CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During the near-decade I've been reviewing video games here, I've covered just about every type of game available. That doesn't make me an expert, but I like to think that I've developed pretty good judgment when it comes to identifying what's good and what stinks.
However when it came time to review "Disney Infinity," I didn't hesitate to call in the real experts -- my 8-year-old sons, Nick and Logan. My boys are no strangers to video games, and given their love of all things Disney, I fully expected "Infinity" to be a home run with them.
I was right. But even I wasn't prepared for their final verdict.
"Dad, this is way better than 'Skylanders!'"
Considering they have used their hard-earned allowance to collect nearly the entire run of figures in Activision's hugely popular franchise, and continue to play "Skylanders Giants" with regularity, that was quite the endorsement. And having spent time with "Disney Infinity" myself, I understand why they are so enamored.
"Disney Infinity" operates in a way very similar to that of the aforementioned "Skylanders," with players placing real toys on a platform and then using those characters in the virtual world. It's an ingenious system that combines the joy of collecting and playing with real toys with the fun that comes from playing a video game. But "Disney Infinity" takes the idea of playing with your virtual toys far beyond what is possible in "Skylanders."
The "Disney Infinity" starter pack includes three figures -- Mr. Incredible, Sully from "Monsters University" and Captain Jack Sparrow from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. The figures have an exaggerated look to them, which helps blend each unique character together within the "Disney Infinity" universe. Each character has a dedicated world (called play sets) to play in, complete with a full campaign, collectibles and side missions. These short campaigns -- each lasts only around 3-5 hours -- can be played solo or with a friend using a figure from the same play set. That means a player couldn't use Sully to team with Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean"-themed play set, but could use Davy Jones or Captain Barbossa -- two figures available for purchase separately -- for co-op play with the good Captain. There are multiple characters available for each play set, and new figures and play sets are available now with more on the way.
Unlike "Skylanders," the game play within each play set in "Infinity" offers a nice variety, from captaining a ship and fighting other vessels in Jack Sparrow's world to using your super powers to rescue citizens and stop villains as Mr. Incredible. Items found within each play set can then be used in the Toy Box mode, which is where "Disney Infinity" really shines.
The Toy Box expands on the mode first introduced in the "Toy Story 3" game (which I loved), also developed by Avalanche Studios. In Toy Box mode, players are free to create just about any world they can imagine, then play in that world using any of the "Disney Infinity" characters. Build a race track and pit Dash from "The Incredibles" against Lightning McQueen. Populate your world with bad guys and pummel them until your fingers hurt. Construct giant buildings and towers block-by-block. The possibilities truly are limitless within the Toy Box. My kids developed their own version of Capture the Flag in which they each built a home base, dropped Cinderella on the map and proceeded to see who could get the princess back to their base first. It was a simple idea, but one that produced hours of fun as they battled each other for the win.
Utilizing the tools within the Toy Box can be tricky at first as it can be difficult to line things up just right, even though the game gives you a visual clue when you are aligned correctly. It can also be difficult to layer objects on top of one another, and deleting the wrong object or piece of terrain can cause quite a headache. But even that small amount of frustration can't take away from the endless fun that remains to be had in Toy Box mode. Players can also share their created worlds with friends and download other players' creations via Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. The developers have also been busy creating additional Toy Box worlds that players can download and use.