Wednesday, September 14, 2016

(Almost But Not Quite) Infinite Possibilities

With Disney Infinity beginning to cancel its online services at the end of the month, I thought it was high time to talk about this game that has enraptured me whilst my computer has been on the fritz. Though I've had it for a while and had experience with similar games before, it's only in the past months since its sudden cancellation that I've begun truly ulocking its secrets and my enjoyment.

This will be a long review with multiple facets.

I actually wanted to start this review off with some final words about the first sort of "Toys to Life" game and its impact on me. Readers who were with me from the beginning may remember I was just getting big into Skylanders, the new Spyro the Dragon spinoff that boasted several unique playable characters that you unlocked by buying the statuettes. And that's really all they were and still are. With no movable pieces and some rather delicate protrusions, I would be hard pressed to define any "toys to life" figurine as a "toy" at all.

Still, the 3DS version of the first game was a nostalgic platformer that I fell in love with and its sequel, Skylanders Giants, was a fantastic and addictive bit of gameplay and storytelling. It was fun, funny, featured Invader ZIM as the villain, fantastic.

But I was getting a little worried about how fast the games were coming out. I was on board for the third game, Swap Force, because of its unique mechanic of switching the top and bottom halves of figurines to create new combinations of abilities. But while I enjoyed the game, it was disappointing after Giants. Trap Team, game four, I wanted to get because of the ability to capture and play as villains such as Chompy Mage and Kaos himself, but I was never able to get around to buying it and it's unlikely I ever will. I rolled my eyes at game five, Superchargers, even though I love racing games (which I'll mention again later), because it just felt like a rushout to me.

Now with game six on the way, I was almost tempted - Crash Bandicoot and create-a-character will do that to you. But I've spent enough money I don't have in the past months trying to snap up Infinity figures at semi-reasonable prices before their out-of-print status makes them ridiculously rare and overpriced hundreds of times beyond their overpriced retail to finally say this about "toys to life games":

The games themselves are often great enough to enthusiastically recommend on their own, but it's such a money sink that I have trouble doing so with a clear conscience.

If you have a disposable income, or a friend who doesn't want theirs anymore, Skylanders Giants and Disney Infinity 3.0 are must-haves to anyone who loves well-made platformer/puzzle games with a psuedo-RPG talent system. But as great as these games are, the statuettes are far too overpriced.

Disney Infinity 1.0 and 2.0
When Disney announced its answer to the unexpected success of Skylanders, I was intrigued but weary. It looked fun, but I didn't relish the thought of spending money on another set of overpriced statuettes - and I knew I'd want even more since these were established characters I had history with. In Skylanders, only Spyro had that distinction, and he came included with the game proper.

Interestingly, it was my wife that really wanted it. So one year for her birthday, I got her the game and some additional figures that she would want to play as (plus a few exclusively for me so we wouldn't fight so much). However, we both quickly grew disheartened with the lack of co-op gameplay in the playsets, the rather anemic starting features, and a difficult-to-understand level editor (being a Sims fan, she was especially looking forward to this feature and was proportionally disappointed in it).

It was this disappointment that made us completely skip 2.0, in spite of the fact that they included my favorite comic book character of all time (though in my least favorite aesthetic interpretation of the character).

But something happened during the development of game 1 that would all but guarantee I would buy game 3.

Disney bought Lucasfilm.

Disney Infinity 3.0
And when that game was announced, who were the characters that were coming with the game ensuring everyone with the game had them as character options?

Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano.

I required this game.

I ended up getting it during the holidays of 2015. I enjoyed it immensely. Picked up new characters from all 3 games when they were on sale. It was always kind of on the back-burner though.

Until the sudden announcement of its cancellation.

I was devastated - mostly because we would never see some promised and requested characters to play, but also for the reasons mentioned above - the rarer things become, the more expensive they become. I had to complete my collection fast before it was nearly impossible.

Now, "complete" may not be the right word, as there are many characters I don't give a fig about. But I wanted to grab the ones I wanted. I currently have a roster of 50 and while there are other characters I wouldn't mind having, I have all I NEED.

So lets delve into the individual game modes and playsets, starting naturally with the starter.

Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic Playset
Playable Characters: Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Yoda. All other Star Wars characters can be used after finding corresponding in-game tokens.

