On paper, Disney's Infinity series reads like a nefarious branding exercise. One that's purpose-built to propel an avalanche of licensed content into your kid's cerebrum.
The concept is simple: buy toys so you can play the game. The more characters you purchase, the more of the game you can play. Sounds pretty stingy, right? Unfortunately for the child in all of us, Infinity 3.0 comes with added Star Wars - so we gave it a go in spite of our cynicism.
What happened next surprised us though. Beneath Infinity's facade of trademarked content, there's a game that is complex, detailed, and most importantly, creative.
To Infinity and beyond...
First thing's first - what is Infinity? This is in fact a harder question to answer than you might think.
At its heart the game is a third-person platformer featuring combat, acrobatics, and puzzle solving where each campaign takes place in the Disney, Marvel, or Star Wars universe - but that's only half the story. The other side of Infinity is a creative suite known as the Toy Box, where players can assemble their own creations.
Why the 3.0? Disney is iteratively adding more content to its extensive library in modules. This review pertains to the Twilight of the Republic play set, which unlocks Star Wars content centred around the prequel trilogy before Anakin Skywalker became a very naughty boy indeed. Another pack titled Rise of the Empire, to be released in a month's time, will add content from the original trilogy.
It's almost as though Disney wants to ensure younglings are sold on the release of a new movie, or something.
Here today, Obi-wan tomorrow
First thing's first, the campaign of Twilight of the Republic is delightful and derivative in equal measure.
If you've played any of the Lego series then you'll know the drill already. Every aspect of TotR is well-trodden ground for the genre: jump on things to get to other (possibly higher) things; collect glowing things so that you can buy more shop things; and occasionally fight some things because they're guarding a door with the very important things behind them. It's linear, it's fun, it's frivolous, and it works - even if it isn't startlingly original.
However Twilight of the Republic does earn some distinction. Combat is deep, satisfying and sometimes approaches the heights of a game like Arkham Knight. We're unsure how Disney expects a 7 year old make effective use of a skill tree so vast, but the options for dealing out punishment are pleasantly varied.
While you're burying your lightsabers into an insufferable band of probe droids (or as was the case with me, the head of Jar Jar Binks) you'll also enjoy taking a look around. The sci-fi scenery looks a treat, and its cityscapes shine with details.
Although Twilight of the Republic's campaign mode is fun while it lasts, that's about as long as a Cornetto in a 200 degree oven. We jest, you or your sprog should get about four hours of playtime from the game. Considering its thirty pound price point, we were expecting a great deal more from the single player campaign.
Taking the Mickey
Next I feel obliged to discuss the dubious matter of how Infinity content is delivered. Disney has cottoned on to the idea that parents hate handing over money to their children only to see it disappear into a black hole of online-only in-game microtransactions.
In response, the company has effectively moved microtransactions into the real world by selling physical statues that unlock content. Want to play as Yoda? To do so you must buy the Yoda statue and place it on the Infinity Base, which instantly changes your active character. Campaigns are unlocked in similar manner, with statues that must be purchased.
Adopting physical keys to 'unlock' content is a shrewd move, it allows parents to sleep soundly in the knowledge that they have bought their child a physical collectable and gives children the exciting process of switching about neat statuettes on a glowing pedastal.
As much the cynic inside me hates to admit it, the very act of moving about physical pieces is exciting. I giggled with glee every time I was asked to change the active statue.
That said, Disney is effectively charging £30 for DLC that unlocks characters which should be playable as standard. Worse still, you can bet it will continue to do so until its near-endless library of characters has been exhausted and every parent in India is forced to remortgage their house.
Building blocks of something better
Even if you end up having to sell your home to afford the complete set, I still believe that it's worth your child, or even you, getting to grips with Infinity's Toy Box.
What looks at first like a simple map editor is in fact so much more; the Toy Box is actually a simplified game design suite. In addition to sculpting hills or making castles, it's possible to link game objects together in sophisticated ways so that when certain circumstances occur, events are triggered. I spent a solid two hours rigging a street with messages that announced me as supreme ruler of the Earth to passers by, but it's possible to create fully functional games with their own rules - something you can't do with Minecraft.
In essence, the Toy Box engages the basic logic skills that any child would need to develop in a career an engineer. I studied Computer Science and know how important Lego, Mechano, and Rollercoaster Tycoon were to my development as a child. I suspect that it will be games like Infinity that will lead the charge in the future by getting kids thinking about physics, rules, how complex systems interact.
It's rare to see a game hand such powerful, and occassionaly difficult tools to children, but nonetheless impressive. If you want to give your child the opportunity to express themselves creatively and play games, I would look no further.
The arcade even allows players to travel to the creations of their peers, letting them seek inspiration from others. Naturally, the game also allows two friends to travel into each other's realms and play and build together.
Disney Infinity 3.0 Verdict
Infinity 3.0 is many things: it's a solid platformer, a truly powerful game-builder, and also a money-spinner designed to chew up the contents of your wallet. Whether the former two outweigh the latter is really up to you.