Disney Infinity, a hybrid of virtual and physical toys, matches current hot properties with the company's bottomless bucket of nostalgia and ends up with a video game that's fun to play and to collect.
It's easy to be cynical. Video games with collectible toys are an expensive concept (see also: Skylanders), and plenty of the characters obviously were selected based on Disney's 2013 feature-film lineup (Monsters University, The Lone Ranger) and established toy aisle favorites (Cars, Toy Story). But you can't discount Disney's ability to remind you why you loved these characters in the first place, before they became ongoing advertisements. Disney Infinity brings the charm; you bring the memories.
The basic Disney Infinity edition comes with three "play sets" and one character for each. Naturally, there are additional play sets and extra toys available for purchase, but there is enough game play in the original edition to keep you happy for quite some time. The adventures for Pirates of the Caribbean, The Incredibles and Monsters University each offer a self-contained storyline told across hours of playtime. Although each play set includes unique elements, the overall structure focuses on open-world exploration, with plenty of unlockables. This is clearly the best video game most of these characters have ever been in.
Disney fanatics will love the deep fan service that goes well beyond the play set-based characters. Toy Box mode lets you mix and match parts from all across the Disney empire, from DuckTales to Mary Poppins to ESPN. In Toy Box, you can build your own worlds and share them with other players, where a Wreck-It Ralph racetrack can circle around Epcot's Spaceship Earth and Pride Rock from The Lion King. Disney Infinity does not ignore the importance of classic Disney music; many interactive objects trigger familiar background tunes.
The only downer to these unlockables is that many are handed out randomly via "spins." Spins are earned by accomplishing various in-game tasks with the characters, so there's a fair amount of grinding to be done in order to get them.
Creating Toy Box levels can be tricky, but the Wii U GamePad screen helps organize the intense collection of unlocked building materials. There's some unfortunate slowdown during this process, as the game almost overreaches its technical grasp as you're dropping in Matterhorns and full-size pirate ships.
The good news is the game is wildly fun to play, making it an experience worthy of the Disney brand.
VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Platforms: Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB rating: E10+