A EULOGY FOR DISNEY INFINITY ONE YEAR LATER

May 10, 2016.

It was on this date last year that it was announced that the toys-to-life game, Disney Infinity, a mega project that merged brands from across the Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel Universes into one game where users could create worlds limited only by their own imagination was coming to an end. The following months were met by heart breaking news about what was in store for the franchise had it continued: figures of Doctor Strange and Spider-Gwen and play sets of last year’s Moana and the just released in North America last week Guardians of the Galaxy 2 among others. Stores heavily discounted the game and figures with things like the DIsney Infinity 3.0 selling for as little as $14.99 CAD and figures going for as low as $2-$3 (I picked up Kylo Ren and Boba Fett together for less than $6 taxes in). Now you’ll find little reminders that Infinity existed in retail, except maybe for dollar stores who sell the figures and strategy guides:

image via FPC Home Facebook

I may not be the most qualified to reflect back on the Disney Infinity property as in my review of the 2.0 edition back in 2014, I wasn’t really that kind to the game. It’s not that I didn’t it, but its pretty basic overall play sets and my lack of interest in the toy box mode didn’t lead me to putting many hours into the game. With the 3.0 edition however, despite that fact that the focus was more on Star Wars, of which I am more of a casual fan of at best, you could tell that Infinity was ramping up into something incredible and had it just held on a little while longer, I feel a lot more people would have seen that too. Let’s not reflect on the negative or get angry about what could have been, but instead on this anniversary of the sad closure of Disney Infinity, let’s look back on the brilliant things that the game got right in its relatively short time on the market.

THE FIGURES

Disney Infinity as a video game may not be something that interested you, but the same can’t be said of the figures required to play the video game. The tiny statues of classic characters like Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker were reason enough to buy the game, even if you had no intention of actually playing it. What Disney Infinity didn’t get enough credit for was how well it incorporated the “toys” part of toys-to-life, creating an art style that read toys yet also made you believe that characters from live-action, animation both traditional and computer generated, and comic books all existed in the same universe. While it was a shame that due to corporate politics there was little to no chance you would see characters from say the X-Men in the game, even if it went on for another five years, and yeah, maybe there didn’t need to be two Cap’s, two Iron Men and a Spider-Man repaint, but it was great to see lesser known characters like Nova and Yondu get their chance to part of a big-budget game.

The figures were so good, they even inspired certain looks for characters in comics like Venom’s Space Knight design.

GAMEPLAY DIVERSITY

I’ve invested heavily into two toys-to-life games: Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions, and while I’ve put more hours than I care to admit into Dimensions, at the end of the day it’s still just a Lego game with a neat portal mechanic. Discounting the toy box mode, the play sets, Infinity’s take on traditional campaigns, especially in the 3.0 edition, almost felt like they were part of different games and it was more of an event when they came along unlike Lego Dimensions‘ expansions. Disney Infinity 2.0’s play sets were sadly among the least interesting of the franchise, but 3.0 featured among other things a highly underrated traditional 3-D collect-a-thon platformer via the Inside Out play set, a Power Stone influenced fighting game that changed how the portal worked with Marvel Battlegrounds and a 2-D side-scrolling almost Metroid-like game with the final Finding Dory play set. I found it particularly strange that in many respects, the non-Star Wars play sets outshone those in that universe despite the fact that 3.0 heavily pushed that franchise.

Disney Infinity 3.0 also experimented with adding new game play styles that could easily have been spun off into their own games like the Toy Box Speedway, probably the only kart racer on the market that lets you race Frozen’s Elsa against Han Solo riding Ghost Rider’s hellcycle in a track themed after Big Hero 6. Toy Box Takeover, while certainly not as a fun as Speedway, was also the only game that similarly allowed you to play an action/platformer that unified all these franchises as well, something I’m sure would have been expanded upon in a Disney Infinity 4.0 and beyond.

THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN FOR CERTAIN FRANCHISES

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was so successful it made previously obscure characters like Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Star-Lord among others household names whose faces are on everything from action figures to pillow cases. If you want to play as Marvel’s cosmic band on misfits in something resembling an official, more traditional game, Disney Infinity is still the only game that lets you do so. That’s the case as well for 2015’s massive don’t-call-it-a-comeback film Star Wars: The Force Awakens which also still hasn’t gotten any type of traditional video game adaptation like you saw back in the 90’s with games like Super Star Wars, instead only existing as a play set within Disney Infinity 3.0. 

IT WAS GETTING BETTER WITH EACH ITIERATION

Both the original Disney Infinity and it’s 2.0 sequel were decent enough games, but you never felt like the folks at Avalanche had really locked down the true potential of what the idea could be until Disney Infinity 3.0. Given the annualization of the franchise, it’s astounding the leaps each successive chapter took, first with a more robust skill tree leveling system and combat in 2.0, followed by a refinement of those ideas with a much more set of diverse characters and play sets within 3.0. Disney Infinity 2.0 allowed non play set specific characters, for example Rocket Raccoon could become playable within the Avengers play set, but to do so you had to collect ten hidden characters tokens. 3.0 also did this, but it was much easier requiring players to only collect one character token to bring them into a play set, creating such weird timeline mash ups as the Star Wars Rebels crew and Boba Fett in The Force Awakens.

TERRIFIC LOCAL CO-OP FOR ALL AGES AND NON-GAMERS ALIKE

I live with someone who appreciates video games, but admits that they’re not particularly good at the ones with more complex mechanics. Such was not the case with Disney Infinity’s play sets that are easy to pick up, play and understand and don’t penalize players that don’t have the most advanced set of twitch reflexes required for more hardcore games. Similarly I have a friend who has a very young step son who enjoys playing Infinity, and is learning things that are common in more complicated games like character leveling from the game as well that I’m sure will serve him well as he grows up.

IT GOT A (SOMEWHAT) HAPPY ENDING

The termination of Disney Infinity also meant the closure of Disney Interactive with the multimedia juggernaut choosing to license their brands out to other companies like Sony, EA, Telltale and Square-Enix instead of crafting games internally. This meant that Avalanche Software, the primary developer behind Infinity, closed and put many out of work. Earlier this year WB Games resurrected Avalanche, even going far to rehire a lot of its original staff, to work on a game based on Cars 3 of all things, a property that would have had its own play set had Infinity continued. I’m not the biggest Cars fan in the world, but if Cars 3: Driven to Win has a lot of the same driving mechanics as those featured in Infinity’s twilight, I may consider checking it out at some point.

The toys-to-life genre seems to be going the way of plastic instruments, and if the rumor is to be believed and the fact that I bought The Simpsons Level Pack for Lego Dimensions for $4 at Dollarama this weekend, I might be writing a piece like this for that franchise as well next year. Though Disney Infinity is gone, it’s certainly not forgotten. Even if I don’t play the game for weeks or months at a time, I’ll always have my complete set of Marvel Disney Infinity figures on display and they’ll forever be a reminder of all the good times I had with my first ever toys-to-life game.

Thanks for the memories, Disney Infinity.

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