One of the first things we checked out once we got boots on the ground in Los Angeles for this year's E3 festivities was the upcoming game, Disney Infinity. At face value, the game could be mistaken as some sort of a clone of Activision's Skylanders franchise, with statuette toy tie-ins that you use to play as different characters. However, Infinity uses that template as more of a jumping-off point, expanding the resulting gameplay into a creative sandbox mode as well as a more traditional story mode experience. At Disney's event, we checked out both modes and came away suitably impressed.
Much as is the case with Skylanders, Disney's Infinity centers on collecting and using toy statuettes which, when placed on a special sensor pad, allow you to play as those characters in the game. Obviously, this leverages Disney properties, with characters from the "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Monsters Inc.," and "The Incredibles" included with the base game. Other play sets can be purchased to add characters from the "Cars" and "The Lone Ranger" franchises, and individual characters can be picked up as well.
While the game will coincide play set launches with new Disney properties as they release, everyone was tight-lipped over what they would be. Apparently, which property the development team should pursue is something of hotly contested debate among the staff, and Disney certainly has no shortage of iconic material from which to choose. However, we did see flaming pumpkin heads being thrown about as a weapon, which is something straight out of "Sleepy Hollow." That's also not to say that the game won't dig into the Disney archives to make use of older properties, but the concern was primarily on making sure that the game keeps up with new Disney releases. With "Star Wars" now an official Disney property, one wonders if the release of "Episode 7" might have something in store for the game as well.
While speaking with the art director for the game, we learned that Disney was initially a little cautious about handing over characters to be modeled as statuettes for the game. That train of thought didn't last very long, as he also commented that Disney can't wait to see the next batch of characters. The styling of the toys is very polished and looks like nothing short of what you'd expect from a Disney character statuette, though they do lack articulation. The idea behind that omission was aesthetics; it is simply really tough to make a toy with articulation that also resembles the character they are supposed to represent.
In addition to the characters, you can collect power-up tiles and world tiles to supplement the gameplay. Power-ups are circular, semi-transparent tiles that can be stacked underneath your character statuette on the sensor pad and give them boosts, such as extra health or extra damage. World tiles are a hexagonal shape and can be stacked up to three high to alter the landscape of the world or add vehicles. Want to make a world that has the terrain of "Wreck-It Ralph" and the skyscape of "Finding Nemo," while driving around in Cinderella's carriage armed with missile launchers? Have at it. These tiles are sold in sealed blind packs, not unlike cards in most collectable card games, which adds some luck to the draw. However, the characters are not going to be sold with any artificial rarity, and barring a store's stock, the idea is that all will be equally available.
The game can either be played with two players in split-screen or with up to four players across the network. We first checked out the toy box mode, which is what you would get if you used Skylanders as a baseline and mixed in liberal amounts of Minecraft and Little Big Planet. In toy box mode, players can build their world as they see fit, using the in-game tools to place objects, create land masses, and just create a world however they wish. The editing tools are also used during the toy box gameplay, making it easy to test new ideas and mess around while creating your landscape.
However, the truly interesting part is in the game's logic controls. In a matter of minutes, the presenter threw together a soccer match, complete with logic so that a scored goal made the crowd cheer, the fireworks cannon go off, and incremented the scoreboard. A few steps later, he made it so that if Player 2 won the game, an enemy would spawn and begin to harass nearby players. This logic can be tied around in different ways, and it promises to allow players to build their own landscapes and minigames. Tales of people re-creating Mario Kart-style racetracks were told, as well as others that involved creating a maze and seeing which of the participating players could clear it the fastest.
Players can also then post and share their creations on a sharing service curated by Disney. Friends can download each other's creations regardless of whether they've been vetted, but the ones that meet Disney's approval may be featured in something akin to top 10 lists. It was also mentioned that they might hold contests to have players try to make themed levels and submit the best ones for the rest of the community to check out. The game's powerful logic controls will certainly allow creative people to put forth some entertaining levels.
Later, we checked out the story mode as the Lone Ranger. The gameplay is much more structured in this mode, allowing you to ride around on his horse and complete quests for the various townsfolk in an old western town. Each play set has its own story mode content, which is said to add four to six hours of content to the game. These play sets also add new parts and characters for the toy box mode. While any character, vehicle, or world tile can be used in the toy box mode, you cannot play story mode with any character other than the intended one.
Overall, it was tough to walk away feeling that Disney Infinity was jumping on the bandwagon. The premise of using toys to augment gameplay is not new, but Infinity's take on user-generated content and card game-style booster packs for the tiles certainly builds upon that. As much as one can be excited for the development team's offerings in the story mode, it was difficult to not be more enthralled by the aspect of putting together nutty levels with friends and inventing silly new games. With the game releasing later this year, we should know more about Infinity soon enough.
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