If you thought the only chance you'd ever have of seeing Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy flying along in the levitating bed from Bedknobs and Broomsticks was in a particularly vivid dream, or after one too many pints on a Friday night, then you've clearly never heard of Disney Infinity 2.
A sequel to last year's "toys to life" game, Disney Infinity 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes, to give it its full name, is nothing if not ambitious. Mixing the physical with the digital, and a portal that, when you place a toy on it, lets you play as that character in game, it's a game that takes after the uber successful Skylanders, but tries to put its own, Disney-esque spin on things. And needless to say, some parts work better than others.
Available as a starter pack, for an RRP of £57.99, you'll get everything you need to at least start playing. In the box, you'll find three figures - Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow - the all important USB Infinity base, a poster, two Toy Box game discs (we'll come to these later), and, perhaps most importantly, the Avenger's Play Set. This transparent model of the Stark tower is what lets you access the meat of the game, the game's Avengers themed Play Set story mode - a co-op adventure for two people.
But as the name suggests, Disney Infinity isn't limited to its starter pack alone. Launching alongside the initial bundle are a dozen or more figures, both Marvel and Disney themed, two Play Set expansions - one based on the amazing Guardians of the Galaxy, and the other Spiderman - and a huge number of power discs that can be used to add new items, or toys to your game, but are sold blind bagged to squeeze maximum money out of you. Of course, that's a lot of game to cover in a single review, so for this one, we'll focus on the starter pack alone, seeing as that comes with everything you need to start playing - and, let's face it, it's expensive enough on its own.
Much like the first game, Disney Infinity 2.0 is divided up into two sections - the Toy Box, and the Play Sets. The Play Sets offer a more traditional, story driven, quest solving, bad guy beating experience - kind of like Skylanders, or the LEGO games - while the Toy Box is more free form, plonking you in the middle of an empty field, and letting you build your own game world to your heart's content - kind of like Minecraft with a pair of mouse ears.
The main meat of the game here, then, is in the bundled Play Set. Themed around the Avengers, all you have to do is plonk the Play Set piece on the Disney Infinity base to be transported into a New York under attack by Loki, who, along with floating brain-in-a-chair MODOK, is planning on playing with the weather to make things a bit icy for the city's inhabitants. Step in the Avengers - or, at least the ones that come with the game.
Placing one of the character figures on the Disney Infinity base will let you play as that character in the game. Springing to life in a fit of swirls and sparks, each character has their own stats and powers, which are saved on the figure itself rather than your user profile - but if you want to play as a character, you'll need to own that figure in real life. That means that only half the Avengers are available to you when you first start playing - and means we'll have to shell out on a figure (and wait until closer to Christmas) if we want to play as the Hulk.
Luckily, though, there's no need to buy anything else here. Unlike the first game, which sneakily shipped with a selection of figures that couldn't play together, meaning you had to shell out another £30 to play the Play Sets with a friend, Disney Infinity 2.0 supports co-op out of the box. So long as you and your friend are happy playing as either Iron Man, Thor or Black Widow, you can pound your way through the Avengers Play Set, explore its free roaming New York, and hunt down its many collectibles. You can do all the story missions, find all the collectibles, and complete all of the side quests - with only a few, non-essential things locked off. And that's a big difference compared to last year's game.
The Play Set revolves around a hub world of New York - a pretty expansive city to explore, with a handful (read: three) characters that give you quests, and the odd collectible to pick up here and there. While it may be a gigantic city (and the developers have been playing up how much bigger it is than the previous game's Play Sets), there's one big problem with making a massive city - it tends to feel rather empty.
With around a hundred collectibles to find, there are plenty of things to hunt out - but this feels like a pale imitation of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes' New York. For starters, you can't just jump in any car as it drives by - you have to use a specific vehicle spawning site to call in an Avenger motorbike. The pedestrians seem to mostly ignore you, too (perhaps accurate to real life, but still a bit odd considering you're a super hero), but at least there are plenty of quests to solve.
Split up into main story quests, and more optional side quests, there's a decent range of challenges on offer. There are smaller quests to complete around town, from blowing up a few bad guys, to defending a bus as it passes through the streets; larger missions that take place in proper, separate levels, and see you infiltrating Loki's warehouse, or fighting your way through Stark Tower; and a variety of races and beat the clock challenges for you to try your hand at. The only problem is, it all gets rather repetitive. There's only so many times you can defend a vehicle from wave after wave of enemies before it starts to get tiring, and with little variety between the side quests, sometimes you'll end up wondering if you've accidentally chosen to do the same quest again, because it plays out so similarly. We're also a bit disappointed that there aren't any collectibles hidden in the levels, either. Leaving them with no replay value, once you're done, you're done, with little incentive to go back.
So, while the Play Set is a fairly enjoyable romp, it still leaves a lot to be desired, and isn't a mode you'll find yourself coming back to again and again. It's also frustratingly hard in places, especially boss fights - an odd decision for a game aimed primarily at a younger audience.
However, one of the biggest down sides to the Play Set that Disney Infinity 2.0 retains its predecessor's weird, almost OCD obsession with keeping things separate. Although you can play as any figure in the game's Toy Box mode, if you want to play in a Play Set, you can only play as characters from that particular franchise - so Donald Duck can't join the Avengers, Stitch can't become a Guardian of the Galaxy, and Tinkerbell can't try her hand at being Mary Jane to Peter Parker's Spiderman. And that's a real shame - especially as the choice of who can play with who don't seem to make that much sense. Nick Fury, for example, can't play in the Avenger's Play Set - despite technically being their boss.
