Disney Infinity is going to be everywhere in the coming months. With the release of Disney Infinity: Marvel Superheroes, the popular game is making a foray into classic comic book characters. Previously, the series has featured original Disney and Pixar characters, like Elsa from Frozen or The Incredibles.
Marvel Superheroes introduces a whole gang of characters that will be familiar from summer blockbusters—The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man.
What’s the Deal With These Figurines?
If you’ve been in Toys-R-Us recently you might have noticed that Disney Infinity comes in a box that is three times the size of a normal game. Also, it’s full of action figures. What’s up with that?
There’s no need to feel bad if you’re overwhelmed by Disney Infinity. It’s a lot to take in.
Disney Infinity: Marvel Superheroes is the second edition of Disney Infinity—the first being the one with more traditional Disney and Pixar characters. The $75.00 starter pack for Marvel Super Heroes comes with three figurines, an Infinity Base, and a Play Set.
Here’s how it works:
- The Infinity Base plugs into your system with a USB. It contains three portals—flat spaces where you can put figurines or Play Sets. The Infinity Base reads the information coded into the bottom of the figurines and Play Sets. Yeah, these are high-tech toys. When you place a character on the Base, it appears in the game and you can play as that character. If you take the character off the Base, it disappears from the game.
- Because each figurine stores the information for that character, you can move the figurines and use them on different systems. If you have a level 10 Thor figurine, for example, you can take that figurine into a friend’s Disney Infinity game and retain your levels, experience points, and skills.
What about the Play Sets? That’s the “action adventure” part of Disney Infinity. The Play Sets are story modes with missions that your character can complete. For The Avengers, it’s defending New York City from Loki and his Frost Giants (a modified take on the plot of the “Thor” film). The Guardians of the Galaxy Play Set essentially follows the plot of the film as well—the Guardians are stealing an Infinity Stone from Ronan (the movie’s villain) and defeating him.
All the plots are simple and accessible, full of recognizable characters from films and comics.
Information for the story mode is stored in your Play Set Piece: the translucent plastic figurine that fits into the top portal on your Infinity Base.
There are also Game Discs and Power Discs, which contain extra levels or items. You can import these into your game by placing them on the Play Set portal.
Does this sound like a lot? Well, it is. Aside from the aforementioned Starter Pack, you can buy characters separately for around $14.00 per figurine. Power Disc packs are about $5.00 each, and there are a lot. Kotaku calculated the total price for every item in Disney Infinity 1.0 and ended up with a grand total of $252.
You don’t need to spend that much. You really don’t. But as they point out, the minimum price for buying Disney Infinity is $75.00 for the starter pack that has the Infinity Base. That’s what I played with—a Starter Pack for the Xbox 360 featuring Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow. (If you play on the PC, though, you might be able to get away with paying less or sticking to the free download, but then of course your options will be limited.)
I’ll be honest. The price of this game is a sticking point for me. Yes, the figurines are well made and specifically designed so that kids can play with them—they aren’t fragile collector items meant to sit on a shelf. The story mode is long (if repetitive), and the sandbox portion of the game is technically limitless.
However, I would have had to work really hard to convince my parents that this game was worth it, when I was a kid. That being said, a new game from a big studio (think Call of Duty) costs around $60.00. A subscription to a massively multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft runs about $15.00 per month.
It’s not so much the initial price of Disney Infinity that puts me off—you do get a lot for $75.00—it’s the system of new releases that appeals to children’s love of novelty. Families can decide for themselves whether they want to invest in Disney Infinity. For me, the price and the constant flow of new toys makes this a luxury item.
Disney Infinity has two distinct game modes: Play Sets and the Toy Box. Play Sets are mission-based adventure games and the Toy Box is a world-building game like Minecraft.
The Avengers Play Set
Marvel Superheroes doesn’t break any conventions with its action-heavy gameplay, but it doesn’t necessarily disappoint either. In Play Set mode you load up your chosen character and receive missions from secondary characters like Nick Fury, Sif, or even characters that haven’t yet starred in Marvel movies like Captain Marvel and Wasp.
