Until E3 2014, I had no idea what Disney Infinity really was--probably because I'm not exactly Disney's target demographic. So when I wandered over to the Disney Interactive booth during last month's gaming trade show, I was completely in the dark about how the company is helping along the whole video-game-toy-mash-up thing with its play sets, interactive figurines, and platform-agnostic gameplay.
And while what Disney has in store for Infinity 2.0, which launches later this year, is pretty awesome--a collection of Marvel superheroes, in-game currency, and special Toy Box games--it turns out that Infinity 1.0 (not the official name, but I'm going to call it that) offers comprehensive gameplay in its own right. I took a look at the app, Disney Infinity: Toy Box, and I think you should, too.
Enter: The Toy Box
At first glance, it looks like the Disney Infinity franchise leans heavily toward those with consoles and PCs. After all, the game is predicated on physical toy figurines with built-in NFC chips that players can place on special NFC readers that plug into their console or PC. Placing a figurine on the reader brings that toy "to life" in your game: The character pops up on your screen and they can move around, perform special moves, and pick up and use objects.
The character is now inside the Disney Infinity Toy Box, which is the sandboxy, open world of the Infinity franchise. In the Toy Box, your character can play through pre-made campaigns (much like a traditional video game), or you can build your own game world complete with varying terrain, obstacles, and enemies.
But the Toy Box is where Disney Infinity differs from similar game sets, such as Activision's Skylanders. The Toy Box is cloud-based and platform-agnostic, which means that you can access your Toy Box from any platform that Disney Infinity is available on, including mobile.
"You get the full Disney Infinity experience on the app," explains Ryan Rothenberger, senior producer for Disney Interactive. "We've made it truly platform-agnostic. You can pick up your iPad and start playing from wherever you left off on your console, play for a little while, and then go back to your console and keep going."
Most games are, at most, operating system-agnostic--you can play them across iOS and Android, or Windows and Mac--not platform-agnostic. In fact, Disney's platform-agnosticism is so comprehensive, Rothenberger says, that the company has actually patented the technology.
In other words, you won't find this anywhere else.
So there's no need to go out and buy a Disney Infinity play set for your console, unless you really want to. You can get the entire experience on your mobile device, though the "full" experience will cost you several in-app purchases.
A comprehensive app
Disney Infinity: Toy Box is a free iPad app compatible with iOS 6 or higher (read: iPad 2 and newer). In the (near) future, the Toy Box will be iPhone-compatible as well; there's no word on whether Disney is working on an Android version.
The initial app is free, and if you've got a Disney Interactive account, you can sign in to play with your purchased console play sets. If you have no console play sets, no worries--the app comes with Mr. Incredible and several starter items that you can use to build your first Infinity game, including various landforms, a car, and Cinderella's castle. The app rewards you for playing: You'll receive a new item each day if you log in, but if you want to speed things up, you can always purchase the Ultimate Toy Box Experience for $7, or additional characters for $3 apiece.
When you first open up the Toy Box, you'll probably be a little lost if you've never played in a sandbox game before. You start out controlling Mr. Incredible, who's standing on a barren floating island in the middle of... space. To control your character, you use two invisible virtual joy pads: One in the upper right corner of the screen, which controls where you look, and one in the lower left corner of the screen, which controls your movement. There's a handful of virtual buttons in the lower right corner of the screen: Jump, block, two special action buttons, and a backpack that brings up your inventory.
But there's not much to do--at least, not at first. This is a sandbox, and there's no actual game here: No enemies, no obstacles, and no goals. You have to create your game, or buy one from Disney Interactive. In the upper right corner, there's a Disney Infinity button that will take you directly to the store, where you can purchase additional characters and "power disks," which offer your character objects, mounts, and weapons. In the console version of the game, power disks are physical disks with NFC tags, which you place on the Infinity reader next to your character. But in the app, they're just in-app purchases, since there's no way to hook up a reader to your phone. The good news is that if you've already purchased physical power disks (or characters), you'll be able to access all of them in the app.
Next to the Infinity button, there's a paintbrush, which is what you'll use to create your very own sandbox game. Tap the paintbrush and it will bring up a menu of objects you can place, sorted into categories such as "terrain," "plants," and "basic toys." Some objects are inanimate (such as hills and cliffs), some are inanimate until you interact with them (such as balls and toy cars), and others are animated (such as enemies and animals). To place an object, tap and drag it onto the terrain, and then use the on-screen buttons to move it up or down (you can create floating terrain this way) or rotate it.
If you're a fan of sandbox games, the Toy Box app is plenty entertaining. But if you're looking for more action, you have to purchase pre-made campaign through the console version of the game, for now. This fall, Disney will launch Infinity 2.0, which will feature Marvel superheroes and enhanced gameplay, including new Toy Box games.
According to Rothenberger, we'll see a big update to everything: Along with the new characters (which include Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Spider Man from Disney's Marvel arm and Princess Merida from Pixar's Brave), there will also be an in-game soft currency, a new creator tool for creating worlds in the Toy Box, and discs that will let you change characters' costumes. The soft currency and the built-in Toy Box games (a tower defense game and a dungeon crawler) are particularly mobile-friendly features, so the app should have even more functionality in just a few months.
You know what that means: Time to download the app and start building, so you've got a decent inventory when Infinity 2.0 comes out.