You can take the time to read the rest of this review of Disney Infinity 2.0, but everything you need to know about the game can be summed up in four words: Spider-Man versus Iron Fist.
That’s really it.
The game lets you pit a handful of Marvel super friends against one another in any number of ludicrous ways, all created by you. So, Iron Man can beat the webbing out of Spider-Man (or if you live in an unjust world, Spider-Man can send Iron Fist back to K’un-Lun) in a fierce one-on-one battle. Or Iron Man can outrace Spider-Man using Hydra motorcycles, or knock Spidey out in a match of paintball, or explode him apart in a bit of vicious car combat, or … you get the point.
Disney Infinity 2.0 is a significant step up from the original toys-to-life Disney game, but it’s also a change in direction for the franchise. Where the original Infinity looked to provide both a competitor to Skylanders’ campaign-only toys-to-life game, and creation titles like Minecraft and LittleBigPlanet, Infinity 2.0 clearly set its sights on creation first — almost only.
INFINITY 2.0 SETS ITS SIGHTS ON CREATION FIRST
The concept of Disney Infinity 2.0 is fairly straightforward: You are given control of a collection of real-world toys imbued with in-game life and dropped into an anything-goes world. These figures each contain chips which unlock the character in the game when placed on the Disney Infinity base. The chip also saves the stats for the character as you play with it and level it up. The game’s campaigns, minigames, power-ups, special tools and even decorations are all also unlockable through the use of a variety of different plastic discs that can be placed on the base.
The starter pack comes with the game itself, a plastic Disney Infinity base that plugs into your console, an Avengers play set piece which contains the game’s single campaign, two Toy Box game pieces used to unlock two themed minigames, and Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow figures.
Plopping a toy down on its spot on the base (there are spots for two figures on the platform), and dropping a Toy Box or play set piece on its spot seems pretty straightforward. But things can get pretty complicated when you start trying to move between the original and this sequel, or bring a toy to a friend’s house.
The game’s almost complete lack of instructions — what few exist are delivered through in-game tutorials spread out across a myriad of different chatty toys — makes some of this more complicated than it should be. Eventually, you’ll figure out things like original game compatibility, but often only through trial and error.
That compatibility doesn’t just mean the character shows up in the game as-is — the developers went out of their way to upgrade even the old toys, giving every character in Disney Infinity 2.0 the ability to rank up to level 20 and unique skill trees.
The skill trees are a major upgrade to the franchise. Now players can unlock and upgrade how their particular Iron Fist, Captain America or Jack Skellington behaves in a fight. The skill tree adds new abilities like super moves, increases health or speed and even delivers some surprising new actions, like the ability to wall-crawl or cloak.
This level of in-game personalization adds to the concept that each toy is unique, and only makes the bond between player and figure that much stronger. To upgrade your character’s stats you need to earn experience, something you can do in the game’s limited campaigns, minigames or the Toy Box worlds you create. Those stats remain the same no matter where you’re playing.
The decision to blur the line between campaigns and Toy Box creations is significant. It means that you’re no longer forced to play through the campaign to level up your character. And good thing,
too: The single campaign that the starter pack comes with is a dull, repetitive affair that offers little in the way of genuine fun.
Playing through Avengers, which features a storyline about Loki unleashing Frost Giants on Manhattan, felt more like a surprisingly long tutorial than the sort of game I would look forward to completing.The occasional set-piece battle is lost amid a blizzard of repetitive fetch and escort quests.
Fortunately, Disney Infinity 2.0’s campaign isn’t the only thing going this time around. The starter pack also comes with two discs, each of which unlocks a surprisingly fun minigame.
Assault on Asgard is a sort of third-person tower defense game featuring whatever character you have loaded up and an unending stream of Marvel bad guys. The object of the game is to set traps and turrets between waves of enemies. Taking out enemies earns you credit which can be used in the breaks to add more fortifications. The gameplay also gives you experience for leveling up your character, and sparks, Disney Infinity’s in-game currency for unlocking toys.
THE CUSTOMIZABLE TOY BOX IS INFINITY 2.0’S BIGGEST DRAW
Escape from Kyln is a zoomed in isometric action game a la X-Men, the arcade machine,which has you fighting your way through a dozen or so levels inside the infamous intergalactic prison most recently seen in Guardians of the Galaxy. This game adds a neat feature to the mechanics of Disney Infinity: customizable sidekicks. Early on you find a sidekick that you can upgrade with helmets, armor and weapons.
The most compelling thing about these two surprisingly fun minigames is the knowledge that they were created using Disney Infinity 2.0’s biggest draw: the customizable Toy Box.
Toy Box 2.0, as Disney calls it, brings with it changes to just about everything that people didn’t like about the original. In Toy Box 2.0, players are given a literal blank slate upon which to drop terrain, buildings, walls, characters, decorations, you name it, to create their own worlds. As with the original Toy Box, players have to unlock the pieces they want to use to make their creations. But this time around unlocking has been substantially improved.
