Disney Infinity (Wii U) review
"Infinite possibilities on the drawing board suddenly feel quite limited once they've been torpedoed by disappointing execution."
Disney Infinity breaks my Disney-loving heart. I spent $90 on the starter pack and a Francesco character (heís a sporty Italian racing vehicle from the Pixar movie Cars) because I knew I was certain to have a great time. Instead, I spent the next 20 or so hours enduring sheer drudgery. It wasnít supposed to go like this at all.
The starter pack contains a variety of neat doodads, including three playable characters and a base that you can use to dive into adventure campaigns based on Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean. Thatís right: not a single selection comes from a standard Disney animated feature. I wonít hold that against anyone, though, because at least that much was clear from the packaging. What I didnít have reason to anticipate is that everything would feel like a beta release.
My adventure began with Monsters University. As that adventure unfolded, I found myself at the eponymous university, which members from the rival school (located just across the sewer) had recently defaced. My objective over the course of the campaign was to earn enough points in a competition to put my school in the lead by the conclusion of the last event.
Problems began almost immediately. The Monsters University portion of the game isnít very long if youíre just rushing to reach the end, but it offers a lot of busy work along the way. There are numerous flags in each portion of the world to gather, for instance, and a lot of tasks that require you to scale a bunch of buildings. Itís sometimes difficult to tell who you might talk to in order to keep things moving along, because an Ď!í or a Ď?í could mean you get to do something momentous or it could mean that youíre just supposed to drape another tree in toilet paper. Youíll get a feel for most of that, but the controls are also poor and they combine with an awkward camera to lead to moments of unnecessary frustration. You often have to climb up the side of buildings, leaping from one handhold to another, but sometimes youíll jump straight at something and the move wonít register properly, which could send you falling down a long ways and then you have to start fresh. Often, youíll have to stop to adjust the camera at several points during your ascent, which makes any repeat efforts feel all the more tedious.
Iíd complain more about a bunch of little things that bothered me about the Monsters University campaign, but thatís just a small segment of the game. There are two other full campaigns and other content besides that still deserve some attention. I actually found the Pirates of the Caribbean campaign to be mostly enjoyable, since its core design made issues from the camera and controls rather minimal, plus there were cool sea battles that reminded me of the naval sequences from Assassinís Creed III. That bright spot was balanced out by content related to The Incredibles, though, which proved the most frustrating of anything Disney Infinity had to offer me.
In The Incredibles, you are charged with recapturing three villains who have escaped from prison, then defeating Syndrome (who was responsible for their release in the first place). You start without a proper base of operations, but you soon get to build one along the edge of the city. Then you can make improvements to that base and your arsenal as you slowly complete additional missions. Itís a sandbox game, reminiscent of something like Grand Theft Auto but with super heroes and less grit. Unfortunately, very little of it is actually interesting. Mostly, you defeat bosses and then escort them back to your base, and all of that takes longer than it should because you move slowly until you finally gain better modes of transportation at something like the halfway point.
Once you do gain some mobility, then you have to grapple with irritating controls. In any one of the campaigns, you gather assorted equipment for your hero but canít use it all at once. You have to assign your favorite pieces to the Left and Right buttons on the d-pad, and then you can press the corresponding button to switch what you presently have equipped. Perhaps you want to smash things apart, so you go with a melee skill. Or maybe you want to ride on a hover board, so you do that instead. The problem is that often youíll need to switch between the two, and accidentally using the wrong one can cause trouble. For instance, you might float from one skyscraper to another and press Left to disable your hoverboard, only it remains equipped because you pressed the button before an animation finished. Now as you try to smash open a crate, you instead go flying off to the side, which sends you falling and now you have to spend another minute or so returning to where you were so that you can proceed. Or you try to start wailing on a rampaging robot, but you instead hop around like a goof as you try to surf on the air.
Those rampaging robots really do make life difficult, too. They drop from the sky wherever you go, and sometimes they rush you but other times they fire lasers at you from a ridiculous distance. Youíll be climbing a building, not realizing a robot is anywhere in range, and suddenly the windows around you erupt into flame and you fall back down to the street. Then you destroy the villains and try to explore again but--nope, itís time to fight more of those robots with the laser eyes.
Honestly, I canít imagine how most kids will get through each of the campaigns without swearing at some point. Certainly, I wasnít up to that taskÖ and so I headed to the Toy Box mode in hopes that something more relaxing would salvage the experience. Essentially, Toy Box mode gives you a canvas and lets you construct worlds using items you collect throughout the campaign, or by paying for them using stars gained in the campaigns and in the Toy Box mode itself. This is a neat idea, but those items can be difficult to place and the whole process is rather tedious. There are almost too many customization options, if youíve been collecting everything. Youíre going to have to spend a lot of time scrolling through tiles in order to produce anything meaningful, and I found my interest quickly waning.
Fortunately, other people can do all the work for you and then they can upload their creations to the server for you to try. I sampled one such featured attraction with Francesco, the optional racing car I had purchased. He appeared and was immediately trapped in the level architecture. I couldnít do anything until I switched to Mr. Incredible (by placing a different figuring on the base), and then I was able to work my way through a mostly vacant maze environment apparently inspired by Alice in Wonderland but filled with annoying robots and traps. I was relieved when I reached the end and was done.
I mentioned Francesco just now, so let me expand on that. Basically, the way additional characters work is that you get to play a single new mini-adventure with them. These adventures appear to be rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. In the case of Francesco, it meant I gained access to another race and was able to go up against the other characters from the Cars movie. I placed first, but I was awarded a Silver medal because the controls are sloppy and my time wasnít good enough. I was not impressed.
I wish that I could have enjoyed Disney Infinity. Thereís plenty of potential in the concept. Iíd love for a sequel to address the many problems with the current experience, but only time will tell whether that happens or not. For now, Iíll hold off on buying any more figures. I can find no incentive to expand a core experience that proved so very disappointing. Itís cool that other people seem to be having so much fun with all of it, but I think Iíll stick to other games that feel to me like they were put together with proper attention paid to both the concept and the execution.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 21, 2013)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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