At the start of Toy Story 3, Andy--the owner of Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the gang--plays out a fantastic adventure involving a runaway train filled with troll orphans, a nunchuk-wielding Mrs. Potato Head, dogs with force fields, death by Barrel of Monkeys, and, of course, the nefarious Evil Dr. Pork Chop. It's a great sequence that reminds us that, given the right stimulus, there's nothing quite as freewheeling and wonderful as a child's imagination.
Disney Infinity provides plenty of fuel for young imaginations. It has an astounding array of play options for you and your child (or other pint-size companion) in its wonderful Toybox mode, allowing you to create, compete, or just goof around in worlds or activities you've made yourselves. While there are some missteps with the game's structured adventures, Infinity is still a great experience, particularly when shared with a little one.
In my time with Disney Infinity, my four-year-old son and I worked together to destroy the evil robots plaguing the city of the Incredibles. I helped him navigate the stormy seas of the Caribbean and destroy enemy pirates. I playfully showed my mock frustration as he kept shooting at me with a laser while I tried to build a gigantic race track. We laughed and played, and it was an amazing, impressive way to interact and spend time together using a game. And when I turned the console off, he continued to play with Infinity's physical toys. Infinity is a video game where play time that doesn't stop with the off switch.
Like Activision's Skylanders, Disney Infinity comes with a pad that you attach to your console, and you have to place real-world, physical figurines onto the pad to unlock their avatars within the game. Infinity's figurines are impressively detailed and full of charm, and the virtual sandbox in which you play with them is stuffed with possibility. The figurines are sturdy enough for normal play, but over-eager toddlers could certainly do damage to some of the more fragile characters. Dubbed Toybox, this mode lets you play with the digital avatars of your physical Infinity toys and create your own environments and adventures. There are a staggering number of options available to you when creating your own worlds, with hundreds of objects to unlock, ranging from simple environmental features and little creatures to populate your worlds, to more complex devices that can be linked together to allow you to create minigames and challenges.
Younger players will be especially entranced by this mode, in no small part due to the huge cultural footprint many Disney and Pixar characters already have. There's no discovery process required with these characters; they're already well known and loved, and the tools you're given are simple enough to use that it's easy to get straight into the business of creating. Most children already know that Mr. Incredible is super strong, that Jack Sparrow is a dastardly pirate, and that Sully the monster has a loud roar, and will want to get them into adventures straight away. Want to build a racetrack through Cinderella's castle that Sully can race through? Or arm Mr. Incredible and Sparrow with toilet roll guns and dump them in an arena surrounded by enemies? These and much more complex scenarios can be created, and you can easily lose hours in the process of making your own worlds.
It's an even better activity when the experience is shared with children, particularly little ones who may need more help with the creation tools. While my four-year-old son was too young to grasp the finer details of creating, there was still much joy to be had by allowing him to be the architect and for me to handle the fine controls of building.
Whether you're helping them build or just watching as they work on their outlandish creations, it's rewarding to see kids being able to express their imaginations so vividly with characters they're already familiar with. It's even better fun trying out your creations together, figuring out what worked (and what didn't), or even just dropping any semblance of structure and just going on extended griefing sessions against each other. Given the number of options available to you and the open-ended ways you can put different elements together, playing around in Disney Infinity's Toybox is almost better than the real thing.
Those without the inclination to create something from scratch don't have to miss out on what Toybox has to offer, and can rely instead on community- and developer-created levels that can be downloaded and played. Some of these shared creations are impressive, although you can't edit them yourself if you haven't unlocked all of the pieces that were used to create them. And therein lies the biggest problem with the otherwise great Toybox. You need to gradually unlock the hundreds of different objects available, which means that even after many hours of playing, some of the best gear may be unavailable for you or your child to tinker with. It's a disappointing creative block, one that needlessly limits what you can achieve.
Regardless of whether you spend the time to create your own levels or play in someone else's, there's still a lot of pleasure to be had in the flowing, free-form mode that is Toybox. By comparison, Infinity's playsets seem almost pedestrian. These playsets are structured adventures set in particular Disney franchises and feature different styles of play. The Pirates of the Caribbean playset, for example, is focused on platforming and ship battles, while the Incredibles playset is an open-world action adventure. Each lasts roughly four to five hours, and for adults, these can feel little better than your average movie tie-in game. There's no significant challenge in any of the three playsets included in the basic Disney Infinity pack, and there are several rough edges on show. Enemies continually spawn and attack you even while in the middle of missions in the city of The Incredibles, for example, while mission destination markers sometimes disappear in the waters and islands of Pirates of the Caribbean.
It's rewarding to see kids express their imaginations so vividly.
Despite these niggles, navigating the playsets with a kid partner is still a joy, with the lower difficulty making them ideal co-op activities, particularly for those with younger children. My son and I enjoyed each of the three starter playsets and their unique gameplay. It was goofy fun to sneak around and roar at unsuspecting passers-by in the Monsters University playset; sailing around the Caribbean was surprisingly engaging; and taking on waves of robots in the Incredibles city was a great co-op adventure. The playsets may have their technical issues, but they're charming enough to play through, particularly if your goal is to support or guide a junior gamer through their challenges. With the different play styles on offer, Infinity is also a neat way to introduce your kid to a variety of gaming genres all within the one game, and be able to switch from one to another should attention spans start to wane. Be warned, though: you have to buy more figurines if you want to co-op playsets, because you can only use characters from the same franchise within their particular worlds. Since the basic Disney Infinity pack includes three characters from separate worlds, spending more is practically a necessity if you want to get the most out of the game.
Traverse the world of Disney Infinity as an adult, and you may come away underwhelmed. Its playsets never quite lift themselves above being better than average, while its extensive sandbox mode reaches its potential only if you spend the many hours required to earn its best items. But bring your child along for the experience, and Disney Infinity shines. It's an ideal game to play together with a kid, and it's a great virtual toy box that will help unlock and stimulate a child's imagination. And who knows? It might just do wonders for your imagination as well.