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IT & Systems Management

Disney Infinity: Finally, a game with all the wit, charm, and crass commercialization of a Disney movie

Disney Infinity is best described as Disney Interactive's attempt at imitating Activision's hugely successful Skylanders games. Like Skylanders, Infinity requires players to place RFID-tagged physical objects--figures, play sets, or power discs--onto the plastic "Infinity Base" sensor, a console accessory that imports the data on the toy and allows them to be played in-game.

It's a gimmick pioneered by Activision, but Disney takes it to the next level with the promise of near-infinite expansion packs based on classic Disney properties. The prospect of having access to figures and play sets from the Disney archives lends Infinity a sense of near-infinite discovery, even if some of those discoveries are hidden behind frustrating gameplay blocks.

Playing with toys

Figures--non-posable but stunningly-detailed toys--are vital to the experience of Disney Infinity. Placing one on the Infinity base instantly brings them into your game, allowing you to play them and complete tasks within their specific play set. You can buy figures for $12.99 in stores, but the Disney Infinity Starter Pack comes with three characters--Sully, Mr. Incredible, and Jack Sparrow. It also includes three play sets--Monsters University, The Incredibles, and Pirates of the Caribbean--that allow you to play in slightly cartoonish in-game recreations of each respective film.

Each playset is a unique game, but in the end they all boil down to an RPG-like series of quests that somehow rarely feels boring, despite sometimes making you complete four fetch quests in a row. If you love Disney movies the setting and atmosphere of each set is a constant source of entertainment, wrapping the afore-mentioned glorified fetch quests into tasks you enjoy featuring characters you care about.

While The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean sets were interesting, and quite beautiful, I found myself loving the Monsters University set above the others. As Sully you're tasked with cleaning up the Monsters U. campus after their arch-rivals at Fear Tech trashed it in a pranking spree. The game evolves into a series of revenge pranks, including paintball fights and firing toilet paper onto rival school statues with the help of a toilet paper launcher. In addition to those quests you can take an active hand in improving Monsters U. by building out Frat Row. There's a wide variety of locations to explore, which helps keep things fresh if you start to get bored with a particular area of Monsters U.

Pirates of the Caribbean is the most technically impressive playset in the starting lineup, mostly because it introduces large-scale naval combat. Living up to its name, Pirates of the Caribbean tasks players with piloting a pirate ship on the high seas. Sure, those seafaring adventures are doled out in small increments, either for specific missions or just to travel between land locations, but the ships are a joy to sail. The land-based challenges in the Pirates of the Caribbean play set require you to engage in some very simple third-person running, jumping and general swashbuckling, but they're fun and interesting enough to keep you playing.

The Incredibles play set is by far the most open of the three, as it charges the player to assume control of their favorite member of the Incredibles and wipe out the criminals menacing Metropolis. After you finish the frustratingly simple tutorials on basic combat and navigation, which you have to go through at the start of every play set, you're loosed into the open world to fly around and complete missions as you see fit.

If you're anything like me, this play set is where the most insidious of Disney Infinity's systems gets its hooks into you. In each play set, there's capsules with unlockable items and skins placed throughout play area. Collecting them all is an addictive challenge, and it reminds me of the countless hours I spent hunting for power orbs in Crackdown.

Here's where Disney Infinity becomes really  interesting. Each capsule you pick up unlocks a new item in the Toy Box mode, an open playground that lets you build your own world in a system that feels like the perfect mix of LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft. It's the ultimate playground, and I felt like I could create anything I wanted if I spent enough time in the Toy Box.

Trouble in the Toy Box

Unfortunately, many of the best items are locked and unusable until you spend "tokens" that come from leveling up your character in the play sets. You can't just choose which item to unlock with your tokens, either; you 'spin' to unlock a random item. There's no guarantee that you'll ever get a certain item that you're waiting for, as there's sixteen slots for it to choose from.

Instead of spending hours creating cool stuff in the Toy Box, I found myself going back with other characters to try to level them up to get tokens for my unlocks. It comes across as a hindrance to creativity.

There's another devious side to Disney Infinity as well, and that's just how many physical objects there are to purchase. At launch there's two additional play sets, Cars and The Lone Ranger, each priced at $34.99. They come with two figures and an entirely new play set for you to explore in, and the asking price seems reasonable given the hours of content that can come from them.

Power Discs, on the other hand, seem like a bold-faced move by Disney to exploit players for more money. These discs are placed under your character on the Infinity base, or on the play set slot, and rather than adding new characters or play sets they modify your existing game in potentially interesting ways. Some will reskin your game with textures from other Disney movies--like Tron Legacy, for example--or give you new abilities, while others will give you weapons and cars that are only available while the power disc is on the Infinity base. These discs come in packs of two; each pack costs $4.99, and you never know exactly what discs you'll get. That means you're likely to end up owning multiple duplicates of certain discs, lining Disney's pockets with your hard-earned money with nothing new to show for it. It also means disc trading is going to become a vital means of completing your collection without blowing a small fortune on disc packs. It's a fun and frustratingly addictive system, even if it does come off as an audaciously greedy move on Disney's part.

Bottom line

Disney Infinity is undeniably charming, infectiously fun in a way that only a mad mashup of Disney movies and collectible, playable toys could be. It's cute, whimsical and joyous in a way that most games aren't, though it has a number of frustrating limitations that do nothing but keep you playing for--and paying for--Infinity unlocks instead of creating things in the Toy Box.

Infinity has gotten a bad rap as nothing more than a menacing money grab, and at some points it is, but the core game is just too much fun for me to stop playing.

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