It's not perfect, but this is the best Disney Infinity has ever been.
I'm tempted to say that it's just the nostalgia talking. After all, I grew up with Star Wars, so Disney Infinity 3.0's focus on a galaxy far, far away plays directly into my interests. However, there are a few things that tell me I'm not just being blinded by my love of lightsabers:
- Last year's game, Disney Infinity 2.0, revolved around Marvel super heroes, which I also love and grew up with. I still think 3.0 tops it.
- The Twilight of the Republic play set, which comes with the Disney Infinity 3.0 Starter Pack and which I played through for the purpose of this review, is based on the Clone Wars era (i.e., the prequel movies) of Star Wars, which is... Not the high point of the series.
- Jar Jar Binks, everyone's "favorite" character from the saga, factors heavily into a story mission. He's terrible, yet somehow doesn't ruin the rest of the game.
Since the beginning, Disney Infinity has aimed to be a jack of all trades. You want it to be a platform game heavy on jumping? A racing game? An action game? A Minecraft-esque set of tools to build your own worlds? Infinity has always had these elements, but it's clearly never been a master of any one of them. Yes, you could beat up robots as Mr. Incredible, but the combat was kind of bland. Yes, you could drive a car around a race track, but the handling of the car never felt quite right.
The solution, apparently, was to bring in help. Longtime Disney Infinity developer Avalanche Software got help from studios like Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, DmC: Devil May Cry) and Sumo Digital (Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed) to assist in the development of different areas of gameplay.
As a result, this new Disney Infinity plays better than all the entries that came before it. Sure, the action is still a bit simple (simple enough for younger players to grasp -- not the complex combos of DmC), but the refinements to the formula make for much more engaging combat. This is particularly important with the included Star Wars play set, because when you're swinging a lightsaber at Tusken Raiders and combat droids, you want to have fun doing it.
And it works. Even though I don't love the Clone Wars source material, Twilight of the Republic is the most fun I've had with any of Disney Infinity's play sets. If you just blast through the main story missions it won't take you very long to finish (easily beatable in a weekend, if not an afternoon), but it's enjoyable while it last.
It helps that there's some variety. In addition to better melee combat across a variety of planets (Geonosis, Coruscant, Naboo and Tatooine), Twilight of the Republic includes some space combat where you can dogfight with other ships while outside of a planet's orbit. It isn't the best aerial combat you'll ever experience in a video game, but it reminded me just enough of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron of the N64 to make me say, "OK, this is cool." It's not something I could play for hours on end, but it was good to break up the rest of the action occasionally.
The Toy Box
The gameplay refinements carry over to the Toy Box, Infinity's space where you can let your imagination run wild. This is where you can mix and match just about everything Disney/Marvel/Pixar/Star Wars/ESPN/Disney Channel/Whatever. It's where you can put Elsa's ice castle in Agrabah so Buzz Lightyear can ride a lightcycle over to Jack Sparrow's place for a game of soccer.
Here, you can do a lot of crazy stuff, and it's usually awesome. I mean, have you ever seen Minnie Mouse beat up battle droids with a purse? It's pretty rad.
If you were hoping for a dramatic change over the last game's Toy Box, though, you'll be disappointed. It's better in subtle ways, and there are a lot more toys to unlock and play with (many of which, predictably, are Star Wars related), but the fundamentals are the same. So if you didn't care for the creation tools before, Disney Infinity 3.0 isn't about to change your mind.
It's also not always easy to build stuff that feels as polished as what you find in the game's play sets (like Twilight of the Republic). Using a console controller to build anything too ambitious can be time consuming if not frustrating, and in order to mess with a lot of the cooler but more complex creation elements (stuff that gets closer to real programming -- like logic circuits that dictate camera changes when certain things happen) you need to spend a lot of time learning.
But it's at least easy to grasp the basics. A fun, story-heavy tutorial featuring R2-D2 and C-3P0 will teach you what you need to know about placing simple objects in the world and moving them around. Further tutorials can show you the power of builders (characters that can help create worlds for you) and more complex terrain options. These lessons aren't the best at making you a master of creating levels, but they're a start.
Fortunately, if you don't like being a creator yourself, it's also really easy to hop online and download levels other people have made. You can play levels created by your friends or toy boxes vetted and chosen by the people at Disney, and there's an impressive amount of creativity on display. In theory, the online functionality of Disney Infinity means you will always have something new to experience in the game, week after week.
Expanding your options
Beyond the retail starter pack that comes with Twilight of the Republic, more Star Wars play sets will be available to everybody later this year: Rise of the Empire (based on the "original trilogy" of movies, episodes four through six) and The Force Awakens, based on the upcoming movie of the same name.
There is also a play set available now based on Pixar's newest film, Inside Out. Unlike the combat-heavy Star Wars, Inside Out is based more on platforming and puzzle solving.
The expansion set I personally played, however (since it's the one Disney Interactive sent me), was Toybox Takeover, a fun action game that has a Diablo feel (or Skylanders, if you want to compare it directly to Infinity's main toys-to-life competion). You can play as any character as you fight your way through a series of enemy-filled levels. It's a bit mindless, but it's fun with friends, and it's a rare opportunity to use any of your Disney Infinity figures -- not just the ones specific to a certain play set.
Speaking of figures, there are of course more of those on shelves to buy, with more coming soon. My personal favorites are Sam Flynn and Quorra from Tron: Legacy, who have made me really hopeful that Disney will start production on Tron 3 again.
That's one of the great things about Disney Infinity, really. The ability to create those sort of emotions in the player ("Ohh, I love Mulan! Oh man, I'd love another Tron movie. Whoa, I forgot how cool Captain America can be") is impressive.
The only downside? It all comes with a cost. You can't play as your favorite Disney Infinity characters unless you own their physical figure. So you want to play as Han Solo? Be ready to cough up $13.99 for the privilege. Want to play the Inside Out? The game and two characters will run you $34.99. And so on.
On the upside, the figures themselves are great. Well-designed and well-made, and worthy of being on a shelf. But collecting everything Disney Infinity 3.0 has to offer is still a pricey proposition, which could be enough to scare away some parents looking to buy the game for their children this holiday season.
Still, if you're already invested in the series, all your old figures work in the new game (the play sets don't, however. So keep your old discs if you want to play the Guardians of the Galaxy game again). And if you're just getting into it now? You do get a satisfying amount of content in the starter pack, which can keep you busy for quite awhile.
It's hard to know where, exactly, the Disney Infinity franchise goes from here (aside from the obvious adding of new figures as time goes on), but I can at least say that the place it's at now makes for a pretty good time.