Third Time’s The Charm for Disney Infinity
Our house was big on Skylanders since the product was released when my daughter was of the age when playing with action figures was still a big draw. For me, of course, it was a decent game I could play with her, although being a brand new franchise, there was no appeal from the figures themselves aside from the fact that they looked cool and that the technology and concept was cool. We fanatically collected each and every one we could find, at least in the first generation, and have a whole bucket full of them in the basement still.
Disney Infinity, on the other hand, seemed like a crass cash-in on Skylanders rampant success. Version 1.0 dropped right when we were looking for a boost to our “collectible figures that appear in your video game” fever that was breaking around the time of Skylanders Trap Team, so we picked up DI1.0, and took it for a spin. It didn’t last anywhere near as long as our Skylanders obsession did. The gameplay in DI1.0 was uninspiring as it was nothing but a series of (wide) open world platforming elements that paled when compared to Skylanders action combat design. DI1.0‘s desirability, of course, rested on it’s figure’s recognition. Whereas Skylanders figures were no-name characters (they never even got a Saturday morning cartoon!), DI1.0 had characters that everyone knew and loved from some of the more recent Disney products like Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles. No doubt banking on the idea that kids (and lets not kid ourselves, parents) would like to have a Sully sitting by the TV, Disney seemed to have skipped out on making the actual game compelling enough to stick with, relying more on the draw of the figures to move the game (or at least to sell the figures to Disneyphiles).
As if to prove the point that it was entirely about the figures and not the game, DI2.0 arrived after the runaway success of several Marvel franchises, most notably The Avengers. Rather than just add those characters to DI1.0, Disney pumped out DI2.0. All new characters, all new software, and I had hoped all new gameplay. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. In fact, I was significantly less impressed with the gameplay of 2.0. Thankfully, I had gotten the base set for over 50% off it’s MSRP.
Now we’re into DI3.0 which has been kicked off by — you guessed it — another wave of Disney property overload in the form of Star Wars. 1.0 seemed like kind of a “market to Skylanders fans” while 2.0 was a “market to young kids who love The Avengers“. 3.0, on the other hand, is like the fulmination of the aging of the demographic. Tons of people love Star Wars, and so far it’s been mostly adults who I’ve been hearing from in regards to wanting DI3.0 at least for the figures alone.
I’m not a massive Star Wars fan, but I like it better than The Avengers, and certainly more than the kid-focused franchises upon which DI1.0 was built, but fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, I’m not going to buy your shit a third time…at least that was my plan before Pete of Dragonchasers fame posted some videos of his gameplay in 3.0:
It looked better than 2.0 to me, and much better than 1.0, but I’d already spent the money on 1.0 and 2.0 starter kits, and wasn’t impressed with what I had gotten in each of those. Once again, Pete rode in to the rescue: he reminded me that you could get the software only if you owned a previous “portal”, the platform that you place the figures on to get them into the game. I have 1.0 on the Xbox 360 (but no 360 any more), and 2.0 on the PS4, and since the PS4 edition was $10 cheaper for some reason, I picked it up last night via PSN. Thanks to a fortuitous arrival of a payout regarding a class action lawsuit against Sony for something regarding the Vita, I didn’t even have to spend my own money on it!
At this point, let’s cut to the chase: I’ve already spent more time in DI3.0 than I did in 1.0 and 2.0 combined. To make that even more astounding, I don’t even have any 3.0 figures. In order to not piss off their consumers, Disney, like Skylanders, allows you to use old hardware and to carry your figures through so that your investment in generation 1.0 or 2.0 doesn’t need to be shelved when playing 3.0. Yes, that means Jack Sparrow can be piloting a land speeder, so pedants need not apply. It’s important in this case because Sony basically bought me the game so I could test it out before deciding to commit, or else I wouldn’t have spent the money to buy the game, another portal, and some 3.0 figures.
