Toys and video games have been synonymous for decades, so the toy-video game hybrid genre was really a no brainer back when the first Skylanders title launched. Time will tell, whether Skylanders and Disney Infinity are truly pioneers, or if this is just a passing phase. It is, however, a fact that the combination of toys and games has been hugely successful thus far. It brings out your inner child even if you're no longer a fresh-faced youngling. Having overselves been there since the start with the first Skylanders and Infinity, we've bought more than our fair share of toys.
One of the biggest players in the field is Disney. And old Disney are joined by newer entertainment properties under the same roof, with characters coming from the likes of Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. There's a deep well to draw from. This, the latest game in the series, has the Star Wars universe as its central narrative, and there's every reason to be excited. On paper it is a very ambitious third chapter, especially as Star Wars has a near religious following.
The starter pack for Disney Infinity 3.0: Play Without Limits consists of the Twilight of the Republic playset, a base as well as characters Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano (of Clone Wars fame). Put the disc in the console and the base in the USB, and then all basic preparations are complete. The next step is to place a figure at one of the two circular spaces on the base. Returning players will feel right at home here as it works much like before.
The quality of the figures is the first order of business. The Disney Infinity figures have always been top notch and well crafted, with beautiful colouring and respectful of the source material. Last time around, it was the Marvel heroes that impressed us. They were on a level where they didn't feel out of place as decorations on our desk. The high standard is kept up with Infinity 3.0, as both Anakin and Ahsoka are very much like their animated version. The figures are semi-plastic, and are great to play with when the console is switched off.
The Twilight of the Republic playset is next up for scrutiny. If you only have the starter pack you can choose to play either as Anakin or Ahsoka. Both are armed with lightsabers and Force abilities. We tested most of this playset together with a young family member (an eight-year-old boy), and the greatest struggle was not on the screen, but over who got to play as Anakin. Ahsoka is one tough chick with two lightsabers, but nothing can convince a young boy that she's as cool as Anakin.
This issue is easily solved with a trip to the local retailer where other Star Wars figures like Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda are available. In Disney Infinity 2.0 you had to unlock a series of emblems in order to access new characters, this has now been changed to just one emblem per figure, which is more reasonable in our opinion. These are hidden in every level, and we found most in our first playthrough.
Experiencing the Star Wars narrative with a member of a new generation was very entertaining. We both followed the story with great interest, and the combat was mostly engaging. However, the experience was troubled a bit by some camera issues, with one player unable to look around. This is typically performed by turning one of the analog sticks, but in narrow passages this is truly impossible. It does put a damper on things at times. However, the game mostly takes place in wide-open areas where the camera problems were minimal, unless you fight large groups of enemies at the same time.
The playset spans several different planets, and you are free to travel between them at your own leisure. Transitions offer the chance of travelling by spaceship, where you may come across a squadron of Tie Fighters. Naboo, Tatooine, Coruscant and Geonosis are the planets you'll visit, and they are all varied and faithful to the original Star Wars: Clone Wars material. Fans need not worry about a thing, that is until they see Jar Jar Binks make an appearance.
Like previous entries your character levels up. You smash various objects leaving blue sparks behind. These little orbs work much like blocks in the LEGO games. They unlock new upgrades, and the ability trees are huge, providing a noticeable increase in your character's prowess. When you play with a friend, these orbs are conveniently split evenly, avoiding potential conflict.
Twilight of the Republic is a bit short, if you focus your efforts on the story element. It's actually both hidden praise and subtle criticism, because the story is both exciting and expertly told, and therefore you feel more inclined to head straight for the next main objective. There is, however, plenty of opportunities to stray from the path, and tons of side-missions are available. Most of these are very simple, like smashing ten robots, or picking up five space ship parts buried in the desert. Relatively speaking it's busy work for our heroes, but it's easy to enjoy because of the mood and the atmosphere. The Star Wars universe has been impressively realised and it's easy to feel right at home.
One of the main reasons for the strong atmosphere is the music. The entire arsenal of Star Wars music and sound effects are in play, and as you'd expect it's the perfect background for your characters' epic struggle against the dark forces of the galaxy. But it is on the short side. We spent around six to seven hours to get to the credits, which is a little underwhelming. That said it should be noted that we didn't spend too much time on side activities. There is undoubtedly several hours of extra content to be found there.
There was certainly a sense of disappointment as the credits rolled. We wanted more, and it felt like a premature goodbye. There is certainly an urge to get back and play the side-content. Even as this dries out, there is luckily more content on the horizon. Two new Star Wars-themed playsets are on their way. "Rise Against the Empire" and "The Force Awakens", hopefully both will offer the same level of entertainment.
Playsets aside, the core of Disney Infinity 3.0: Play Without Limits lies, like its predecessors, in the Toy Box. Here you can build and play in your own mash-up world of toys. You can decorate a house, and visit worlds created by your friends. We felt there was more life in this version of the Toy Box compared to Disney Infinity 2.0, so it's moving in the right direction. You can of course use all your older figures in this mode.
There is naturally the option to download creations from other players, and upload your own. It's also possible to play online in various mini-games, where the purpose is to paint a black and white world with your own colour. Naturally as we were playing the game pre-release the servers weren't populated with enough players to truly test the merits of the online component.
You can spend thousands of hours in the Toy Box part of the game, but the starter pack does feel a little underwhelming. This review is based solely on the material within that package, and the experience almost screams for two more figures. Of course, that's all by design as the idea is that you'll expand your experience with (expensive) trips to your local specialist retailer. In addition to the starter pack there is already another playset in stores, based on Pixar's new (and brilliant) movie Inside Out.
The technical issues sadly don't end with the camera. We've experienced several freezes over the course of testing the game, and some unexpected black screens. The only way out was to reboot. There are also lengthy loading times, especially when you jump from Twilight of the Republic to the Toy Box.
All in all, we're dealing with fantastic mash-up of Disney Infinity and a galaxy far, far away. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, Star Wars. The atmosphere is fantastic, and we cannot wait for the next playset to arrive. Twilight of the Republic is the best playset in the series by far, with Guardians of the Galaxy from Disney Infinity 2.0 having previously held that honour. It's a great year to be a fan of toy-video game hybrids, and the season is off to a great start. It will be interesting to see how Skylanders and new challenger Lego Dimensions measure up.