In the Avengers Play Set, missions usually have you going to a location and fighting Loki’s Frost Giants there. Each of the characters has a distinctive fighting style, and playing as Black Widow feels very different from playing as Thor.
This was a nice touch that ended up being one of my favorite things about the game. While at first it was disconcerting to switch from one character to another, I feel that it gives value to the already expensive figurines. Furthermore, the characters are evenly matched in ability, despite their differences. Playing as superpower-less Black Widow, I never felt outmatched by Iron Man or Thor—what’s more, I kicked my friend’s butt in a duel between Black Widow and Iron Man, even though Black Widow can’t fly and Iron Man can.
As you defeat enemies you collect experience points, which you can put towards certain skills. The skill tree allows you to upgrade ranged and melee attacks, improve your healing abilities, travel speed, damage, and more. There are about 36 skills to master, and every choice feels valid. That’s both good and bad—-it means that eventually you’ll unlock all of the skills, but it also means that unless you’re particularly driven in one direction, choosing your next skill is just a matter of picking between whatever you can afford with your points.
Fights in Marvel Superheroes are fun and fluid. In the Avengers playset, hits against your Frost Giant enemies connect with a satisfying smack, and they explode into colorful sparks and plastic parts when you defeat them. You can switch back and forth between melee and ranged attacks with ease. The thing is, there’s not much else to it. In the Story Mode of The Avengers you receive missions, fight Frost Giants, receive more missions, on and on. Missions took me 10 minutes at most to complete, so for me an hour-long play session ended up feeling really repetitive.
Some of the missions have time objectives that make them more challenging, but after awhile I started skimming the mission objectives. The action was always the same, and while there is an ongoing arc to the story (you’re trying to stop Loki from bringing eternal winter to Earth) your role in the story is to beat up bad guys—nothing more.
That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable. As I leveled up Thor, Black Widow, and Iron Man I enjoyed familiarizing myself with their moves and speeding through New York City—often crashing into buildings or cars and destroying them unintentionally. The best part was when my roommate picked up a controller too, and popped into the game with me. Sharing a screen, we pounded through missions together, fought Loki, and threw each other off tall buildings. (Don’t worry, we landed without a scratch.)
The split-screen co-op makes the bland story mode a little more engaging. You don’t have to stop the game to add a second player—all the other player needs to do is pop a figurine onto the Infinity Base, and the character will appear in the game with you. Not only is it more fun with two players, sometimes it’s completely necessary. The timed missions can be extremely challenging, and having two heroes makes a big difference.
The Toy Box
The other half of the game is the Toy Box mode. This is where Disney Infinity is really meant to shine.
The Toy Box lets you build your own world and your own games. As you go through the Play Set mode of the game you unlock items for the Toy Box, and you also collect blue sparks that serve as currency in the Toy Box store. Items could be anything from a flying motorcycle, to a stylized brick building, to Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
After a Toy Box introduction that gives you short quests, you’re encouraged to leave the tutorial zone and build your own world.
I had performance anxiety. I didn’t want to leave the sparkly, beautiful tutorial area with its elegant fairy-tale trees nestled up against the city of Agrabah on one side, and downtown New York on the other. My own Toy Box was a grassy plain floating in the endless, starry void of space.
I didn’t know what to do in either location, and it made me a little sad.
I could feel the potential of the Toy Box. You can build racetracks, mazes, cities in the sky—or more complicated puzzles that rely on buttons, triggers, and rules that you make up yourself. But I didn’t feel inspired. I placed a dune buggy and drove in circles for awhile. I stared at the flat green expanse of my Toy Box and thought about how empty it was and how empty it made me feel.
“Don’t you know,” the narrator asked me—a little desperately—”That you can do anything you want here?”
Eventually I took a deep breath and started building. I made some floating green rocks, and I built Sleeping Beauty’s castle (in the sky, of course). Eventually I had a rail set up so that my character could jump on a rail and slide down from the floating castle to the ground. For good measure, I built a racetrack so I could drive down as well.
