Disney Infinity, a game franchise already massive in scale and bursting with purchasing options, just added a lot more muscle.
Version 2.0 of the game, which hit stores in late September, capitalizes on the enormous popularity of the Marvel superheroes, which reached an apex with the film "The Avengers" in 2012 and continued this year with the surprise summer success of "Guardians of the Galaxy." "Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes" is essentially the same setup as the 2013 original, but a few key upgrades and the introduction of Marvel characters add more of a cool factor. Lightning McQueen, Mike Wazowski and the assortment of animated favorites from Infinity 1.0 make way in the new version for Captain America, Hulk and 14 other comic book favorites.
For parents who may see "Disney Infinity 2.0" on a child's early Christmas list and naively think it's just the latest $50 game, a primer is in order. Like Activision's Skylanders series and the original "Disney Infinity," "Infinity 2.0" is powered by physical toys and pieces. A figurine is required to import a character into the game for play. So if Hawkeye isn't part of your collection, he won't be part of your game.
"Play sets" are physical pieces that open a world full of missions and are essentially their own video game. The play sets currently available are "Avengers," "Spider-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." "Power discs" import additional vehicles, tools, attributes, costumes and challenges.
The figurines, play set pieces and power discs are all placed on a platform, or base, and are reflected on the screen. The Infinity 2.0 lineup features 16 Marvel figurines and 82 power discs, so there's no shortage of options.
But those options come with price tags. The game disc is sold in a starter pack, which retails for $74.99 and also includes the "Avengers" play set, three figurines (Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow), a "base" to place them on and two "toy box" games. The "Spider-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" play sets come with two additional figurines and cost $34.99 each. Other hero figurines sell for $13.99, and a pack of two power discs costs $4.99.
The play sets will appeal to those who appreciate more structured, conventional gaming — or perhaps to those who simply don't have hours upon hours to play. But for those inclined to more creative freelancing and who have the time to get lost in their own creations, Infinity 2.0 offers an enormous inventory of building elements in "toy box" mode. Gamers can create, experience and share their own Disney-themed worlds and challenges and fill them with as much wacky randomness as they wish.
The scope of possibilities the game offers really has to be experienced to appreciate, and the emphasis on creativity is certainly a plus for parents to consider.
What distinguishes 2.0 from the original Infinity game is the Marvel characters and themes themselves — and the heroes definitely deliver. Being able to control these iconic characters and master their superpowers is simply the best part about Infinity 2.0. Slinging over majestic cityscapes with Spider-Man, scaling buildings as Venom, flying at high speed between skyscrapers as Iron Man or calling down lightning as Thor are simple but unique gaming experiences. Each character has a skill tree that allows gamers to unlock additional skills and attributes.
The battle animations are able to balance fast and frenetic energy with intuitive, smooth control. It's a fairly simple game for young kids to play. Of course, the superhero theme also introduces a hefty amount of cartoon violence. It's nothing graphic, but it's constant. Parents may cringe if their kids decide to turn on civilians and use their superhero to drop-kick a vehicle or toss a passerby into the ocean. But no harm seems to come to these good people.
This time around, toy box mode comes with some welcome upgrades, including enhanced building tools and templates. It's now easier to create long stretches of terrain and driving tracks, and "builders" — non-player characters — can be dropped in to do whatever construction they specialize in. Need a few quick buildings? Fix-it Felix Jr. can be called on to do the work.
One frustrating aspect of the original "Disney Infinity" is the inability for characters to cross over play sets — meaning that the Lone Ranger wasn't welcome in Radiator Springs when the "Cars" play set was in use. That frustration is alleviated to a small degree in 2.0. Four characters — Iron Man, Hulk, Nova and Rocket Raccoon — can be imported into one or more additional play sets.
All Infinity characters are welcome in toy box mode, though. Figurines and power discs from Infinity 1.0 are compatible with the 2.0 version, so Queen Elsa can be a part of a "Guardians"-themed galaxy. However, version 2.0 figurines and power discs cannot be imported into the 1.0 game, and play set pieces can only be used with their corresponding game version.
Power discs certainly add fun and variety to the game, allowing use of tricked-out vehicles like the S.H.I.E.L.D. containment truck or the ability to team up with other characters such as the Winter Soldier. Forty of the power discs that will be available for 2.0 are from the Marvel world, while 42 are from the much broader world of Disney animation. But the maddening thing is that you don't know what you're getting. The power disc packs aren't cheap, and they aren't see-through, either. Buyers have no idea what they're purchasing, so duplicates and disappointment are very real possibilities.
Yes, it's all pretty complicated and expensive. But as with the previous Infinity version, parents who can stomach the cost and resist requests to keep adding figurines and power discs will find "Disney Infinity 2.0" to be an innovative, engaging, quality game for their family.
Game: "Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes"
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS
Price: Starter pack, $74.99; play sets, $34.99; individual figurines, $13.99; power disc pack, $4.99
ESRB rating: E 10+ (cartoon violence)