What is is about 3.0 that’s “better” than 1.0 and 2.0? First, I should address the elephant in the room that DI users and fans might have noticed I’ve glossed over, and that’s the Toy Box. The Toy Box (TB for short) is a construction kit built into the game that allows you to take elements of the pre-constructed game and build your own scenario. It also seems to be what the marketing is heavily focusing on this time around. 1.0 was basically a beta for this, as it’s tools were fairly limited. You had to unlock the building elements by playing the core game and then buy them using Sparks, which is a currency you collect while playing. This was slow, painful, and in my opinion, not worth it as it required me to play the boring core game to get to the “good stuff”, which in it’s infancy wasn’t even really that good. It was better to download the scenarios that other people made than to slog through the game to unlock things for yourself. 2.0 improved on it, or at least offered more interesting elements to unlock, like all of the stuff from the Marvel universe, but not enough to want to play through the boring game to earn it. It also gave you a dedicated house you could furnish and decorate.
I’ve really only spent time with 3.0 in what they call the Toy Box Hub. This is a gateway-slash-tutorial zone that you can use to learn how to build, how to use vehicles, how to fight, and how to use a new feature called “sidekicks”, which are basically combat pets you can earn, summon, and equip to help you in any DI world you play in. The TB in 3.0 is a lot better in terms of operation. You don’t have to play the game to find pieces to build with, although you can if you’d rather not pay for them with Sparks. This allowed me to look through the elements that DI3.0 offered, and they are extensive. There’s elements from various Disney properties like Mulan and Maleficient, but also entire set-pieces from Star Wars and The Avengers which would allow you to create the surface of the Death Star, Stark Tower, or the Ewok tree-city (and who doesn’t want to punt Ewoks from the catwalks above the forest floor? Eh? EH?)
I stayed inside the custom house for quite some time for a few reasons. It’s the first Hub option I chose. One thing that really struck me, though, was that Disney wasn’t just slapping a trendy veneer on 3.0 with Star Wars in mind: they really dug deep into their catalog. While in the house, you can place a device that allows for NPCs to enter and mill around. NPCs, for the most part, look like a Minecraft take on Weebles, but are recognizable as either generic folks or iconic Disney characters. In my house I saw some of the more famous characters like Wreck-It Ralph and Rapunzel, but it took me by surprise when I ran into Pete’s Fucking Dragon and Darkwing Duck. Some of the NPCs even quizzed you on Disney trivia — like the names of the hyenas in The Lion King or a totally-left-field question on The Love Bug (Google it, kids). That’s some serious back-catalog stuff right there, and that was when I realized that Disney finally got it, that they understood that pulling punches and narrowing the focus of the releases to home in on what’s currently popular from their stable is only good if they wanted to move units and not care about the experience. Opening the doors to a wider audience by incorporating more than just the new (or upcoming) hotness is going to provide touchstones for more people once they’ve been reeled in by the faces on the box, and to me, at least, leveraging the monumental catalog that Disney has at it’s disposal is like an almost unlimited amount of meta-content to chew on. In one section of the TB Hub you can visit Flynn’s Arcade from Tron, and I played a Disney created adventure set in Gravity Falls. My primary sidekick is, of course, Mabel, armed with throwing knives and a Roman Centurion helmet, which made me laugh maniacally.
I had a lot of fun with what I was able to get to, and I only got to try so much because I didn’t have a 3.0 playset, and because I just spent so much time enjoying the Toy Box Hub. I think that 1.0 was a bookmark, 2.0 — like most second entries in a trilogy — was the weakest entry, but 3.0 seems to has learned from it’s deficiencies and has been built with a more advanced user in mind: it’s Disney, so they have to include younger gamers, but whereas 1.0 and 2.0 seemed to focus solely on kids who had less familiarity with advanced gaming concepts and might only be interested in characters they have experienced, 3.0 seems to have grown with those audiences at least so that the gameplay is more palatable to older players, and have given them the knowing wink by pulling in content from almost a century’s worth of characters.
Of course, now I have to track down 3.0 playsets. Right now, I can get the Anakin/Ashoka Clone Wars playset, which I’m OK with, but the Luke/Leia play set isn’t out until the end of the month. They also have the Inside Out playset, but…yeah. There’s also the singles, like Han Solo and Chewie, Yoda and Vader, and I know my daughter would want Sam and Quorra from Tron Legacy. So It looks like I’m back on the hook for collecting figurines.