Developer: Avalanche Software
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Skylanders makes millions. Serious millions. So it was only a matter of time before other companies decided to get into toy/video game hybrids and names don’t come much bigger than Disney. When we learned that the biggest name in animated movies was stepping into the fray, we knew things were about to get interesting in the war for a spot under Christmas trees.
Like Skylanders, Disney Infinity is going to sell toys that are placed on a docking device (the Infinity Base) which makes them appear in-game. These characters will be sold in ‘Play Sets’ based around specific film franchises. These sets will include a couple of toy characters along with single-player stages/missions based around that film. Pirates of the Caribbean, Monster’s University, The Incredibles, The Lone Ranger and so on.
In addition to standard single-player modes, Disney Infinity will offer a Toy Box mode which gives players free reign to create their own adventures and that’s what Disney invited us down to try out. As a fan of creating my own stages in Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, I was keen to see how this compared.
You begin with a large cube of green grass as a starting point, with any character toy placed on the base appearing as your on-screen avatar. You can flick between lots of different submenus with the shoulder buttons and scroll through a huge range of items to place into the world. Alternatively, you can use a view that shows a larger group of items at if you want to get a better idea of how many objects you have to play with.
Once you’ve selected something to add to your new world you can put it anywhere you like. It can be rotated, placed on the ground or left hovering in the air, anywhere in a 3D setting via the analogue sticks and d-pad. Highlighting objects allows you to easily adjust their positioning or just delete them entirely. Truth be told, it’s a little awkward, mainly because of the camera, as it’s fiddly to navigate in order to get the right perspectives for placing objects in positions that are going to be useful for navigating and platforming. Unlike tinkering around in Little Big Planet though, you’re far less likely to accidentally ‘break’ a stage by making any blunders.
The developers on hand were particularly keen to get us to use the Toy Box to create racetracks, and to be fair, it’s one of the first things I was up for building anyway. Mainly to compare it to the current king of track-editor’s ModNation Racers (yes, the racing isn’t up to much, but the editor is amazing). Infinity’s editor feels like a backwards step here. Instead of driving out your layout and using shoulder buttons to affect the track’s gradient, you build a track by piecing together track segments, much like a Scalextric set.
It takes much longer to build a track than ModNation and you have to be very aware of the height you’re laying out pieces, as the camera needs to be constantly wrestled in order to keep pieces joined up. Vehicles have a jump feature, but it’ll only get you so far. From my brief hands-on though, the vehicle handling is solid with some fun drifts whetting my appetite to be unleashed on a track my own mangled imagination hadn’t created.
Everything you see onscreen in the Toy Box can be played with, including the sky and floor. Entire themes can be chosen, or just take the parts you want. You’ll be able to use Marlon’s Reef from Finding Nemo as your background, have a racetrack made from the grid in Tron while the ground outside of it is from the brightly coloured world of Sugar Rush in Wreck It Ralph.
Producer John Day told us: “We have a whole host of toys that you have at your disposal, separated by categories to change how your world looks and behaves. Everything from platforming toys to vehicles, racetrack pieces and characters from films you may recognise. Some of my favourites are these set-pieces, large detailed bits of the Disney catalogue. Everything from Scrooge’s money bank from Duck Tales from the Cave of wonders if you’re an Aladdin fan. We don’t just do films, here’s Spaceship Earth from the Epcot Centre at Disneyworld. We’ve got pieces from the Disney Channel, different parks, we even have an ESPN themed sports toy so you can set up sporting themed events like football matches or whatever, all in the Infinity Toy Box.”
I noted Day’s enthusiasm to tell us about the wider range of content in the Toy Box as I’d noticed that almost every image we’ve seen of the game beforehand has been primarily Pixar-based. You’ll be able to blend the eras together though in the Toy Box, often with amusing results. For example, Cinderella’s carriage is available, but seeing little Mikey from Monsters Inc in it made us sad. So we gave it monster truck tyres and rocket launchers!