I know people have built fantastic, amazing, and complex things with the Toy Box. I think maybe I could, given a little time and practice. The thing is, I’m not sure I want to put in the effort.
Nothing drives me in the Toy Box. I think Disney Infinity suffers by separating its mission-driven Adventure Mode and its free-form Toy Box mode so much. Aside from the ability to unlock things in the Play Set and place them in the Toy Box, the two play modes aren’t related at all—you’re either following the beat ’em up missions in the Play Set, or you’re totally on your own in the Toy Box. If there were some greater connection between the two that encouraged you to build or complete challenges, maybe I would have been more compelled by it.
Unfortunately, I also had issues with some of the tutorials and controls. When you are placing objects in the Toy Box, it’s incredibly difficult to select something that you have already placed. You’re working in a 3D space, so your cursor (represented by a golden “Spark”) can move up, down, backwards and forwards. The thing is, to pick up something you’ve put down, it’s not enough to just see your Spark floating over that item. So many times I would be futilely pressing A to pick up an item that the Spark appeared to be directly on top of, only to realize by spinning the camera that I was too far in the foreground to select it.
It’s a difficult game of twitching your thumb sticks and inching the Spark up and down to select and move something. When that something is a small item like, say, a car, and it’s sitting on a floating platform with a massive castle on it, it’s way too easy for the spark to grab onto the larger items and attempt to move those instead. I expended a lot of time and frustration trying to move misplaced objects.
One of the very cool things about the Toy Box is the ability to build your own games. Disney Infinity 2.0 is very clearly trying to make this easier by offering game templates that you can drop into your Toy Box and modify. These games are fun little things like timed climbing challenges, fighting arenas, car races, etc. You can connect to the Internet and download other players’ Toy Box worlds, and even play them online.
You can build your own games by placing items and using a tool called the Magic Wand to create connections and assign logic between them. The simplest example of this would be something like opening a door. If you place a door and a large button close by on the ground, you can use the Magic Wand to dictate what happens when you step on that button. With a menu that displays your options, you can assign a logic connection between the button and the door and decide that when the button is pressed, the door will open.
I think this is a great way to introduce kids to the concepts that go into programming. What coding does with programming languages, Disney Infinity simplifies into objects and the actions that make sense for them—opening and shutting a door, for example.
I know many creative, driven kids that could probably sink hours into building their imaginary worlds in the Toy Box. Maybe as a kid I could have too. As it is, I had trouble sinking myself into the world and spending the time it would take to figure it all out. But there’s a lot of potential in the game-building of Disney Infinity, and I warrant that if your kid is one of those who is really driven to build games, he or she will be the one teaching you how to use the Toy Box.
Disney Infinity Marvel Superheroes didn’t trash my expectations, but it never rose above “okay” for me. I love Disney. I love the idea of building imaginary worlds and dictating how they function. I love the idea of being a superhero—and I got a genuine thrill from flying around New York City as Thor, banking sharply to thread the needle through skyscrapers, lightning bursting from my mighty hammer when I hit the ground.
But there was always something missing. In the Play Set, it was a richer story, and action that amounted to more than smashing Frost Giants into smithereens. In the Toy Box it was a greater meaning—something to explore, some goal to strive towards.
I think it’s wonderful to have the option to play and build freely. But the emptiness of the Toy Box, combined with the bad taste left in my mouth by the consumerism of the game, didn’t make me feel compelled to create anything there.
I don’t hate Disney Infinity Marvel Superheroes, but it wasn’t the magical, transformative experience that it wants to be.
That being said, I will add some caveats to this disappointing conclusion. If you are a parent who hasn’t played games before, the Play Set mode of this game could serve as a fun, simple way for you to join your kid and play superheroes. Since you can join the game anytime just by placing your figure on the Infinity Base (and leave the game just as easily), it’s a low-commitment way to explore gaming—and you can be sure that it’s 100% family friendly.
For kids who want to build their own games and don’t mind being left to their own devices, the Toy Box may be something they can really use, enjoy, and learn from.
Disney Infinity left me wanting some magic in the world. I still don’t know if the magic was ever there at all—or if it’s just that I can’t see it.