What you can do this time around is collect some cross-over tokens, which are scattered around the hub world in each Play Set - in the case of the Avengers, New York - and will let certain characters play in certain other Play Sets, bending the rules only slightly so they stay within Marvel's bounds. Rocket Racoon and Iron Man can play across all three, Hulk can play in Spiderman, and Nova can cross into the Avengers or Spiderman sets. But while Disney will argue it makes sense from a canon perspective, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth from a consumer point of view, especially if you didn't know about the limitations before you buy. At £15 a pop for a figure (that's £5 more than your basic Skylander), it's tough to justify, as there's so little you can do with them - all the Disney figures like Tinkerbell and Stitch can do, for example, is mess around in the Toy Box, and play levels the community have made.
It's a decision that makes even less sense when you consider that a) characters can mix freely in the Toy Box, and b) you can take characters into other "universes" in the Toy Box Games. A new feature for Disney Infinity 2.0, Toy Box games are little hexagonal discs that offer a different take on Disney Infinity. A kind of mini-game on a chip, the game comes bundled with two - a tower defence style game called Assault on Asgard, and a top-down dungeon crawler called Escape from the Kyln. Despite the latter being set in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow are free to crash the party. Makes sense, right?
Of course, the Play Set is only one half of the Disney Infinity 2.0 package. The other half is the creation tool, the Toy Box. But, unfortunately, it's rather hard to review. How you'll find it mostly depends on what you're trying to do. If you just want to mess around, making yourself a house, trying out the various toys and having a bit of fun, then they Toy Box is great - at least for a while. If you're trying to make yourself a level, though - which is the whole point of the Toy Box mode, it tends to end up feeling a bit awkward, confusing, and limited, with too many restrictions in place. It probably doesn't help that the tutorial the game does come with doesn't actually tell you most of what you need to do to make your own level - and that a lot of the pieces you'll want to use are blocked off. In order to access certain pieces, you'll need to buy the other Play Sets, or worse, dip into the blind bagged power discs, which could cost you a small fortune before you get the one you're looking for.
Things were supposed to be easier for beginners this time round thanks to builders - automatic figures that will "build" certain structures for you, whether it be towns, forests, platforming stages, or even rail grinding sections. However, you kind of end up feeling like they're missing the point - after all, if the Toy Box was easy to use to begin with, you wouldn't need to have an AI companion do it for you. In general, the builders end up being a bit hit and miss. The "logic builder" companion, for example, has a tendency to just build random switches connected to things all over the place, rather than anything resembling anything remotely useful. So while he'll plonk down a pad that, when you tread on it, makes a horn sound, or a pinball flipper flip, he won't do anything that actually helps you make a level.
The Toy Box also seems poorly organised, with bits and pieces divided up into categories that mean you can never find what you're looking for. We've been playing around for hours, and we still have yet to discover how to change the music in our level. While you can have some fun playing around with the characters you've bought, and placing random things, you're left with the feeling that the editor has nowhere near as much freedom as on other games. And it's frustrating, because we really want to be able to make a level. We want to be able to connect the pieces together, and make something great - but it'll take more time, and a few more tutorials before you can make anything worth playing.
Of course, we'll only really know how powerful it is once the pros get their hands on it. The quality of the user generated levels on games like Little Big Planet are through the roof, so we'd hope Disney Infinity 2.0 will follow in the same way - but Little Big Planet gives you a lot more tools. You can make your own toys out of bits and pieces, colour things yourself, and add customer stickers to things to truly transform your level - whereas on Disney Infinity 2.0, most things come in a take it or leave it form.
And that's just one of the things that makes Disney Infinity incredibly tricky to review. On one hand, it's a game that's more than the sum of its parts, as everything you buy will, in some ways, fit together with everything else to make the whole game that much better. The two Play Set expansions you can buy not only give you two more figures, and another story driven expansion to play through - each - but they also come with a variety of bits and bobs for your Toy Box. On the other hand, when you're standing in front of the pack on the shop floor, you'll only be buying the starter pack, not every figure going, yet alone every power disc accessory, so all you really want to know is whether it's worth the money? Is delving into Disney Infinity 2.0, and opening your wallet to an infinity of spending, worth it?
That answer will depend on two things. First, are you a Skylanders fan, and secondly, how much do you like Marvel? If you're the world's biggest Marvel fan, then sure, delve right in. There's enough references, cameos, and cool little touches to keep the Marvel hardcore entertained for a long time. If you're a Skylanders fan, on the other hand, or if Marvel does nothing for you, then it may be worth waiting until Trap Team comes out to see how that compares. With figures that look to be undercutting Disney Infinity by a fair margin, and as arguably more of a "game" than Disney Infinity is, Trap Team is certainly looking like a strong competitor.
For everyone else, it comes down to money. At £57.99 for the starter pack, that isn't a bad price, and the Avengers Play Set will at least keep you entertained for a single play through, even if there is little reason to ever touch it again once you've blasted through it. If you're a creator, the Toy Box may keep you hooked, but the interface, and selection of tools/pieces you have to play with will take a lot of getting used to.
But the biggest variable is how other people will take to the Toy Box. If there's a cavalcade of extra, quality levels being made, then Disney Infinity really will be infinite - and will be well worth a buy. But that depends on a lot of things. With any luck, we'll be taking a look at the other Play Sets over the coming weeks, and should be able to give you a better impression of how they all fit together. As it stands, with few, variable quality user generated levels on offer, and a somewhat disappointing Play Set, Disney Infinity 2.0 is good - but it has a lot left to prove.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360