There has been more than the usual clamor online for Disney Infinity, a new game from the Disney Interactive. Rumor, counter-rumor and various wild guesses were finally put to bed today as they unveiled the full story about their new game in a Hollywood launch event I attended.
The big headline here is that this is a new Skylanders-style experience featuring 30 or so toy Disney figures that grant access to characters and levels in the game. It is being developed by Avalanche Software and builds on technology from their excellent Toy Story: The Video Game product.
It is being released for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, WiiU, 3DS, Mobile and PC. It will come in the form of a starter pack that includes the Infinity Base (Disney’s equivalent of the Portal of Power), three figures (Mr. Incredible, Sully and Jack Sparrow) a Play Set and a Power up token.
Getting my hands on the toy figures, they looked and felt very much like Skylanders. John Blackburn described the challenge of incorporating the usually distinct Disney brands and franchises in one toy range. They have succeeded in granting the figures their own distinct chiseled look while retaining the classic look from each of their related properties.
They were around the same size and weight as the Skylanders figures, although varied in size more. The figures I saw didn’t include as many different types of materials, with no translucent elements, which I guess is in keeping with the style of each related Disney character.
The bases of each figure also represent which franchise set the figure is from. All the toys from The Incredibles will have the same style of base for instance — much like the element types with Skylanders. Like Skylanders figures, Disney Infinity characters use Near Field Communication on the Infinity Base to bring them into the game.
Unlike Skylanders though, character upgrades are handled through a series of physical tokens. Up to two of these circular discs are stacked underneath the figures on the Infinity Base to grant them special attacks and abilities.
This quick swap approach is a neat way to enable players to quickly switch characters and abilities but diminishes the permanent character development that made Activision’s game such a success with role play fans and children.
Interestingly, this also enables Disney to sell the tokens in sealed packs like trading cards and LEGO minifigs have done recently. If there are a large number of these upgrade tokens I could see my kids getting into both collecting them and playing with them.
The Infinity Base is much thinner than the Portal of Power and has specific zones — two for a figure and one for the Play Set token. Like the more recent Skylanders Portals the Infinity Base is a wired unit connecting to consoles via a USB plug. A 3DS version is said to use Infrared and I suspect that a mobile version will use Bluetooth.
Information is stored on the figures, but this is limited to in-game currency and a more general set of achievement stars. It sounded like this will enable players to alter the appearance of their characters in the game but their base characteristics will remain the same.
Where Disney Infinity exceeds Skylanders is in its wide-reaching functionality and modular approach to movie tie-in game-play. Firstly, the campaign levels available are determined by which transparent hexagonal Play Set piece you place on the Infinity Base.
Each of these grants access to a world and adventure that relates to a particular Disney franchise, and particular set of figures. Like an expanded version of Skylanders adventure packs this will enable Disney Interactive to offer experiences that relate to new and future movies without players having to buy a whole new game.
Game-play wise Disney Infinity is much like what we have seen in Toy Story: The Video Game. This adds climbing, jumping and vehicles to the sort of battling and puzzle mechanics we’ve seen in Skylanders. The levels I saw felt varied and challenging. There has obviously been quite an investment in the visuals as the game not only ran very smoothly but looked exquisite.
These campaign levels can be played by two players locally — split screen rather than shared screen — and by up to four players online. Many will welcome the more open game-play that the split screen feature delivers — having found the tethered shared screen aspect of Skylanders a little frustrating. The online function is a big addition, and I suspect will need to be matched by the next Skylanders game: it enables four people to play together online, each earning experience and currency for their own figure.
Without a Play Set piece on the Infinity Base you are in the Toy Box mode that offers a huge number of ways to play. It is essentially a video game creation tool that you control with your in-game characters. Again up to two players locally and four players online can co-operate (or compete) to create games with all the switches, generators and time gates you would expect — think LittleBigPlanet meets Minecraft. The more you play the Play Set campaigns the more content you have to build your own games out of. These levels can then be shared with Disney who will, in time, offer a curated set of player-created content.
In my one-to-one demo of the Play Box mode I was shown a bunch of games created by Disney’s playtesters. These ranged from fully functional versions of MarioKart and Gauntlet to Mario Brothers. It was impressive to see how quickly and easily you could create these sorts of games.
Disney Infinity will take a while to get your head around. There is a lot to even just the video-game side of things, particularly with the franchise spanning Play Set element. The combination of Avalanche Software’s Toy Story: The Video Game game-play with the physical collectible figures is a mouth-watering prospect for Disney fans and families. It remains to be seen whether this reach can be extended for core gamers with the expanded features of its Toy Box mode.
Either way, add to all this the potential inclusion of recent acquisition franchises like Star Wars and it starts looking like a rather compelling proposition. I’ll report back with a hands-on demo later today.
[Travel and Accommodation to launch event provided by Disney Interactive.]