I spend a good amount of time playing video games with my grade school kids. Some cultural critics might say too much time, but this is precisely why we dont invite cultural critics over for dinner anymore.
So when a family-friendly game comes along that the kids and I both genuinely enjoy, its a happy season. I dont have to suffer through their endless Pokemon adventures, and they dont have to endure my post-apocalyptic tactical combat scenarios.
Such is the case with the pricey but generous Disney Infinity (PS3, X360, Wii, WiiU, 3DS; $74.99; rated E10+), a hybrid adventure/sandbox game that offers almost endless replay value. The Infinity project is designed to (eventually) unite all of Disneys major entertainment franchises into one game. So youve got Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean adventuring alongside Elastigirl from The Incredibles or Sully from Monsters University or (heaven help us) Tonto and the Lone Ranger.
Whats more, Infinity lifts directly from the competing Skylanders franchise by introducing a collectible figurine system designed to keep the kids coming back and the parents spending money. Its an evil genius scheme worthy of the most nefarious Disney villain.
The $75 Disney Infinity Starter Pack comes with the Infinity Base peripheral, three figurines (Jack Sparrow, Sully and Mr. Incredible), and a plastic doohickey that unlocks associated game worlds. You physically place the figurines on the Infinity Base to unlock the different characters and games.
So you can take Jack Sparrow through the Pirates game, for instance, or Sully through the Monsters campaign. Two-player co-op is available for these areas, but heres the hitch: Sully cant adventure in Pirates land, and Jack Sparrow cant go to Monsterville. To enable two-player adventures in these games, you have to purchase additional figurines from the Sidekicks and Villains line of action figures, which Disney will happily sell you for an additional $12.99.
Its a racket all right, but these kinds of collectible scams have been around since the first days of the retail toy business. I dont even get mad anymore. At least Disney offers a big and sprawling digital playground with the games no-additional-purchase-necessary Toy Box mode.
Fans of the Toy Story 3 game will recognize this feature, which lets players wander around and build their own games, challenges and even entire cities. Anyone can play in Toy Box mode, so Jack Sparrow and Sully can team up to build castles or racetracks or what have you.
Or even better, they can square off and improvise play battles using the tool sets crazy array of weapons, traps, vehicles and gizmos. By mixing and matching the various tools, you can create some very funny situations morphing your opponent with a shrink ray, maybe, then launching him over the castle with a hidden spring-door trap. This business is by far the best part of the game, and I expect that much of the autumn will be spent trying to outsmart my fifth-grader, whose instincts for creative mayhem are really quite terrifying.
As for the Play Set campaigns, the Pirates of the Caribbean adventure is quite fun, with plenty of sword fighting and sea battles and general swashbuckling. But the other two campaigns suffer from conspicuously poor game design and outright bugginess. I suspect these portions of the game were rushed to market before their time.
As the holiday shopping season ramps up, you can expect to see more figurines and play sets from the Disney universe pop up on retail shelves. New expansion sets will include characters from Cars, Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Phineas and Ferb and even old Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
So parents beware. This might be a good opportunity to teach the kids about saving and budgeting and omnivorous retail marketing strategies.
New This Week: More 2-D platforming madness with Rayman Legends (PC, PS3, WiiU, X360, Vita) and hack-n-slash dungeon crawling on console with Diablo III (PS3, X360).