First off, it should be noted that unlike the first game, the Star Wars playsets have co-op compatability. Secondly, all of the Star Wars playsets follow the same kind of gameplay - sandbox platforming with vehicle sections and repeatable quests. Thirdly, all the playsets and the entire game with the possible exception of the level editor is aimed at children so expect that kind of atmosphere and humor from everything going forward.

Twilight of the Republic is like a mini episode of the Clone Wars with a semi-original story that hits many of the most memorable beats from Episodes I-III including the droid factory and the podrace. We start on Geonosis, travel to Coruscant, Tatooine, and finally Naboo. It focuses more on combat than the other two.

The voice cast from Clone Wars returns, and my opinion of them hasn't changed for good or ill, but its nice to see some familiarity. While Jar Jar is regrettably not a playable character, he does feature prominently as a minor questgiver on Coruscant and a major questgiver and tagalong on Naboo. Ahmed Best returns and is delightful as ever.

Easily the best of the three Star Wars playsets.

Star Wars: Rise of the Empire Playset
Playable Characters: Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. All other Star Wars characters can be used after finding corresponding in-game tokens.

This really should be called "Fall of the Empire" since that's what happens at the end.

This playset is a reader's digest version of Episodes IV-VI.

My first thought after playing the opening was: "This is unfair! Episodes IV-VI get a lovingly recreated game based on their story while I-III makes something new up? Blasphemy!"

Then I played through the game.

So my thoughts now are: "This is unfair! Episodes I-III get a nice original story that still hits the beats of the movies, while IV-VI get this awkwardly edited and butchered retelling that shoehorns the other characters in where they don't belong and everyone's out of character? Blasphemy!"

Yeah, with the exception of Anthony Daniels returning as 3PO, the IV-VI crew barely sound like themselves, and I admit to cringing during the story segments that completely rush everything and take the original context out of the most memorable moments they're supposed to be recreating. If they had hit the beats through an original story like TotR did, it wouldn't be as bad. But man, this seems like they were tyring to go for fanservice and failed miserably.

In spite of that, the gameplay is still very good. It focuses more on startship dogfights than the other two, but still has the sandbox platforming the three share. Plus, it's fun to beat the final boss fight with Darth Vader as Anakin. You visit Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor, with select missions taking place on both Death Stars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Playset
Playable Characters: Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. All other Star Wars characters can be used after finding corresponding in-game tokens.

Full disclosure: I have not gotten past the starting area on Jakku yet. I wasn't even going to pick it up until I saw it in a used figure bin during a "Buy 2, Get 3 Free" sale.

Still, for what it is, it's fun enough. Having only one movie to service, it reads so far like your run-of-the-mill movie license game, where it basically follows the plot but there are some notable differences due to gamplay/story segregation, the film not being finalized by the time the game was due, and minimizing spoilers. It appears to focus more on a gameplay mechanic regarding finding, refining, and expending resources.

One thing that actually really impressed me regarding this playset is that all the playable characters from this era have their original actors voicing them.

Marvel Battlegrounds Playset
Playable Characters: Any Marvel Comics character EXCEPT Hiro Hamada and Baymax

A Smash Bros-style fighting game. There's a brief 1-player story mode that follows our MCU pals through fighting "robot doubles" of characters. It has its moments.

The vs mode is interesting as you can earn trial coins to temporarily play characters you don't have yet. Other than that, it's a party game you play when your friends are over.

Inside Out Playset
Playable Characters: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust

You lead the Emotions through a Mario-style platformer as they try to repair Riley's damaged psyche after she channel-surfs and accidentally lands on a bad horror movie.

Each character has a special ability that helps in achieving each level's objectives: Joy glides, Anger walks on lava blocks that mean instant death to anyone else, Sadness stays indefinitely on clouds that normally disappear when weight is put on them, Disgust jumps higher, and Fear runs at double-speed (perfect for speed-run challenges).

If you don't own all of the characters, an NPC will usually be there to give you a "costume" of a character required for level progression (but not collection).

Finding Dory Playset
Playable Characters: Dory, Nemo

Someone flooded the aquarium, and Dory needs to help. That's as far as I got so far, but it seems to be a cute underwater sidescroller.

Toy Box Takeover
Playable Characters: Any EXCEPT Cars characters

A dungeon crawler with a cute story centered around Jason Lee's glorious return as Syndrome, this "mini playset" best fulfills the game's promise of giant mix-and-match crossover potential. There are five story levels and a random dungeon generator.

