Credit: Disney/Marvel

Disney Infinity 2.0 made me feel eight years old. And I mean that in the best way possible.

There’s a certain magic to playing with toys when you’re young. Action figures spring to life in your imagination, and pieces of furniture transform into the sites of epic battles. A hallway can become a racetrack, a chair a mountaintop, and all it takes is a couple plastic figures to create a spark of inspiration.

Infinity 2.0 lets players create whatever they can imagine, and the spark this time around is bringing together the Mouse House’s vast catalogue of franchises and some of the most famous superheroes in the world, Marvel’s Avengers. By creating a cohesive art style and setting players loose in the game’s Toy Box mode, Infinity 2.0 is a brilliant package for kids looking for a creative outlook—and it can satisfy an older crowd, too.

Toy story

Infinity 2.0 is part of the recent phenomena of toys-to-life games–digital games tied to physical action figures. The sequel introduces the Avengers, giving players access to Iron Man, Black Widow, and Thor figures in the game’s introductory set. Other Avengers, including Hawkeye, Captain America, and the Hulk are available for purchase separately.

The toys interact via wireless technology and a base—stick your Iron Man figure on the base’s glowing circle, and you play as Iron Man. Swap him out for Thor, and you’ll play as as the god of thunder. These figures save any data related to your character, which is important, considering every character has a skill set from which players choose to unlock certain abilities. So if you were to level up your Iron Man and give him certain powers, you could then take that figure to your friend’s game and play with your exact Iron Man.

It’s worth noting that the figures themselves are well-made, and great-looking versions of your favorite Marvel superheroes. The game’s art style, since the first Disney Infinity released last year, aims to unify all of Disney’s disparate properties while allowing them to retain individuality. The impressive success of the first game continues in the sequel, which actually makes the sight of Captain America and the Hulk appearing next to Mike Wazowski and Woody the cowboy somehow work without feeling like sacrilege.

We have a Hulk

But before players pit Thor and Jack Skellington against each other, there’s the game’s story mode to consider. Playable solo or with a friend, the game’s introductory play set comes with an Avengers-themed narrative. Loki and the frost giants are rampaging through the streets of New York, and it’s up to Iron Man and the gang to thwart the trickster’s plans.

It’s a simple tale, told sparingly through cutscenes that allow the personalities of each Avenger to shine through. But the real substance of the game’s narrative mode is found scattered around the streets of an open-world segment of New York City. Players can help out characters like Captain Marvel and Nick Fury in the fight against Loki, and while many of the objectives that move the story forward boil down to pounding the ice out of a few frost giants, the combat is fun enough to last for the story’s relatively small running time. Particularly once your chosen Avenger has unlocked a few more powers and increased their strength, it can be quite enjoyable to smash Loki’s army into bits of plastic—enemies, when knocked out, fall apart as if they were action figures in-game.

There are also races, collectibles, and a few other side missions to tackle. Additionally, the game offers a few hundred feats to complete, though these are much more simplistic in design—fly 15 kilometers as Iron Man, use Hulk’s special move on 50 frost giants, etc.

The campaign won’t take long to complete, but it should satisfy the game’s younger targeted audience. The side missions actually provide enough but not an overwhelming challenge to encourage replaying them for high scores, and there’s plenty of enjoyment derived from just roaming the city. Whether it’s stomping through the streets as Hulk, riding a motorcycle as Captain America, or flying through the skyline as Iron Man, every hero has a unique scheme that effectively channels the essence of each hero.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

If you build it, Disney characters will come

The story just scratches the surface of Infinity 2.0‘s potential, however. The real joy of the game, and what evoked nostalgia for my childhood, is in the game’s creation suite, known as the Toy Box. The basic spirit of the mode is to create any Disney or Marvel-ified idea you can imagine, and Infinity 2.0 brings with it a host of improvements and hours of fun with whatever those creations may be.

Races, tower defense games, and action brawlers are just a few of the type of games players possible in the Toy Box. The game comes with a few games to give players a starting point for what can be created, but the options are limited only by the Disney catalogue. Want to build a Tron-themed racetrack with Asgardian adornments and a Peter Pan treehouse smack in the middle of it? Or maybe an eight-level action game in a recreation of Agrabah with Spider-Man villains to fight?

The suite’s tools allow for the construction of those two ideas and countless more. Infinity 2.0 comes with two base games, an Asgard-set tower defense game and a more classic action game set in the Guardians of the Galaxy world, to give players an idea of the Toy Box’s potential. They’re impressive games, and I spent almost as much time with them as I did Infinity 2.0’s story mode, but they are built with the same set of tools players have access to.

Hundreds of items are available to use in this customizable Mickey Mouse heaven that plays to the remarkable history of both Disney and Marvel. But if the pressure of fashioning a workable game or racetrack, and having it look good too, proves difficult, the Toy Box includes a few mechanics to spark players’ imaginations. A number of “builders” are included in the game’s tools. By dropping an adorable looking construction worker or a Peter Pan Lost Boy in the middle of a level, for example, the character will go to work constructing a city or treehouse for the player. There are builders for racetracks and plots of land as well, which presents a template to work with before producing a completely original level.

The inclusion of these builders is a brilliant component, as it can seem almost too daunting when first introduced to the vast array of options the Toy Box arms you with. But if trying to make a cohesive level is still a challenge, the INterior mode is a small wonder. Players are given a house to expand and decorate as they see fit. Add room after room of varying sizes to your Disney mansion. The mode seemed trivial when I first entered it. Fast forward an hour and a half later, I had organized my Disney castle into an Avengers wing, a set of rooms based on Pixar films, and filled them with every piece of furniture and miniaturized Disney character I deemed appropriate.

And that’s where the true brilliance of Disney Infinity 2.0 lies—self-expression. It’s something the first entry in the series sought to encourage as well, but the ease-of-use modifications the updated Toy Box has received make the barrier to entry much lower. Creation games in the past have scared me off—I spent five minutes in LittleBigPlanet’s robust creation system before giving up—but I continue to want to revisit the potential of Infinity 2.0’s Toy Box.

For the love of superheroes

Added to that magic, it’s easy to look at the Avengers as an anachronistic inclusion for the seek of banking on one of Disney’s biggest properties. But the cast of superheroes meshes with the rest of Disney’s universe with ease. By keeping and focusing on the humor to these heroes that makes them so appealing, they slip into the ranks of Disney and Pixar animated films without a hiccup. Yes, this may not be the deep, complex superhero action game older Avengers fans may want, but Disney has nailed the combat and traversal of each hero in broad enough strokes that it’s simply fun to swerve through New York City skyscrapers as Thor or scale the sides of buildings as Black Widow.

Disney has done as much as it could to ensure content from the first Infinity carries over into the new title, but be warned—old play sets won’t work in Infinity 2.0, but any items unlocked from them for the Toy Box will carry over. It’s a necessary evil of upgrading and improving on a franchise, but the sheer number of options may require a bit of research before going out to make a purchase.

(Note: Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man characters and play sets will also be available at the games launch. As those are separate purchases, they weren’t considered for this review. Look forward to more impressions of them closer to the game’s launch.)

Disney Infinity 2.0 challenged me. Not in my skills at beating the game, but in stretching my imagination. Giving players the tools to create whatever they can make is not a new idea—Minecraft and the aforementioned LittleBigPlanet are just a couple of the many games that have done so.

But by combining franchises with decades of history and personality witha simple yet deep system that will send any fan’s mind on flights of fancy, Disney Infinity 2.0 accomplishes a task a surprising amount of games tend to make secondary: providing a purely fun experience.

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