Disney Infinity preview: The Magic Kingdom declares war on Skylanders and Minecraft

Disney took the lid off Disney Infinity on Tuesday afternoon, and the company’s latest bid to conquer the video game market looks like it may succeed where previous tent pole releases like Epic Mickey have failed. The game, developed by Just Cause developer Avalanche Software, is more ambitious than any other mainstream game Disney has ever attempted, and it does so by capitalizing on two wildly popular titles. Disney Infinity is the company’s answer to both Skylanders and Minecraft, arguably the most successful family-friendly games in recent memory.

During its announcement press conference, Disney described its Disney Infinity as a gaming platform rather than an individual game, and given the swath of products that fall under the banner, that certainly seems to be true. Disney Infinity will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo Wii U. Disney also announced it for mobile devices, but while a tablet was shown, no OS was specified. It also announced it for PC and “online” platforms, implying that it will may even be offered as a social network or browser-based game.

Like Avalanche’s Toy Story 3 game, though, Disney Infinity is multiple games in one on all of these platforms. The first Disney Infinity release in June is a starter pack. This comes with three plastic figurines of Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Sully from Monsters University, and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Like Activision’s Skylanders, these figures represent a player’s data while playing Disney Infinity – but rather than just holding statistics specific to each character, these figures actually represent whole games.

The first game is called a Playset. Placing a figure on a circular disc for reading data, you can play though a full game based on the property the figure comes from. Disney showed off open-world games like a brawler for The Incredibles that lets you fight the villain Syndrome and his army of robots in a crumbling city. Meanwhile, the Monsters University game was based around stealth and humor, sneaking up on rival monster college students to scare them, as well as customizing frat houses in the universe. The Pirates game was also action-centric, showing off a level inspired by the original Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride. 

While you can’t mix figures within these IP-specific games – no Mr. Incredible attending Monsters University – Disney Infinity’s main attraction lets you mix everything together. The “Toy Box” is an open world game not unlike Mojang’s Minecraft or Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet. A fully 3D, customizable world, Toy Box is accessed using a second, hexagonal plastic base that multiple figures can go on. Any “toys” unlocked in specific Playsets – whether they’re weapons or vehicles or building tools – are unlocked in the Toy Box, where you can also construct levels using impressive-looking editing tools. Video from the event showed whole cities built using the editor, with icons from old Disney properties like Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin from Duck Tales, and more.

There are Adventures to play through in the Toy Box, a sort of campaign that teaches people how to use all of the tools available. But after that, players can build their own games using the Logic Editor that ties objects together. The demo showed players building a simple switch that can be used to open a door, but later in the presentation the Toy Box featured entire games created to mimic arcade classics like Robotron and Offroad, to a racing track based on Bowser’s Castle from Mario Kart. The world you create can then be uploaded to Disney Infinity Online. Unlike LittleBigPlanet or Minecraft though, Disney Infinity levels won’t automatically be accessible to other players over the Internet, as Disney plans to fully moderate the service. They’ll be uploaded to public servers if approved, and Disney also plans to run contests for people to submit their worlds. Any worlds constructed will also, naturally, be tied to the figures people buy. So even if you don’t want to upload it to the internet, you can bring your world to a friend’s house.

PiratesMonsters, and The Incredibles won’t be the only Playsets available at launch in June, though Disney didn’t specify what else would be available. It did say that 20 additional action figures will be available, and more Playsets/figures would come out across 2013. Videos for the game and the game’s logo gave a taste of what’s on the horizon though, with characters from myriad Disney properties. CarsThe Nightmare Before ChristmasWreck It RalphTronPhineas and FerbAladdinDumboToy Story, and more were shown off during the presentation. Conspicuously absent, however, were characters from Disney’s hugely popular subsidiaries Marvel and Lucasfilm. If Luke Skywalker and The Avengers are going to play in Disney Infinity, it won’t be in 2013.

Disney Interactive has struggled to find its place in video games over the past few years. While Disney’s social and mobile games are fairly popular, the company simply doesn’t have a major property to compete with either the big publishers like Activision, or even the indie darlings like Mojang. Disney Infinity takes one of the most promising games to bear a Disney license in recent years, Toy Story 3 by Avalanche, and marries it to the compulsive collectibility of Skylanders and the deep self-expression of Minecraft. This is one to watch. 

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