In the original Toy Box, players used sparks to win randomly drawn capsules filled with a collection of toys. This became infuriating when I was trying to grab that one specific piece I needed to create a desert setting, or a game of soccer, or what have you. This time around players can choose how they want to spend their sparks — the only catch is that items are strung out across a tech tree of sorts, meaning you sometimes need to unlock one thing to get to another.
Another major improvement is the addition of automated building tools. We all envision ourselves as master crafters, able to whip up a pirate village or racetrack at the drop of a hat. But the reality is that building those things, especially if they’re not really the highlight of your world, can be a pain.
Enter the builders and templates. Builders are a collection of in-game-only non-player characters, each with specific penchants for building a type of setting. So if you grab Brave’s King Fergus, for instance, and drop him down on your terrain, he’ll automatically set about building a DunBroch castle for you.
Creators are a bit more hands-on. They essentially allow you to drop a block on the ground, size it and then have the theme of your choice be procedurally generated right in front of you. So if you place a pirate block, the area will slowly fill with palm trees, pirate buildings and such.
The templates are essentially like creators, but used to create instant minigames. So you can drop one down and it builds the mechanics for, say, a car combat game. Then all you have to do is decide on the tracks and terrain.
If you’re into going fully hands-on, that’s possible too. The game is packed with a plethora of basic building blocks, colors, themes, terrains, toys, characters, enemies, all unlockable either through campaign or minigame play or by using sparks.
The most important toys, the “creativi-toys,” have been greatly expanded as well. These toys are the tools used to create games. They’re essentially a bunch of logic blocks which can be linked together to make something fun. There are 75 new ones in the toy box. Other additions include a challenge maker, which makes it possible to create very structured games and a toy box game maker which essentially turns your world into something akin to the Disney Infinity 2.0’s campaigns or minigames, with slick features like building your own instructions, keeping score and readying up.
One of my favorite new additions is the ability to create interior levels. Now you can build out the inside of a home, decorate, add rooms and then attach it to an outside level with a door portal. This essentially allows you create the illusion of walking into or out of a building with load times.
And that brings me to the some of the things I’m not so happy about in the game. The load times can be insufferable, especially given that the problem remains on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I find myself leaving the room and checking email, or going upstairs to grab a drink, when the game starts to load an area.
Those long loads are likely tied to the fact that the game allows you to essentially give form to whatever insane idea you have in your head. That’s also why those levels can sometimes have some fairly substantial glitches, like the ground becoming completely invisible, or buttons not working. All of this is likely tied to your choice of design and mechanics, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Even given the load times and occasional glitches, I can’t help but find myself sucked into the build-your-own worlds of Disney Infinity 2.0. I’ll hop onto the game to “check something out” and four hours later find myself ingrained in trying to make a side-view fighting game for the characters, or an enemy-generating, experience-point-amplifying danger room, or a subterranean, trap-infested underworld that leads to the interior of my secret base.
It’s one thing to make your own game in a robust 3D world. It’s quite another to people that game with Hulk, Groot and Rocket Raccoon and then ask them to all race to see who can collect the most pigs and toss them into a corral first.
Even if you’re not into building your own experiences, this latest Infinity has also enhanced the way people can share the things they build with one another. The game includes the ability to store up to 300 toy boxes in a private cloud and gain access to up to 100,000 boxes for download. You can search through this sea of creations with filters and even like your favorite creators.
Of course, Disney is also ready to sell you more stuff. Alongside the launch of the game’s starter pack are nine individual figures from The Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and Guardians play set bundles and 40 power discs.
The discs, which can be used to unlock new toys, decorations, weapons, rides and special powers, are being sold in blind packs of two discs each for $4.99. This method of selling the discs feels an awful lot like the system the original Disney Infinity used to unlock in-game toys, a system they wisely realized wasn’t very fair.
INFINITY 2.0 KNOWS WHERE TO LEND A HAND OR TAKE OVER TO KEEP THINGS FROM GETTING BORING
Aside from the inevitable high price tag to collect everything for the game, I find this latest Disney Infinity to be a vast improvement over the first. Toy Box has always been what made this game fun, those experiences of running around creating, playing, fighting with my son are some of the best gaming memories we have. That Avalanche Software has doubled down on what makes this game different is a smart decision, and one that has resulted in a solid balance between giving a gaming creator complete control and guiding their hand or even taking over when things can get complicated or boring.
Disney Infinity 2.0 was reviewed on the Xbox One using a copy of the game along with all existing 2.0 figures and power discs provided by Disney Interactive. It was then played on the PlayStation 4. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
Written by Brian Crecente on September 26, 2014 for Polygon