It's "mini" simply because all the levels are far too short for a full game, but it's the best premade adventure to pick up.

My advice? Use Maleficent. In gamer lingo, Maleficent is "OP af"

Story Locations are Port Royal, Lower Manhattan, 1800s Texas, Death Star II, and Nomanisan Island.

Toy Box Speedway
Playable Characters: Any

Another Mini-Playset, same drawback of its shortness compared to other playsets and similar games. This one is a Mario Kart clone, and if not for It's shortness would be one of the best.

You can use almost any ground vehicle you've unlocked in the game, including Podracers, Speeder Bikes, Bing Bong's Wagon, Tony Stark's Sportscar, Axiom Hoverchairs, and a Disneyland Spinning Teacup just to name a few. Cars characters excell in this mode due to their talent trees enhancing their vehicular performance.

There's the standard battle race and time trial, plus a simple "race" option where the only "weapon" is collecting turbo boosts. Get gold trophies in each individual track and grand prix in all three modes, you unlock "free race" which gives you the generic "race" tracks but with the ability to use your chosen vehicle's innate features (if it has any) such as built-in weaponry or unlimited speed boosts. It is in this mode alone that Podracers are viable for anyone who hasn't spent hours stubbornly practicing them; being three times the size of a standard ground vehicle, they feel comparatively slow and clunky on smaller, narrow tracks and it's easy to crash them and get stuck in last place without unlimited speed boosts.

The tracks take place in Sugar Rush, Arandelle, Mos Eisley, San Fransokyo, Gravity Falls, Monters Incorporated, Halloweentown, Agrabah, and Knowhere.

Toy Box
Playable Characters: Any

This is the Level Editor. The series' bread and butter. And I'm happy to say I find it much easier to use on the PS4 than the Wii. On top of that, I am actually able to see and download what other community members have made and better understand how things were made.

Unfortunately, with the series' cancellation, we only have until the end of the month to submit community toy boxes, and downloading them becomes impossible by March. I submitted a massive Boonta Classic that I haven't seen approved yet (and is more movie-accurate than any other Boonta attempt I've seen in the list), and I'm feverishly working on another podrace track taking place in Otoh Gunga. If you play, keep an eye out for them.

Luckily, for console versions at least, you can keep any downloaded boxes after online services cease and can still continue to make your own - you just can't share it with anyone who isn't in the room with you.

The two issues with the toy box are A) You have to unlock most of the assets via the playsets, and far too many of them are only available only as plastic "Power Discs" that are even more overpriced than the statuettes; and B) You do NOT have unlimited memory, so big and epic levels will have to either be scaled down a bit or split between several boxes.

My Collection
And now, because I'm self-indulgent, these are the playable characters I own by title/franchise and the version that figure represents (unless it's the baseline version or an amalgamation of interpretations). This represents maybe half of available figures.

The Star Wars Saga
Anakin Skywalker (Revenge of the Sith)
Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader)
Luke Skywalker (New Hope)
Princess Leia Organa (New Hope)
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Revenge of the Sith)
Han Solo (New Hope)
Boba Fett (V-VI Special Edition, with hints of Jango colorization)
Darth Maul (Phantom Menace)

Star Wars: Clone Wars
Ahsoka Tano

Star Wars: Rebels
Zeb Orrelios

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kylo Ren

Marvel Comics
Steve Rogers/Captain America (MCU)
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Symbiote Costume)
Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (MCU)
Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Eddie Brock/Venom
Ultron (MCU)
Rocket Raccoon
Ronan the Accusor (MCU)

Monsters Inc.
James P. Sullivan
Mike Wazowski (Monsters University)
Randall Boggs

Finding Nemo

The Incredibles
Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible
Violet Parr
Buddy Pine/Syndrome

Tow Mater

Inside Out

Classic Disney
Donald Duck

Sleeping Beauty
Maleficent (2014 Angelina Jolie)

The Jungle Book


Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Jack Skellington

Mulan (Finale)

Pirates of the Caribbean
Captain Jack Sparrow
Hector Barbossa
Davy Jones


Wreck-It Ralph
Vanellope Von Schweetz

Queen Elsa (Snow Queen)
Princess Anna (Winter Department)

Judy Hopps
Nick Wilde

Crap, just realized some missing names I more money!!!

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