There's a TV term known as the "cold open" or often more simply, "the teaser." It's the part that happens before the opening credits role, to let you know what's in store. In procedurals like NCIS or Law and Order, this is where you'll see the murder, or more often, the discovery of the victim's body. On serialized science fiction or adventure shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'd often see the end of a story that's otherwise unseen, to show that these characters keep going when they're off the air. For comedies, especially variety like Saturday Night Live, you'll get a topical bit that's meant to make you start laughing and never stop.
In Disney Infinity 3.0's cold open, a relative rarity for video games, they set the stage for something magical. From Mickey Mouse to Star Wars, from racing in carts to fighting droids (and maybe even teasing a clash with a certain Sith Lord), the first few minutes of Disney Infinity 3.0 tell you exactly what's in store for you. It's full of the patented "Disney Magic™" and promises a series of adventures that will take you through Disney's properties in a new and inventive way, then let you make adventures of your own.
Here's the crazy thing: it delivers in every single way.
When I talked at the Toy Box Summit just before D23 Expo earlier this month with "Papa Echo," one of the initial DI fans who became a Disney Interactive employee based on his fan work with the game (they now work on the Toy Box, primarily making new creations for fans to enjoy all year long), he told me the first thing he thought people should do is the Sidekick tutorials, and specifically jump into the farming system. Then, I laughed at him; I looked at him like he was crazy. Here's someone whose primary job is to make the Toy Box an inviting and inventive way of creating, and someone who spent 10 minutes telling me how amazing the new abilities to tell a story in the Toy Box were; then he said to go play the farming mini-game. And dang it, he was right. The ability to ultra-customize your Sidekick in this game (and this time around, instead of a nameless generic little guy, you have Sidekicks from the Star Wars universe, or characters like Gravity Falls' Mabel and Peter Pan's Captain Hook) is an outstanding, deep part of the game. Don't have a friend available to join you on a jaunt into the Toy Box Takeover? Need some help leveling up your favorite character? Your Sidekick can help you, and thanks to the farming game, which offers role playing game style leveling (raise their energy, attack, heart, tool use, or luck by feeding them a variety of farmed crops including carrots, tomatoes, and of course, Minnie Mouse Cupcakes), they can be strong, effective, and most importantly fun to build up. So Papa Echo, here's my very public apology for my scoff. You were dead on.
So after you've figured out the Sidekick system through a series of swift and entertaining tutorials, what's next? Well, you continue exploring the brand-new Toy Box Hub. Here, you have an easy look at everything you can do in the game, from the play sets to the Toy Box games to the ins and outs of creation. There are helpful Toy Box hosts, something that's not new to the franchise, but this time are presented front-and-center. In the past, these non-playable characters have remained somewhat buried, but now they're right here in a custom multi-themed world, calling you over to talk to them. I instantly felt more at home; it makes the Toy Box more akin to Disneyland than a video game menu. Want to learn how to fight? Talk to the battle master and wander around the Halloweentown themed section of the Hub. Racing more your speed? Go chat with the fella from Cars and zip around the Tattooine mini-land in a speeder. There are also sections for you INterior (your personalized home base, which also teaches you how to create indoor sections of the Toy Box), the aforementioned Sidekick leveling/farming system, a platforming and exploration sector (complete with Ewoks!), and a main street Disney area complete with princess castle and brand new buildings to enter to teach you about the amazing Disney Infinity community, how to interact with them, and even encourage you to jump in and play with someone else.
So now you and I have explored the Toy Box Hub and the intro of the game. We're 700 words into this review and I haven't told you anything about the play sets or toy box games. But you know what? I don't need to, because all of this has already been incredibly fun. That's the joy of Disney Infinity 3.0; I spent my first hour or so with the game doing nothing other than learning about it, and it was a blast. When I started leveling up characters in the Battleland's Streets of Rage style beat-em-up toy box (yeah, there are way more Toy Box Games than the separate, branded ones, thanks to things like this), I didn't realize I had about 4 hours logged before I had even so much as loaded the first play set until I double and triple checked the time.
I'll talk at length about the individual play sets available to all at launch later today, including the Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic set that takes place amid the Clone Wars and the Inside Out set that continues Riley and her emotions' stories, plus the Toy Box Takeover game, but giving them a brief mention here: they're awesome.
Everything that's supposed to be Star Wars in this game, from wielding a lightsaber to flying along in a pod racer, and even the conceit for fetch quests (a Jedi must be a servant of the people, after all), feels like Star Wars in the most essential way.
The Inside Out playset offers completely new-to-Infinity gameplay, and moments that made me laugh as hard as the film.
The Toy Box Takeover, where the villains from all the properties under the Disney umbrella team up and you can use any character from all three versions to take them down is everything I dreamed Disney Infinity could or would ever become. When my wife and I fought Darth Maul using Baymax and Princess Jasmine, I was suddenly six years old again, sitting in my friend Brian's basement, teaming up He-Man and Lion-O to take over his sister's Barbie Mansion, navigating an obstacle course of micromachines and little green plastic toy soldiers to face their ultimate enemy, Starscream the Transformer. It's a memory that makes me smile and sigh (and yeah, get a bit teary-eyed), and feel like, as Walt Disney famously said, "If you can dream it, you can do it." I got that same amazing feeling from what could have been a silly moment in a kid-friendly video game, and that is a magic you just don't find in entertainment that often.
I feel like I've covered a lot and yet only scratched the surface here, hence the other sectional reviews, but suffice to say Disney Infinity 3.0 is, as the people who make it have said, the culmination of what they started two years ago (only two! crazy!). This is the end of the beginning, the finale of the creation of Disney Infinity as a platform. They perfected the look and feel that could be carried across live-action, animated, Marvel, Star Wars (the figures and their in-game models alike are just unbelievable at this point, and I've spent several minutes just staring at and analyzing figures like Sabine from Star Wars Rebels or even the simple, joyous new Mickey and Minnie Mouse); they added developers with specialties to make the combat feel like high-end video game combat (and oh boy does it work - every Jedi even feels unique, with different approaches, combos, and some amazing Force abilities and finishers) or make the cart racing (and indeed all driving) feel like a tight, polished experience. Most of all, the team at Disney Interactive found a way to let you not just feel the Disney Magic, but create it yourself.
Disney Infinity 3.0 is a special and awesome achievement in video games. This game, like its physical component that brings your favorite characters into the digital world, is a portal that lets you become a part of Disney's incredible multi-faceted family. I legitimately cannot wait to see what they come up with next, but in the meantime I feel like I have years of entertainment to enjoy here already.
Disney Infinity 3.0 is in stores now in Europe and hits North American shelves August 30, 2015.