Disney may have built the perfect game – Infinity, its “toys to life” franchise, which debuted in 2010 and was first released as a playable title in 2013. The game is entering its second generation with today’s launch of Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes, which also introduces version 2.0 features for all the original series collectibles, as well as new mini-games and upgrades to the Minecraft- and LittleBigPlanet-esque Toy Box mode. This new edition makes it even more evident that Infinity might be video game perfection, at least so far as Disney as a company and its legions of fans are concerned.
Let’s start with the fact that I played my review copy of Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes for far longer than was required to give it a fair assessment. Add to that the bonus that my girlfriend played with me enthusiastically, and that we could enjoy local co-op side-by-side on the couch. Disney has also done a great job with the Marvel universe storytelling and characters, thanks in large part to having story and Play Set content directed by Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis. As an avid comic reader and fan of the current film and TV shows put out by Marvel directly, I felt this was a cohesive part of that world, albeit with simplified plot elements to help it apply to broad audience which could reasonably include young children.
Marvel Super Heroes delivers the same kind of essentially repetitive but also just basically fun gameplay enjoyment as does the Lego series of video games. In fact, it’s impossible not to see the influence of Traveller’s Tales’ game series based on the construction blocks, and likewise the model of Skylanders is obviously everywhere. Disney Infinity is in fact mostly pastiche, with the Toy Box elements borrowing the open world creation elements of Minecraft, as well as the visual game design components of LittleBigPlanet. But to say it’s cobbled together from parts originally seen elsewhere doesn’t take away from its accomplishments: Infinity has combined these pieces to create a product that is wholly original, and more successful than any game based on the more narrow visions listed above could ever manage.
For Disney, the franchise represents a vessel that can shift to hold anything they need it to. I spoke to Disney Infinity Executive Producer John Vignocchi about the game, and related my own enjoyment, and said I’d have a list of character requests from the Marvel universe I want to see as Infinity figures, which led to Vignocchi assuming I have kids. I corrected him, saying that in fact, I’m actually just a childless thirtysomething who spends way too much time thinking about the intricacies of Marvel universe canon, and he replied that actually, therein lies the beauty of the game.
Vignocchi called Infinity a near-perfect “four quadrant” game in terms of its appeal. That means it has both young and old players, including parents, single adults, men, women and kids. Given that Disney sees Infinity as a way to streamline and focus game development efforts around its various films, TV series and other creative properties, that broad appeal comes in very handy.
“We have just as many kids playing as we do teens, and we have just as many non-parent adults, guys like you and me that don’t have kids who are non-core gamers, playing the game as we do kids, and we have just as many parents who are adults over 35 playing that may have kids but don’t necessarily play games with their kids,” Vignocchi explained, citing their own internal surveys. “We’re also about 55 percent male and 45 percent female, which is a staggering number for a video game.”
As for how Disney Infinity differs from other games out there, including ‘toys to life’ pioneer Skylanders by Activision, Vignocchi says that they first offer more extensibility and replay value for players’ investments in the world, as evidenced by all Infinity 1.0 characters getting expanded attributes and an upgradeable skill tree with the introduction of version 2.0.
“Another thing that separates us inside the space from other competitive products is that Disney has such a rich catalogue of IP, that our bench, in terms of characters is so deep,” he added. Which led to the question that, as a huge nerd, I’d been wanting to ask the whole time: When do we see Disney’s Lucasfilm purchase become fodder for the Infinity series? When, to get right to it, can I go out and buy Han Solo or Luke Skywalker and use them in a Play Set of their very own?
“Infinity is an ever-growing platform for anything under the umbrella of the Walt Disney company, so whether that’s Disney, or Pixar, or ABC, or Disney Channel, or Disney Parks, or ESPN, or Lucasfilm, the possibilities are infinite. It’s safe to say, though, that as time goes on, the platform within the interactive gaming space will become a force[I swear you could hear the italics] to be reckoned with.”
By way of review, suffice it to say that Disney has delivered a highly enjoyable game that has ample potential for replayability and expansion, with characters any Marvel fan will know and love, whether they’re die-hard comic aficionados or just casual admirers of the new movies. Plus, Disney is invested in this concept for the long-haul – the Infinity model is additive for them, letting the company focus its efforts on developing a single comprehensive engine instead of dealing with a new, contracted developer for every new video game tie-in it wants to create.
So while Disney admittedly benefits from selling individual toys as add-on accessories once you own the original game, each of those toys will also evolve over time, so there’s long-lasting benefit on the side of the player, too. I’m going to buy toys anyway; I might as well buy ones that grow.