It's funny how the games industry goes in waves sometimes - one minute there's loads of one particular type of game, and the next there's none whatsoever. While first person shooters and sports games seem to be fairly evergreen (thanks to the self-confessed 'hardcore' having a two track mind), the figure-collecting 'toys to life' games are definitely having a moment right now. While they may have started when Skylanders first lit the torch a few years ago, the genre's grown to become very much a three-game-race this year, with both Disney Infinity 3.0 and Lego Dimensions vying with Skylanders SuperChargers for the crown - and your money!
A more Disney-centric and creatively-driven game, Disney Infinity mixes the traditional "buy a real life toy, place it on a portal, play as that character in game" figure-collecting of it's contemporaries, with some of the most recognisable characters in history, adding in an extensive level editor (the 'Toy Box') to boot, giving you pretty much limitless replay value. When you're not busy smashing up Storm Troopers and Battle Droids in this year's decidedly Star Wars driven adventure, you can literally let your imagination run wild, downloading all the crazily impressive levels from its rather talented community - where everything from theme park rides to monster-filled gauntlets and mammoth hedge mazes are up for grabs.
But for those who prefer their adventures with a little more story and co-op, Disney Infinity 3.0 has you covered too, as more traditional, pre-made adventures, known as Play Sets will be available too - and at this year's Gamescom show in Germany, we went hands-on with the first three, which are due to hit stores over the next few months. From the Star Wars-fuelled Twilight of the Republic and Rise of the Empire to the Pixar-driven Inside Out, we spent an afternoon playing through each of them, to bring you all you need to know. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it!
Twilight of the Republic
As is always the way with Disney Infinity, if you buy the starter pack, it'll come bundled with a single Play Set to get you going - and in the case of Disney Infinity 3.0, this is the Play Set you'll get. Twilight of the Republic covers the events of the first three Star Wars films (ie. the prequel 'less good' trilogy) - The Phantom Menace, the Clone Wars, and Revenge of the Sith. Fighting to save the Republic from the Separatists in the Clone Wars era, you'll travel all across the galaxy to uncover who activated a Battle Droid factory on Geonosis - and save the world in the process. Coming with figures of Anakin Skywalker (in his Episode II guise), and his padawan Ahsoka Tano, it's an adventure that focusses more on lightsabers, Force powers and the like, with levels having a much more traditional adventure-style feel to them, equally centred around both combat and exploration, as you relive key moments from the prequel films and Clone Wars TV series. Oh, and pod racing.
Developed by Cambridge based Ninja Theory, creators of games such as Heavenly Sword and the most recent Devil May Cry, when we went hands on, we found ourselves slap bang in the middle of the barren desert wasteland of Geonosis, littered with rocks, cliffs and, of course, battle droid outsposts. Playing as Ahsoka initially, we quickly ran into a large boulder blocking our path, where we had an introduction to the obligatory 'Force' moves of the Jedis - all you have to do is hold a button in front of a glowing object to magically whisk it out of the way. In this case, it was doubly useful, as it turns out there was a Darth Maul token hidden underneath.
In fact, it's worth mentioning that one of our biggest issues with past Disney Infinity games will be much less of an issue for 3.0. While previous games have attempted to "lock" characters, so they can only appear in the Play Set they're from, for 3.0's Star Wars Play Sets, you'll be able to use any Star Wars character in any of the trilogies - so you can have Anakin slay himself in Darth Vader form, or make it so Yoda is the chosen one that wins the pod race. In order to play as these characters, though, you must first find a number of collectable tokens, hidden in each level, which 'unlock' said character for play in the Play Set.
With the path ahead now clear, we wasted no time in shimmying across the narrow cliff face, where we ran head first into a group of bad guys - and head first into some lightsaber combat.
Fast-paced and flashy as you'd expect, button-mashing your way through fields of battle droids can be pretty fun - but arguably the most fun comes when you mix it up with your Jedi Force powers. As Ahsoka, you can Force Push enemies away from you, easily dispatching them with a push straight off the nearest cliff, while Anakin prefers to pull bad guys towards him, making it much easier to slash them with your lightsaber combos afterwards. Each Jedi Master brings their own special Force abilities and combat skills to the table, whether it's Yoda's fast-paced and acrobatic style or Darth Maul's unique double-bladed lightsaber. Mixing up Force moves with close-quarters combat leads to some rather impressive combo attacks too, letting you carve up battle droids with ease.