On foot, you can equip two items for adventuring, I found a nice little laser gun and sticky-hand that worked as a handy grappling hook. Many new items will be unlocked for the Toy Box when you play through the single player side of the game -the movie themed Play Sets. If you complete all the objectives in the launch package, you’ll have 1000 items to play with. That’s not a bad start at all.
It’s all very well creating a fantastic looking stage, but we’ll want something to do in it. Day was once again keen to share some tips for how to turn your world into a game:
“So, in addition to changing how the world looks I can place other [in game] toys that let me change how the world behaves, using a set of toys called Creativi-toys. These are toys that have behaviours that I can connect together to create my own fully functional games. A basic example of this is I can place down a button and a falling object generator. Using the magic wand [a player-selected item –Ed.], I can use it to tether toys together. By using the magic wand I can select the button and pull up this list of behaviours I can tap into, so I can select ‘player stepped on behaviour’ and then connect it to the falling object generator and I have a number of choices here that I can pick from.”
From here, we can ask the game to drop lots of different objects like tennis balls, a never-ending stream of enemies and much more. But what about something for a more lasting experience?
“We have toys that do things like keep track of the time or keep track of the score, or choose what team you’re on, or change the camera to a top-down view or a side-view camera. And by linking all of these toys together, you can create fully functional sports games and recreations of retro arcade games. One of our testers back at the office put together a recreation of Donkey Kong, using a side-view camera and a drop-spotter to drop balls repeatedly, add a couple of ramps and very quickly we had this arcade knock-off. Recreations of race tracks from popular racing games is something of a past-time at the office.”
Once you have created something you’re proud of, you will be able to share it online. Unlike Little Big Planet and its ilk, uploads must be submitted for approval before they will be published. Bearing in mind the young age of many of the gamers that will be drawn to the game, this is probably for the best to avoid them seeing anything inappropriate. I imagine it will also kill off some forms of creativity due to copyright issues. Little Big Planet eventually gave up on banishing Mario stage recreations, but chances are, any hommages to other games will see the ban hammer here if approval is a manual process. Although, the devs have admitted enjoying re-creating Mario Kart stages in their spare time. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.
More exciting though is the revelation that stages that are approved will be available to download on any platform, regardless of which format they were originally developed on. PS3 and 360 gamers sharing content? Yep, that’s happening for the first time in the industry.
Keen to avoid alienating players not wishing to build their own stages, Day said, “So even if you’re not one for building up your own Toy Boxes you can just be constantly grabbing whatever Disney is approving and putting out, which will be rotating presumably forever. So there will always be unlimited content for the Toy Box.”
Another keen selling point for the game is that the entire thing can be played in multiplayer, both two-player splitscreen and 4-player co-op online. Friends can even help you build in the Toy Box. This is particularly useful if creating a racetrack as one can work on the track while the other decorates it.
The creative experience could do with being a bit more user-friendly if I’m honest. Despite clearly aiming for the younger gamer market, there are no templates or simple signposting to create specific game types. Instead, you must add everything manually, like scoreboards, starting lines and so on. It was an off-putting side to Little Big Planet and could also damage this game’s chances of kids using the mode for anything other than filling an area with pre-rendered castles. The aforementioned issues with fiddly camera controls could really test the patience of any gamer regardless of age.
To be fair though, an hour’s worth of hands-on time isn’t enough to make a final judgement. Once we have a chance to create stuff in our own time at home, things could gel better. As far as content appeal and looks go though, there’s no denying the game has huge potential to topple Spyro and the Skylanders gang. Hopefully, the depth of the single-player content will provide enough incentive to keep buying Play Sets, as expecting such a young target audience to keep the game afloat with user-generated content from the Toy Box could prove an overambitious failing.
Stay tuned. There’s more Disney Infinity coverage coming for you later in the week. I’ll go into detail about what you’re getting with the launch bundle, the physical toys themselves, the packs of Power Discs you’ll be trading with friends and looking at what the future may hold for the series. As for Skylanders Vs Disney this Christmas? It’s going to be a serious battle for shelf space.