Everyone in the world has heard of Disney Infinity by now. Well, at least those of us with children certainly have! The Disney take on the formula started by the Skylanders has always had a different slant, with much more emphasis being placed on community-created content. The Toy Box mode allows whole games and worlds to be built relatively easily using simple tools, and these worlds can then be shared, downloaded, and played in your game, giving potentially unlimited replay value. There are also playsets available, based on the likes of the Pixar movie Inside Out and the one that comes with the Disney Infinity 3.0 Starter Set, based on Star Wars.
Things start promisingly in this third iteration, with a fast-paced intro that leads you through the basics of jumping, fighting and flying in a three section tutorial. We're not ashamed to admit that the middle section, which had us piloting the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field while shooting TIE fighters, had us jumping up and down with joy. The characters move nicely and respond to the controls well, displaying varying degrees of athleticism and lightsaber swinging. If that's not an Olympic sport, we think it should be!
After the intro, you're dropped in to the tutorial for the Toy Box mode. Again, this is presented very well, with a few different people to speak to and a large world behind them displayed in monochrome. As you speak to the people and carry out their quests, the world begins to fill with glorious colour, until it looks like a proper Disney game should. In this mode, you can also unlock various challenges for things like driving, combat, and platforming that again add to the longevity of the game. An early example of the combat challenge had us manning a turret, trying to shoot various coloured balls as they bounced around the screen. After we had successfully completed that, we unlocked another challenge involving turrets, but this time shooting down TIE Fighters. This was an immediate hit with the younger members of our playtest team, and about an hour was spent happily blowing spaceships out of the sky.
Once we managed to wrestle the controller back, it was on to other new aspects of the Toy Box Hub. The Disney Infinity Arcade is such a place, where once you've spoken to the relevant people and unlocked it, a kind of mini-PvP arena is opened. A selection of mini-games are on offer to play against up to three like-minded individuals from around the world. One stand out here is a kind of a "Splatoon-Lite", which gives all the characters in the game a gun that fires paint, and tasks them with running around, trying to get as much of the world painted in their colour as they can. These games are obviously designed to be family friendly, so the actual content of the mini games is innocuous enough but we would still advise caution. Although we didn't hear any voice communication, we can't be sure that the possibilty doesn't exist, so monitoring younger players online would be a sensible precaution.
So, on to the backbone of the game. While user-generated content is laudable and can be fun, the main reason to play these games is to play the product that the developers wanted to make. In the Star Wars starter set that we tested, the two figures bundled were Anakin Skywalker and another Jedi, Ahsoka Tano. We have to admit, not being massive fans of the animated series, we didn't have a clue who Ahsoka was, but after five minutes with her and her twin lightsabers, we were fans of her fighting style and all round badassitude. However, at this point we ran into a couple of issues. When the Playset first loads, there is a video introduction, as you'd expect. The first time we ran it, the audio track played at normal speed but the video lagged and stuttered very badly, leaving us with the situation that the video was still creaking and jerking along, but the sound track had finished. At one point it was so bad we actually came out of the game to see if we were accidentally downloading something in the background. After this, we quit the Playset and then loaded it up again. This time, the video and sound worked perfectly together, which was nice as it gave us some clue as to what we were meant to be doing! However, audio gremlins reared their heads again later on, leaving us with no voice acting and minimal sounds for the controlled character, which is a bit of a problem as all the exposition is carried out by talking to people. After a hard reset of the Xbox One, things seemed to run fine for a while, but it did leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.
After the gremlins had been vanquished, we set off on out journey to find out what was what in the world. Starting on the planet of Geonosis, we were tasked with infiltrating a factory. As you'd expect, graphically the game looks great, with vistas stretching off in the distance, helping to keep you immersed in the story. Soon we were double jumping and lightsaber-ing with the best of them. As you complete missions, the game gives you rating out of three stars. Being of inquiring minds and competitive natures, we set about trying to discover what we had to do to get three stars on these missions. Here, we found what could be construed as a bit of a cynical cash grab, as to pick up the maximum allocation of stars in a lot of the missions, you have to use a specific physical add-on character which is, of course, sold separately. At £15 per character (at the time of writing), it isn't an inexpensive task to acquire them all by any means.
In the Playset, there are four hub planets to explore, along with sequences where you can take off from the surfaces and fly through space. These prove to be a lot of fun, as there are missions set in the space around each planet. These mainly involve shooting drones or droid ships that are attacking friendly ships, but when does space dogfighting ever get old? Again, the younger members of our play test team took to this like a duck to water, flying rings around the bad guys. Aerobatics are mapped to the right stick, so with a little practice you'll soon be able to pull off loops, rolls and all kinds of hotdoggery.
Once on the various planets, there is plenty to do. Various characters are standing around the place with helpful blue icon over their heads, indicating an available side mission. These side missions can unlock either sidekicks or more items in the Toy Box menus to build with. Main missions are marked with a golden icon and it's these that move the story along. There's a pleasing variety of recognisable characters dotted around the place, but consider this as fair warning: Jar-Jar Binks does appear in this playset, and no, you can't dismember him with a lightsaber, or force push him off an edge. However, he's a minor irritation. The combat is fluid, and although the camera is occasionally a little dim-witted, it's nothing that you can't compensate for.
With our critical hat on, the playset main missions are very short, leaving us looking at the "Congratulations!" screen a bit sooner than we were expecting. Also, one thing we did find annoying during battles is the aggressive focus on the opponents. If, say, you need a capsule of health that's nearby, you find yourself backpedaling desperately trying to find it, as there is no "disengage camera lock" button. This can lead to more deaths than is strictly fair, but again, you can learn to compensate for it after a bit of practice.
Disney Infinity 3.0 is the very definition of a game of two halves. The Toy Box and community content promise to be the most robust yet, with a massive range of different enviroments and characters to unlock and buy. Based on the Playset included in the starter set, it seems that the Disney-developed missions are shorter and more to the point, but there is still a lot of playabiliyt after the main missions are done, whether it be collecting Mynock kills or completing all the side missions and challenges. For the younger players especially, bouncing around as a Jedi or flying the landspeeder around the desert is unlikely to get old anytime soon.