Mega corporations own a lot of stuff, and Disney is no exception. It’s not too surprising when looking at their various franchises and characters that places like Disneyland is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world; after all, who wouldn’t want to hug Mickey Mouse, meet an Avenger, and fly the Millennium Falcon all in one day? And thanks to the magic of video games you’re able to bring a little of that to your own home in the form of Disney Infinity, a game series that combines some of the most popular Disney and Pixar animated properties with Marvel Comics, and Star Wars. But before all of Disney’s toys were all in one box, things started off a bit simpler in the original release, which has just turned ten years old.
In 2011, the Spyro franchise got a huge refresh when it released Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. This game may not have introduced the world to the ‘toys-to-life’ video game concept (the first being made way back in 1987 with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future) but it’s the one that kicked off a whole new love for the form, and made it big business over the next several years. The concept is simple: you buy a base game that comes with a couple of toys, that when placed onto a special sensor brings those characters to life in the game. Players can purchase extra characters by going out and buying more toys. It’s like buying DLC or extra content, except that you actually have a physical thing on your shelf at the end of it.
There is absolutely a conversation to be had about whether or not this is a predatory form of gaming, and you can easily see how charging per character and getting the target audience (mostly kids in this case) to want to complete the set and collect them all can lead from a single video game purchase to hundreds of pounds being spent on a single gaming experience. The fact that you’re buying a real object rather than just data does take the edge off to a large degree, and parents seemed happy to purchase extra toys for kids. And this absolutely got the attention of multiple developers and companies, who saw a whole new way to make more and more money. Thus the resurgence in toys-to-life games began.
Amiibo, Pokémon Rumble U, Beyblade Burst, Telepods, Lightseekers: Awakening, Hero Plug and Play, Sick Bricks, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Lego Dimensions all jumped onto the bandwagon, and a few (such as Lego) did very well for themselves. But one that was popular even before it was released, with excitement building up months in advance, was Disney Infinity. One of the better of the toys-to-life products, Disney Infinity offered larger toys that were akin to statuettes. These figures featured stylised versions of multiple Disney and Pixar characters, and were big attention grabbers in stores.
The base game came with Sully from Monsters University, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mr Incredible from The Incredibles, along with the story missions for each of those franchises. This allowed new players to play through three sets of story missions with the main characters of each, though there are sections and missions that would require additional characters to fully complete. Alongside the story settings, there’s also the Toy Box, one of the bigger draws for the game. In the Toy Box characters from any set can interact and be on screen together, and players are able to create their own worlds and environments from pieces unlocked by playing.
The Toy Box offered extensive customisation options, and it quickly became a showcase for players creativity and ingenuity. The fact that the game rewarded payers with more pieces for the Toy Box through play encouraged players to keep playing, and in order to keep playing and unlock everything you’d have to go out and buy those extra characters. Additional characters were sold individually, along with a few double and triple packs, such as a triple pack that offered an additional character for each of the base set’s levels. More story levels were also introduced in their own sets, which included Cars, Toy Story, and The Lone Ranger. To appeal to those ‘hard-core’ collectors, there were also special game pieces that were released in lower quantities, which were made in clear plastic, called the Crystal Series.
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Disney Infinity received positive reviews upon release, with critics and the public praising it for both the enjoyable game play, and the quality of the figures. Thanks to that success, further additions to the game were made in the form of sequels. The first of these new releases would introduce Marvel characters to the franchise, with play sets for The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man, and the third game bringing in Star Wars, with story packs for The Clone Wars, the original trilogy, and The Force Awakens, alongside Inside Out, Finding Dory, and Marvel Battlegrounds. Each new version would also include more characters that did not come with their own levels that could be used in the Toy Box. With each game being backwards compatible it meant that earlier characters could be used in later games, but in order to play new releases players would need each new starter set as they came out.
Despite the popularity of the franchise, the series ended in 2016, with no real reason given from Disney as to why. After the cancellation of the series, designs and concept art was released for what would have been additional character and story releases, including Doctor Strange, Spider-Gwen, and a Moana playset. Disney have adapted the style of the games figures for actual toy releases though, giving those that miss the franchise the chance to recreate it with an actual toy box. Despite not lasting long, Disney Infinity was a lot of fun whilst it was here, and as someone with every single figure released for it, it’s still great to get it out and have a play with it a decade on.
Disney Infinity was released in the UK on 23rd August 2013.