REVIEW: "Disney Infinity 2.0" Brings More than Marvel to the Table

It would be easy to dismiss "Disney Infinity" as a kids franchise, a children's game -- but "Disney Infinity 2.0" proves that there's a lot of mileage veteran gamers can get out of it as well. In fact, it's actually a really hard game to review because of the ridiculous amount of depth contained in the core package. Whether it's the Play Sets, the Toy Box, the Toy Box Games or the INterior mode, it's amazing how much there is to do -- and that's not even scratching the surface of the excitement of adding Marvel to the massive Disney toolbox.

For the uninitiated, the game involves special Disney -- and now Marvel -- action figure-style toys. By placing these toys on a special base, players can actually play with the toys in a virtual space. And make no mistake, it's the toys you're playing with. The in-game avatar looks like a toy, with plastic sheen, visible joints and all, a subtle difference that differentiates this from other toys-to-life games. There are two modes that players can use to experience "Disney Infinity" -- playsets, structured content based around a specific world; and the Toy Box, an open platform to create your own worlds with a set of in-game tools.

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For many Marvel fans, the Playsets will make or break the experience. Since "Disney Infinity 2.0" is focusing on adding Marvel heroes and villains to the platform, there are currently three different Playsets of structured content to experience. At launch, players can access the "Avengers" Playset, which is included with the "Disney Infinity 2.0" Marvel starter kit, along with Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow figures. Two other Playsets are planned post-release: "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Ultimate Spider-Man."

The structure of the Playsets is slightly different this time around. While top-tier voice talent still fills the roles of each character -- in many cases, it's the voices that contribute to the "Avengers Assemble" animated series or "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series -- the missions are far more varied and challenging compared to "Disney Infinity." "The Avengers" is structured around Loki invading New York with an army of Frost Giants that only the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. can stop. The missions are pretty standard for anyone that's played a third-person RPG -- fetch quests, destroying enemies, liberating a particular toy object -- but the fun is in the variety of Marvel characters and set pieces that appear. Without spoiling anything, expect quite a few surprise faces to show up within the first 30 minutes of play in both "The Avengers" and "Ultimate Spider-Man" Playsets. Seeing J. Jonah Jameson's face on the Daily Bugle building screaming rants against Spidey, S.H.I.E.L.D., and other superheroes is a fun side activity in and of itself, but there are certainly a lot of fan-favorite characters that will hopefully get physical toys in the future.

Beware though -- when a character falls in battle, it's up to a teammate to revive you, or you have to change to another toy, a mechanic that has always been a bit hit-or-miss with me. In "Disney Infinity 2.0," it works pretty well, though. If you're careful and make sure to keep an eye on a character's health, it shouldn't happen too often. When it does, though, it's usually during a particularly bad fight or a jump sequence through a moving laser grid that's particularly punishing.

Also, much like "Disney Infinity," not every character can be used for a particular Playset. However, since Marvel is a shared universe, the development team does allow certain crossover characters to join the fight in playsets by collecting 10 crossover coins for that character. Nova and Rocket Raccoon can join the fight in "The Avengers" Playset; Iron Man and Hulk can suit up for "Ultimate Spider-Man"; and Nova and Iron Man can join the fray in "Guardians of the Galaxy."

The different animations for each character are fluid and varied. Gamora's acrobatic dodge differs significantly from Hawkeye's dodge roll or Nova's shield of energy. Spider-Man can crawl up walls, while the Hulk and Venom leave a massive crater when jumping from a tall height. Even the idle animations have had some particular care paid to them -- Spider-Man's head darts around like his Spider-Sense is continually going off, even as citizens within the Playset pause to snap a photo. It's clear that a great deal of care and attention was paid to make sure that the experience of bringing these toys to life, and it definitely pays off. Visually, the game is an absolute gem and well worth the upgrade to current-generation devices to really show off how polished the graphics have become.