Rise Against the Empire
The second of the Star Wars Play Sets, and this time sold separately (unless you go for the fancier Playstation edition, anyway), this one covers episodes four to six, and comes with figures of Luke and Leia, so you can share in their galaxy-jetting adventures. You'll join the Rebels as they befriend the Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor, shiver on the icy wastelands of Hoth, and try to avoid being made to wear a metal bikini in Jabba's Palace and Tatooine - although not necessarily in that order, obviously - as you battle Darth Vader and co to overthrow the evil Galactic Empire and restore peace to the galaxy. Expect a Disney Infinity take on all the key moments from the films, whether it's tripping up AT-ATs on Hoth, dicing with death in the Death Star II or laying the smack down on some Storm Troopers, fuzzy Ewok style.
Developed by another UK studio, this time Brighton based Studio Gobo (who've previously made the Guardians of the Galaxy Play Set for Disney Infinity 2.0), the level we played this time round is probably one of the most iconic scenes in Star Wars history - the Death Star trench run from A New Hope. Sat in an X-Wing, it was up to us to skim the surface of Darth Vader's space station, dodging the turrets and taking down the many TIE fighters that were doing their best to stop us, before working our way into the trench itself, ready to take the whole thing down with our proton torpedoes. It's a scene which certainly seems complex and frought with danger in the films, but fortunately, the Disney Infinity recreation of the run is much more straight-forward than it looks in the film!
Essentially what is referred to as an 'on the rails shooter' in the modern gaming parlance, you simply have to pilot your ship up, down, left and right to avoid obstacles, while it moves you constantly forward. Split into several different segments, each section of the trench run has a different objective for you to complete, whether it's simply taking out all the enemy ships on screen, flying erratically enough so as a particularly devastating lock-on attack can't hit you or protecting a couple of your comrades' ships from the incoming Imperial fleet. And it's actually a lot of fun - and a nice way of breaking up what could have potentially been a slightly dull fly-from-A-to-B-shooting-everything-that-moves affair - and it's fairly forgiving too, seeing as we managed to mess up both of our protect missions and still completed the level, giving old Darthy a rather explosive surprise.
Ever since we heard of this Play Set, we've wanted to try it out - based on the recently released Inside Out film, and developed by the Disney Infinity team themselves, Avalanche Studios, this Play Set has more of a puzzle-platforming vibe to it, and is the perfect antidote to all the lightsaber swinging of the other two packs. The stars of the show are the living embodiments of the main girl Riley's emotions - five colourful beings that represent her feelings of Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Coming with figures to let you play as Anger and Joy, and with an art style that works seriously well with the Disney Infinity figures, the Inside Out playset draws on the plot of the film, with the five emotions rushing all around the imagination land to round up Riley's lost memories before she wakes up.
Basically, each of the 'emotions' characters have their own special abilities - Anger can walk on lava, while Joy has a fluttery jump that lets her glide for a short time, and Fear is a seriously speedy beast. Each of these abilities plays into the levels, letting you reach all kinds of hidden collectables, solve puzzles and such like, making swapping between the characters key to progressing. However - that doesn't mean you have to own all five of the emotions either, as, in a nifty touch, several 'Costume Swap' points in each level let you switch to a different character for thirty seconds or so, giving you ample time to get past the obstacles, or find all the collectibles, without having to buy a single extra figure.
The level we played was in a cotton-candy coloured cloud world, which really played to Joy's strengths. If you stand on one of the cloud platforms for too long, it'll disappear, sending you falling to the floor - but having been blessed with an airy cheeriness, Joy can quite easily flutter from cloud to cloud when things start to get a bit hairy. Scattered around the world were some rather angry (yet still adorably pastel toned) bulls, who charged at you whenever you got too near. Without an attack to her name, Joy basically has to avoid them, ideally stepping to the side (or jumping and floating over their heads) whenever they charged - and bonus points if you manage to get the guy to run straight off a cliff in the process. In our case, we somehow managed to end up with it stood next to us on one of the rising cloud platforms, making for some rather nail-biting platforming, as we tried to dodge it without falling to our doom. Searching every nook and cranny to amass enough of the level's coloured balloons was a bit of a challenge too - but it did give us a chance to try out Anger's lava run, legging it around underneath some clouds until our thirty second Costume Swap ran out and we promptly killed Joy. Oops.
Disney Infinity 3.0 will be Force-ing it's way onto shop shelves later this month, on the 28th August. Coming to every platform imaginable, you'll be able to get your Disney on with Starter Packs for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii U and PC, as well as on various Android and iOS devices, all of which include the aforementioned Twilight of the Republic Play Set as standard. The remaining Star Wars pack and Inside Out Play Set will follow sometime after launch - unless you plumb for the Playstation exclusive 'Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars Saga Pack', which nabs you both Star Wars Play Sets on day one, plus a Boba Fett figure.