In Marvel comics lore, there's a character named Molecule Man, a "mostly" baddie whose immense superpower is nothing less than the ability to control matter at a molecular level and reshape it to his will. The only thing that prevented Molecule Man, whose real name is Owen Reece, from being completely unstoppable was his own subconscious, self-imposed limitations. Owen had all the power in the universe, but often lacked the imagination to use it.
I loved playing the first Disney Infinity, but it made me feel like the Molecule Man. The game's Toy Box mode (by far the best part of the Infinity gameplay hydra) seemed to offer endless opportunity to create something. Yet there I was, making boring cityscapes and poorly designed platformers. My partner in Infinity was my then four-year-old son, and even he seemed to sense my creations weren't up to snuff. Son, would you like to have a race on this overly convoluted track I just created? Oh, you'd rather just keep shooting me with that toilet roll gun? I see.
Thanks goodness, then, for the improvements introduced in Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes 2.0 Edition. The Toy Box is mind-boggingly complex and option-stuffed as never before, but it's also now much easier to create your own worlds and adventures, with the game featuring assist options that range from "give me a hand on this" all the way to "build the whole thing for me." The game as a whole still has its share of problems--the main adventure that comes with it is pedestrian, and there are some technical issues that result in sometimes poor frame rates and broken quests--but Infinity's best part has been made even better.
My partner again for Disney Infinity 2.0 was my son (now five), and as a lifelong Marvel devotee (thanks in no small part to my constant pushing of the House of Ideas), he was excited to play as some of his favorite characters. The starter pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 contains three Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow), one play set adventure, and two toy box games (which are like genre-specific little mini-games built using Toy Box tools). So that's two less play sets than last year's similarly priced starter pack, and while you can view that as the game providing you less content for the same price, I prefer to see things differently.
Like Skylanders (and that other upcoming toys-to-life product from Nintendo, amiibo), Infinity has real world, physical toys that are used to activate their digital versions within a game. One of the problems with last year's Infinity starter pack was that characters were locked to their specific different Disney play set worlds, so if you wanted to play with your kids or friends, you were forced to spend extra money on buying compatible characters. While there's only the one play set in the 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes starter pack, all of the characters that come bundled in can be used, so it's nice to be able to immediately play alongside someone without having to shell out that extra cash. You can, of course, buy other characters separately, so if you do want the whole Avengers crew, be prepared to fork out more money.
This new play set is a middling affair, an open-world action game lasting about five or so hours as the Avengers try to stop Loki and the Frost Giants from taking over New York. These themed adventures have always been the weakest parts of Infinity, and this set is no different. You'll find yourself repeating the same types of missions over and over (protect this precious whatsit for two minutes! save these frozen civilians and bring them to the safe zone!), and the open world of New York is pretty lifeless. The streets are filled cars that look exactly the same, the inhabitants don't seem to react to any of the superpowered hijinks happening around them, and there's scant little to do once you finish the main quest arc. The framerate, too, can chug at times, and it's particularly noticeable during co-op.
It takes time and actual, honest-to-goodness skill to make anything remotely playable, which makes the new additions to Toy Box in 2.0 extremely welcome ones.
But these are grown-up concerns for an adventure that's clearly aimed at pleasing the young. While Skylanders is aimed more at pre-teens and above, Infinity's Avengers seems to skew a little younger, with its simple goals and basic structure probably best suited for those under 10. My five-year-old certainly loved his time with the Avengers, and sharing that adventure with him as we battled countless Frost Giants was an outstanding experience. It was just the right mix for both of us to enjoy--not too hard or puzzling for him to get around, but just tough enough to require me to take the lead in most missions. It helps that the characters themselves--both their physical and digital iterations--are expressive and full of personality. The real world toys are nicely detailed and are quite sturdy (they survived being smashed against each other and being sat on multiple times by a baby in my household), while their in-game counterparts are impressive to play with. Flying around at top speed as Iron Man is a blast, and watching Thor's lightning infused combat strikes never gets old. Poor Black Widow, though; as the only non-superpowered hero in the starter pack, she feels the least fun to play with initially, as the game world just doesn't seem as well suited for characters that can't fly. While Thor and Iron Man can zoom to almost anywhere, unlucky Natasha has to take elevators to reach the tops of buildings. Not exactly the most thrilling entrance for an Avenger.
Each character also gets their own specific upgrade tree, and you can use skill points earned as you level up to customise your character. There's a level cap of 20, and you won't be able to buy all the upgrades, which gives 2.0 a welcome yet light customisation feel. Old Infinity characters--and you can use any of them from the previous game--also get this newly added upgrade tree, meaning you'll probably want to dust off that old Jack Sparrow and use him again (and no, old play sets are not compatible with this new game).
Even if you don't have a small child of your own (or can rent) that you can guide through the Avengers playset, it's still worthwhile playing if only for the gear and currency you'll get to use in Infinity's standout mode, Toy Box. This is where imaginations get their chance to shine, and the Toy Box is again a wonderfully open-ended experience where you can build a dizzying array of stuff. Want to try your hand at building a race track through Agrabah? Or create a platforming challenge around a series of high-rises? Or even create more complex games like a top-down action-rpg or a collectibles chase? All of this and more is possible.
Possible, of course, is the operative word here. It takes time and actual, honest-to-goodness skill to make anything remotely playable, which makes the new additions to Toy Box in 2.0 extremely welcome ones. Some of the new tools available to you include templates that come with everything you need to create specific game types (just hook the individual pieces up and go), non-playable characters that you can drop into empty worlds that will slowly build an entire themed region for you, and even specific pieces that you can stretch and pull to make whatever size environment you desire. In minutes, for example, I was able to create a large, twisting race track that dovetailed around skyscrapers, using only two pieces from the Toy Box.
Sure, going on autopilot may seem like the antithesis to the creative possibilities Toy Box opens up. But for me, this helping hand pushed me to try and create more. Gone is that initial befuddlement after looking at the hundreds of options in the Toy Box and not knowing where to start. Gone is the hesitation of devoting hours of time to creating something that may, in the end, suck a lot. Infinity now shows me what's possible, helps me get started, and removes some of the more time intensive parts of creation. And when I see what others are doing--including the the Toy Box games bundled in with the 2.0 starter pack (a decent tower defense-like game set in Asgard and a less successful Diablo-like action-RPG set in the Klyn space prison) and shared community favorites--it makes me wonder exactly what I can achieve, and I'm excited by the possibilities.
It's a pity, then, that the Toy Box doesn't escape some of 2.0's technical foibles. Toy Box worlds would sometimes crash during my time with them, and there was one particular mission in Toy Box's tutorial world that seemed perpetually broken. Having to unlock toys and tools, too, is a chore, but it's a manageable one. Playing through the Avengers playset should earn you enough currency to unlock plenty of toys, but you'll need to keep earning those blue sparkles if you hope to have a full range of creative options eventually available to you.
My son, though, cared not for such trivialities. He was happy to run around the various toy box worlds, exploring what each new one had to offer, occasionally offering me direction as I Molecule Man-ed my way around. And when he got bored of me trying to create the perfect game experience, he'd sit and play with the physical figurines, lost in his own imagination. Disney Infinity 2.0 is an amazing game to share with a child, and it could be an inspiring one, too.