An advertised major upgrade for "2.0," in addition to the addition of Marvel, is the emergence of tech trees for every character -- both those making their debut for "2.0" and the original "Disney Infinity" figure wave. Although the trees aren't all that varied -- each has four branching paths that focus on general stats like health and speed; special move upgrades; ranged attack; and melee attack -- the creative ways the team was able to make each character still feel unique with their tech tree is impressive. Star-Lord, for example, is able to upgrade to dual-wield his Element Guns, while Hawkeye's ranged upgrade is shooting five arrows instead of just one. Spider-Man's special move webs up all enemies within a certain radius, while Nova's lifts them in the air and crushes them with the power of the Nova Corps. Characters gain points to spend in the tech trees by leveling up, either through Playsets or the Toy Box.

While the structured Playsets offer a vast amount of content -- nearly every one feels like it has enough gameplay and collection items to be in the same class as a LEGO video game -- it's the Toy Box where the game really shines for veteran players. The new Toy Box offers many more building tools and feels far more intuitive than the original "Disney Infinity" ever did. While the original Toy Box forced players to spin a roulette wheel to get access to new toys, "2.0" lets players purchase toys at will, once again utilizing a branching tech tree-like structure to the shop. For some trees, like the Agrabah tile and object set, a smart building robot lies at the end. These bots can be placed anywhere on a solid in the Toy Box and will start gradually building randomly generated environments in that theme until they're dismissed. Disney has made it incredibly easy to build up a full world in minutes and tweak it to your liking. Going into the Toy Box, automating a massive expanse of land, dropping an environment generator and watching it build is an incredibly satisfying experience, and makes for quick work for creating new and interesting user-generated content.

Disney has also upgraded the Toy Box experience by including structured Toy Box content in the starter pack based around an Asgard-themed tower defense game and a "Guardians of the Galaxy"-themed dungeon crawler. Both are a lot of fun -- the tower defense game in particular really shines -- and after players beat the games, they can go back and combine Disney and Marvel figures for a cool team-up experience. It feels a lot like an arcade game, actually. The cooperative play allows players to sit next to a friend and beat up on waves of frost giants or symbiotes, and it's a lot of fun.

"2.0" has also added an INterior mode where players can build a house with different rooms and hallways. It's a nice diversion for those looking for a more "Animal Crossing"-like experience, and INteriors have the added benefit of being able to connect to Toy Boxes through magical doors. It's a fun diversion that's likely going to be a big part of how user-generated content is approached.

Of course, the big draw of the game for many are the new toys -- specifically the Marvel additions. Even if "Disney Infinity 2.0" wasn't a great gaming experience, the toys would still be worth picking up for many collectors. The house style of "Disney Infinity" looks great on the Marvel characters, and the detail is pretty astonishing. Although the figures are factory manufactured, the paint job is far superior to most toys on the market, giving a level of detail that other toys for the same price just can't match. The only thing missing is the ability to physically move the limbs of the toys, but it's made up by being able to play with them in a virtual space. Even if you're not planning on buying in to the "Disney Infinity 2.0" game, these toys would look fantastic on any desk or bookshelf.

However, the game is not without its problems, and many are those that apply to all toys-to-life games. The cost of entry to experience everything is fairly high at $15 per figure -- especially given that some collectibles in the Playsets can only be unlocked when using a particular character. While most folks will be able to experience much of what the game has to offer out of the $75 starter set -- especially when it comes to the Toy Box -- the ability to play as nearly any character in the Disney umbrella is likely one of the main draws for fans, so if you're all-in on "Disney Infinity," expect to shell out quite a bit of cash to collect the entire set. The price tag will also likely deter those looking to experience alternate costumes for their toys, which will release in the form of blind-packaged Power Disc booster packs.

Much like the LEGO games, there are also camera issues during play -- minor, but noticeable enough that it sometimes detracts from the experience. That said, there were no game-breaking bugs encountered during my play through, which is an absolute point in the game's favor, especially one that has such a high level of customization and margin for error in the Toy Box.

"Disney Infinity 2.0" is a very strong start to a game that will likely improve based on its user-generated content as it moves past launch. So much care was paid to the Toy Box mode and improving the overall ease of use that it's exciting to see what the worldwide audience comes up with. In the meantime, the Playsets and the Toy Box games alone offer a good return on investment, especially if you've got a friend to play with. It will be exciting to see how the "Disney Infinity 2.0" team continues to add to the game with new Playsets and figures as the game continues it plan for development through 2016.

"Disney Infinity 2.0" hits stores September 23 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Wii U.

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