Let's start off by addressing the flying Dumbo in the room: Disney Infinity is not simply a Skylanders clone from the House of Mouse. It's pure, unadulterated Disney magic – and completely worth the arm, leg, and kidney that you're inevitably about to spend on it.
Even before Pixar's seminal 1995 blockbuster Toy Story, children have dreamt of their favourite playthings springing to life and embarking on secret adventures behind their backs. Disney Infinity builds on this compelling principle, inviting children and adults alike to let their imaginations run wild and jump straight into the fantasy worlds of their favourite figurine counterparts.
The Starter Pack comes bundled with three physical toys – Sully, Mr. Incredible, and Jack Sparrow – each coupled with its own unique in-game campaign to complete. The gameplay is split into two distinct sections: Play Sets (essentially story mode) and the Toy Box. After connecting your USB portal base, and selecting the figurine that you wish to play with, along with any additional Power Discs, you can jump straight into your toy's respective open world, taking on quests, and collecting items to use later in the aforementioned Toy Box mode.
Rather surprisingly, each Play Set differs greatly in both style and gameplay, making each Disney universe feel fresh and exciting. The Monsters University set ties in well with the recently released movie, wisely not simply recycling the film's plot, and instead focusing on frat life, pranking, scaling public buildings, and performing bike stunts. The MU and Fear Tech campus environments are captured beautifully, brimming with colour and designed with a great deal of attention to detail. Scaring jocks as the hairy James P. Sullivan is great fun, and being rewarded for vandalising trees and statues with a toilet paper firearm is even better. The Monsters University Play Set is also wonderfully relaxed, allowing you to enjoy it at your own leisurely pace, whether you're completing minigame challenges, furthering the plot, or even simply installing pranking machines and collecting Oozma Kappa flags.
The Pirates pack, on the other hand, arms you with both a gun and a sword, and sees Jack Sparrow sailing his customisable ship across the Kraken-infested sea, discovering new islands, hunting down treasure, solving puzzles, and engaging in hack-and-slash combat with both naval officers and dastardly sea-dogs alike. After you have kitted out your vessel with a rather cool set of flamethrower canons, you can take to the high seas, blasting nearby ships, and sending them straight to Davy Jones' locker. What never fails to make us smile is the way in which Disney Infinity's on-screen counterparts capture the mannerisms and spirit of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, even if Jack Sparrow is sadly not voiced by the lovely Johnny Depp.
Out of the three, the Incredibles section is probably the least inviting. While driving Mr. Incredible around Metroville in a sports car and beating up robots in melee-based combat is enjoyable, the environment is rather bland compared to the Pirates and Monsters University universes. For the most part, you will spend your time re-building the city from the wrath of Syndrome and rescuing helpless citizens from possessed dumpsters – but while one-liners from the hysterical Edna Mode inject a certain amount of comedic spirit into the segment, it's likely that you'll switch back to the other Play Sets before long.
It must be noted here that when playing through the Play Set campaigns, only toys from the same universe can be placed in the portal. Some children may be disappointed that they can't zap Jack Sparrow into the MU campus and start sword fights with every freshman in sight, however random combinations of characters are allowed in Toy Box mode, which makes far more sense anyway and doesn't destroy the atmosphere of the individual Play Sets.
While taking on quests can be great fun, it's most likely that you'll be spending the majority of your time in the aforementioned area. Here you can design your own levels, mix and match toys and set designs from different Disney worlds, and customise each feature to your heart's content. At first the 'spark' building editor can seem very daunting – and presumably confusing to younger players – however thanks to the wonderful tutorials, you'll soon be able to create your own Cave of Wonders, or even design a garden maze complete with walking playing card guards in the style of Alice in Wonderland.
If you've exhausted all three of your Starter Pack Play Set campaigns and want a break from building your Minecraft-esque creations, then there are always extra Play Sets and figurine packs available. Currently you can buy a Sidekicks Pack which includes Mike, Barbossa, and Mrs. Incredible, as well as a Villains Pack containing Randy, Davy Jones, and Syndrome for roughly £24.99 ($29.99). These packs won't give you a new universe to explore, but will allow you to take on special character-specific challenges that are scattered around certain Play Sets. However, you can also purchase other Play Sets and their corresponding figurines, such as the Lone Ranger or Cars bundles for around £29.99 ($34.99), which gives you access to complete new worlds to explore. A Toy Story Play Set is also available to pre-order, which cheekily only offers Jessie and Buzz, forcing fans to purchase the Woody figurine separately for an extra cost. Additionally, there are always single figurine packs, such as Dash, Violet, Mater, and Francesco for around £9.99 ($12.99) each. None of these additional purchases are necessary, and in fact you can Platinum the game using solely the figures included in the £51.99 ($74.99) Starter Pack, so the choice of whether you invest in every figurine is entirely up to you. Clearly the game's going to exhaust your pocket money if you're eager to stay up to date, though.
A potentially heavy investment is not the only problem with Disney Infinity either, as there are also framerate and freezing issues to be aware of. An initial update caused PlayStation 3 versions of the game to crash, however this has now been resolved with a follow-up patch, so make sure that you check for the latest updates if your game has start-up issues. While screen freezes and crashes can be frustrating for everyone, younger players won't even notice the framerate jumps, and, in a bizarre way, some of the clipping glitches actually add a certain amount of comedic value to the title – especially when Jack Sparrow casually strolls through a cliff into an obscure sky-textured limbo screen.
While Disney clearly had children in mind when designing Disney Infinity, the toy-infused fantasy worlds are excellent fun for youngsters and adults alike. Despite being held back by a couple of framerate issues and screen freezing problems, this cornucopia of physical and in-game joy still manages to cast a spell over its audience, offering swashbuckling action, magical adventures, and practically limitless creation and customisation options. And let's face it – those figurines aren't half bad either.