I usually walk into a preview appointment with low expectations, because I want to be surprised. It's not an attitude of pessimism as much as it is cautious optimism. Such is the case with my meeting with the developers for Disney Infinity, a title which lends itself to assumptions, what with the figurines, the platform they stand out, and the numerous packs, bonuses, and pricing schemes. If I didn't know any better, this idea might as well come from the Sky in a Land imagined by an Act of Vision.
But while the similarities between them are plentiful, Disney Infinity isn't just one game, but a candy concoction mixed with two additional franchises also popular with children: Little Big Planet and the LEGO series. That might sound as if Disney Infinity isn't able to find inspiration on its own, but that's far from the case. In many ways, the developers have simply expanded upon the Toy Box mode that already exists from Toy Story 3.
The Disney Infinity peripheral called the Infinity Base differs from the Portal of Power for the Skylanders series, chiefly in the shape and number of grooves. Along with two hexagonal impressions where character figurines can be snugly fitted, one circle impression belongs to the various Play Set pieces which determine the world of the game that's available to the player.
The $74.99 starter pack includes three figurines, the game, a Power Disc (more on that later), and a die-shaped Play Set piece that houses three self-contained experiences. For the on-hands demo, I chose the worlds for The Incredibles and Cars, both of which can be explored using the appropriate characters for those worlds. Though players can't use figurines in incompatible worlds (so, no Mrs. Incredible in Monster Inc.), players can freely mix and match them in Toy Box mode and more Play Sets are already on their way, like the open seas of Pirates of the Caribbean. With the catalogue of fantastical franchises at Disney's disposal, the possibilities abound.
Each Play Set features a unique world with various objectives, sometimes even different genres altogether. The game world of The Incredibles pits the titular family of superheroes against a horde of evil androids. While accepting numerous side quests to clean up the streets and rescue poor children from rooftops, players will need to swap between family members to access different powers and reach different areas. Along the way, they'll collect currency to purchase items and vehicles that will unlock not only in their respective story worlds, but also in Toy Box mode.
Meanwhile, the Cars Play Set piece summons a world where the objective is to build and refurbish Radiator Springs in time for a highly competitive racing championship. In between placing down garages along the road and towing in building materials from outside of town, players can race on Mario Kart-style tracks with an abundance of shortcuts and weapons that can be fired upon competitors. Some buildings will even transform, revealing ramps where cars can perform stunt tricks. Not much was said about the Monsters, Inc. Play Set, but it will be centered around pranks, The Monster University, and stealthily scaring the socks off children.
For some players, though, the point of going through the story mode of each world will be to unlock items in Toy Box mode. If you're wondering why I've mentioned this mode so many times in this preview, the reason is because it encourages boundless creativity, which children naturally have in spades. Want to create a world with the tower from Wreck-It Ralph surrounded by four Disney Princess castles? Well, be my guest. How about creating a soccer game from scratch or a massive calculator by simulating the proper connections between objects? Or turning Cinderella's carriage into a monster truck? Or recreating Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart on SNES? Go right ahead!
Even better, some Disney Infinity packs will come with special tokens called Power Discs that will augment characters and worlds. The hexagonal tokens, which fit beneath character figurines, grant additional perks like a higher attack bonus or a higher coin acquisition rate; combining two tokens together can sometimes even stack on each other for alchemical effects. The circular tokens, on the other hand, alter the Toy Box world with a special skin. What's a better pairing for Rainbow Road than the backdrop of TRON?
If anything else, Disney Infinity plans on keeping your children pre-occupied for hours, maybe days, at a time. Maybe you'll hop in on local or online co-op, but it's probably best to let their imaginations run free on their own. Isn't that what the best video games for children do? Disney Infinity will release on August 18, 2013 for Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and PC, with a special handheld version for 3DS.