To Infinity and Beyond!
Nobody can beat them when it comes to cartoons and theme parks, but those creative folk at Disney haven't always seemed quite as comfortable when dealing with videogames. If you're old enough to remember the glory days of the Mega Drive and SNES, you'll probably have a few golden memories of brilliant platformers like QuackShot and Castle of Illusion, yet Mickey and Donald have been left behind by the likes of Mario and Master Chief in recent years.
All that might be about to change, however. The house of mouse has just unveiled a brand new gaming initiative called Disney Infinity. It's ambitious stuff, and it looks like it could be a winner. Has Disney finally mastered the art of the videogame?
Like Activision's Skylanders, Disney Infinity promises to bring a series of chunky plastic toys to life. The toys themselves depict various Disney characters, ranging from Mr Incredible to Mike and Sulley from Monsters Inc., and the moment you place them on the glowing pedestals of the Infinity Base, you'll be able to control their likenesses on your TV screen.
The game itself, meanwhile, unfolds as a series of play sets that are themed to individual Disney franchises. The Incredibles play set is all about super-heroic combat and gentle platforming, for example, while fans of Monsters Inc. will get to explore the leafy grounds of Monsters University, stealthing passed guards and pulling off a series of elaborate pranks. Fancy a gun that shoots toilet roll? This is the game for you!
Each play set is an open world experience, and promises around five hours of content by itself - and more play sets will be made available after Disney Infinity launches. A few years from now, you probably won't get a new Disney movie without Infinity getting its own play set, actually, and while you'll need to buy all of this new content (and the figurines to access it), between side quests, story missions, and a massive number of collectibles - and if Disney gets the balancing right - you should hopefully feel that you're getting your money's worth.
The play sets should be brilliant fun, then - although the platforming controls in work-in-progress demoes are currently a little rough around the edges - but they're only half of what Infinity's all about. Alongside the story-driven content built around specific Disney universes, Infinity also provides an elaborate toy box mode. This is where you can use all of your Disney Infinity characters in the same world, teaming Mike from Monsters Inc. up with Captain Jack Sparrow, say, and then sending them on adventures where you're in charge of what happens next.
Think of it as a kind of My First LittleBigPlanet, in other words: Infinity's toy box mode gives you all the tools you'll need to create your own levels and even your own games. Special plastic power discs can be placed on the Infinity Base alongside the figures themselves, and they'll create texture packs and new items to bring into the game, along with everything you've unlocked while messing around on play sets. You can meddle with the specifics to your heart's content, as well. If you want Cinderella's carriage to have airplane wings and massive off-road tyres, for example, you can probably make that happen. You can also move in really close, shifting the camera around and creating anything from platformers to racing games.
It's powerful stuff, in other words, and Disney's only just got started. The company's promising to get behind this project for ten years, and almost all of your favourite characters will feature in some way, whether they pop up in their own play sets, or in texture and item packs and figurines. The starter pack will get you started: it includes the game and the Infinity Base along with three play sets, covering Pirates of the Caribbean, The Incredibles and Monsters U, and figurines for Captain Jack, Sulley, and Mr Incredible. You'll also get some power disks to mix things up.
Can Disney take on Skylanders and LittleBigPlanet at once and emerge victorious? It's far too early to say. This looks like creative and engrossing fun, though, and it will be interesting to see how Disney builds on it in the years to come.