Seemingly, vehicles are the main draw for the "toys to life" games this year. First came Skylanders SuperChargers, adding collectible vehicle toys into the mix, then LEGO Dimensions let you build - and rebuild - special vehicles for your characters out of real LEGO - and now, Disney Infinity 3.0 has released its latest expansion, the Toy Box Speedway.
A £13.99 (or $17.99 US) add-on, the Toy Box Speedway comes in an unusually large box for such a small thing. Much like the Play Set pieces, what you're buying here is an unlock code digitally loaded onto a hexagonally shaped transparent piece, which, when plonked on your Disney Infinity base, will let you jump into the speedway, and put the pedal to the metal over its nine courses. You can take your pick of vehicles from those you've unlocked in the game (although we wouldn't recommend going beyond the standard racer, as the courses simply don't seem to be designed for other vehicles), while a fairly simple boost system (drift by holding the left trigger to charge your meter, and flight the right stick forwards to boost) help you close the gap with your opponents.
If you've only played the earlier Disney Infinity games, the idea of a racing-themed expansion may seem like a nightmare to you - and with good reason. The vehicle handling on the first two games was shocking at best, or as most people would put it "broken" - until Disney Infinity 3.0 rolled around. Realising how shonky their current system was, the team at Disney tapped the guys over at Sheffield's Sumo Digital - the team that brought us the seminal Mario Kart beater, Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing, to give everything car related an overhaul. Along with fixing the handling (you can actually steer cars now, without going straight off a cliff), the team at Sumo were also tasked with putting together this Speedway expansion, bringing the best of Disney together into a racing themed add-on. And the result? Well, it's a bit of a mixed bag.
With a collection of nine individually themed tracks on offer, the Speedway takes in all corners of the Disney Infinity experience, with courses themed around Star Wars, Monsters Inc, Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, and - brilliantly - an accurate recreation of the Sugar Rush track from Wreck It Ralph, complete with that music, amongst others. But while it's great to see Sugar Rush finally kind of become a real game, the quality of the remaining eight tracks is hugely variable, with some being so well crafted they wouldn't feel out of place in any other racing game, while a few are closer to the average user-created Toy Box course.
If anything, the tracks are pretty much a 50:50 split between the cool, and the "OK". For every moment that wows (like on the second lap of the Tatooine track, when the Millenium Falcon takes off right over the top of you, like some sort of ceremonial fly past), there's a really awkward section waiting in the wings (the "where the heck do we go now" feeling of the Agrabah course, when the track just opens out and there's nothing to tell you where to go). Sometimes, this contrast even happens within the same track. The Gravity Falls race, for example, has a great section that sees you bouncing along a curvy boardwalk, drifting like you've never drifted before, while dragons/sea serpents pop up out of the sea next to you, only for you to turn the corner and be greeted by a totally bland wilderness that almost looks like they forgot to put it together. Perhaps it's a limitation of the Disney Infinity art style (which, let's face it, isn't the best), or perhaps Sumo weren't given quite enough time to polish the tracks. Still, a few too many of the tracks feel oddly sparse, bland, or empty in places, with very little going on.
Perhaps the bigger issue here, though, is the AI. With Disney Infinity's primary target audience being aged under 12, you'd expect the Speedway would be pretty easy to get in to - but instead, this expansion has a learning curve that you hit like a brick wall. Even on the very easiest setting, you're up against computer players that will not only use short cuts - they'll actually take most of them on the level, so when you're just starting out, they'll leave you in the dust. When you're still getting the hang of the drifting, the computer players will be power sliding around every single corner (and somehow getting boosts on straights) - and they have no qualms shunting you off a cliff if you try to come past. Perhaps it's just us being old fashioned, but when a game has an easy mode (or in racing terminology, 50 CC), we'd expect it to be easy. Instead, there's a huge period of adjustment here as you try to figure out the Disney Infinity racing system, and how you can actually get anywhere within the top three.
Our quibbles stated, though, the Speedway isn't actually all that bad. While the AI leaves a lot to be desired, and some of the tracks are a bit ropey, there's still fun to be had here. With support for two player split-screen, and three different modes to race each track on - Time Trial (you versus a CPU ghost in a timed race), Race (you versus five other racers), and Battle Race, which is pretty much the same as Race, only this time you have a selection of (slightly awkward) weapons on offer - you're at least getting a reasonable amount of bang for your buck.
Perhaps more importantly for those of you who are collect-a-holics, though, the Toy Box Speedway also comes with plenty of stuff to unlock. Each track has three hidden toy tokens for you to find and collect, with a toy being unlocked when you've got all three. Meanwhile, there are also various toys to unlock by winning the tracks/cups the game has on offer in Race mode, which can then be used to make your Toy Box creations that much fancier.
So, while it may not be an expansion on the level of Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing, and while the track design may be a bit hit and miss, the Toy Box Speedway still has plenty going for it. While it's probably not worth the full £13-15, if you can pick it up in a sale, there's fun to be had with this.