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Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheroes Review

"Some infinities are better than other infinities."

There isn’t much “Disney” going on in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheroes. Which, undoubtedly, could be a harsh miscalculation on Avalanche Software’s side of things. The promise of a soon to be released Toy Box starter pack focusing on beloved Disney characters (Stitch and Merida, among others) but with absolutely no play-set content doesn’t help matters much. But the counterweight to it all, of course, is in the subtitle: Marvel Superheroes. The sequel to last year’s hit game hopes that there are more Marvel fans out there than out-and-out Disney fans, which seems awfully hypocritical if thought about too deeply.

But there’s a bit of genius in the works here, too. Marvel Superheroes, in many respects, is a bigger, better game than its predecessor. Especially if you know how to correctly pronounce Mjölnir or what the difference between a Drax and a Groot is. But it’s not enough of a revolution, it still relies too heavily on the handicap of being a children’s game to be truly, well, marvelous.

If you have never heard of one of these types of games, here’s the basic premise: you place real toys onto a USB powered base connected to your console of choice and the action figures come to life in the game as their digital counterparts. It is a market Activision’s Skylanders series has held a monopoly over since 2011, and one Disney Infinity has begun encroaching on starting last year.

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And it’s impossible to look at 2.0 without comparing it to its precursor. Marvel Superheroes comes with Iron Man, Black Widow and Thor alongside The Avengers play set. These “play sets” are Infinity-speak for story mode: open world, mission based gameplay structures with collectibles, challenges and VS modes for multiplayer. The good news: you can play co-op this year right out of the starter pack box. The bad news: this is because the starter pack only comes with one play set. You’re essentially paying the same amount of money for 2/3 less content this time around.

Add this to the egregious pricing of add-on Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy experiences ($40 each) and extra characters to play as (around $15 each), and Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheroes becomes an expensive hobby, fast. Their high pricing may make sense to shareholders (two figures at $30 and a play-set at $10) but they’re looking at it all wrong. The price shouldn’t reflect the physical “stuff” you get with it, it should be the amount of time you get out of it. If the game wasn’t just a solid, forgettable experience and more of a daring game of the year contender, no one would be complaining about buying more things to play in it. But it just isn’t.

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All of these cons can be negated by one simple fact: do you like Marvel? I do, and pretty much had a blast in the moment, all of its faults floating to the surface the moment I felt finished with it and moved on to another game. There are a lot of good iterations on the formula happening in all corners of the game, no doubt. As a whole, the experience feels admittedly more challenging than last year. Death has a meaning (even though it’s lifted straight from Skylanders) and even in co-op there’s an ever-present fear because if someone dies, the other person has to give a portion of their health bar to resurrect their fallen friend.

The skill trees aren’t exactly dense, but they are surprisingly effective. Leveling up my Iron Man to level 17 felt purposeful, and when my roommate sat down for a little co-op action as my level 3 Thor, he got absolutely destroyed. It’s still got that same dumb-as-bricks kids game announcer and vibe, but in small, discreet baby-steps they’re making their way to a place on the spectrum that’s more of a happy-medium between kids games and the more nuanced, refined gaming genre.

That Avengers play set is probably the centerpiece of this year’s iteration. It’s fun, light-hearted and probably the lengthiest of all the play sets. Spider-Man’s is pretty much a carbon copy of The Avengers’ New York with a few Oscorp towers thrown in and an unhealthy fetishization of underground sewer levels. Both versions of Manhattan is sparse and lifeless, more interested in allowing us to beat up Ice Giants and Symbiotes inside of it than actually interact with it in any meaningful way.

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The NYC of the load screens, seen behind the mugs of your favorite characters, is leaps and bounds more interestingly diverse and dense than the one we actually get (and you’ll be staring at it for a while because the load times are atrocious). All of the play sets have serviceable, get you from point-A-to-point-B stories that are uninteresting to follow and nigh impossible to get involved in. Hopefully the next thing Infinity lifts from Skylanders is how to tell a decent, dumbly amusing story.

Co-op works well across the board, too. And there’s a certain giddy joy to seeing your friend charging up Thor’s hammer to a blinding circular light and flying off to fight Frost Giants while you stay back and protect a group of civilians with Iron Man’s room-clearing ultra move. It’s pure fan-service, but it works.

The Guardians of the Galaxy set was my most anticipated, and my most disappointing. It is less open world like its Spider-Man and Avengers cousins and more platforming-based. It reminded me an awful lot of last year’s worst add-on: Toy Story In Space. It’s a fact of the matter, really, because no characters in Guardians have interesting traversal abilities that could have allowed a more open, breathable Knowhere to be made (although allowing us control of one of those flying pods could have been an easy solution). On the up side: it’s still a kick in the pants to see Starlord use his jet boots or Rocket absolutely decimate a room in one sweep of his super machine gun move.

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But it’s also the one that’s plagued with the most bugs: awful frame rates, falling through the world, laughable audio (that last one could be said for the game as whole, really). And even though it’s the smallest of the play sets, it sections off parts of Knowhere with large doors that brought everything to a screeching, stuttering mess of a halt every time I opened one, infuriatingly resetting my long-gestating power discs along with it. Was it rushed to ride the Guardians popularity wave following the film’s rocketing success? I don’t know. But I can say one thing: it certainly feels that way.

Perhaps most puzzling of all: there’s barely any combat to be seen in the play set. You’ll mostly preoccupy your time throwing power cells into wall outlets for The Collector or traversing pistons and idiotically placed electric bridges on The Dark Aster. The focus on traversal and “puzzles” over combat, for this play set in particular, is not just head scratching, it’s idiotic. It gives you the chance to wield Drax’s daggers or Gamora’s longsword or Groot’s awesome strength and then puts you into a laser cannon for the umpteenth time and orders you to mindlessly hold the trigger button and aim vaguely in the direction of a Sakaaran ship. And while the grievances of the play-set are indisputable, despite it all, I found myself having fun.

That could be said of the game as a whole, really. All of the play sets, and even the new Toy Box games (one a tower defense, one a dungeon crawler, both uninspired, janky, and vaguely interesting distractions that are never enjoyable enough to pull you through to their conclusions) are endearing, infused-with-love experiences that, despite their woeful misfortunes, are fun. The Toy Box – which I won’t speak much of, because I’m neither creative nor patient enough for its purposes – is the same. The introduction of an “INterior” mode (think toy box mode as a doll house) is a good idea (this room is Aladdin! And this one is Captain America inspired!) with nowhere to go.

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I just hope that doesn’t become the series as a whole. As it is now, it’s slightly stagnant. The biggest introductions this year were a skill tree and superheroes. The graphical quality (I played on Xbox One) even seemed to diminish getting ported to current gen, and the combat is stuck in a repetitive rut. Make the skill trees deeper, give skill points more meaning (for multiple characters I found myself absolutely burdened with 15 of the things after leveling up once), add in light and heavy attacks, make the worlds bigger, put some elbow grease into the visuals and wrap it all in a nice, pretty bow and you could really be looking at something special here.

In the end, this is a game about playing with toys that’s stuck in the head space that only kids want to play it. That’s absurd, offensive, even. There’s a way that this can stay a game aimed at kids that adults don’t feel childish playing, but at this point in the series, this isn’t that. I love these characters, and even though I pressed the same Y button attack as Iron Man for nearly ten hours straight, I never stopped getting a kick out of the experience. It is arguably a better, more focused game than last year’s haphazard collection of Disney worlds and characters, but it’s also a game that makes me feel like I have to play it (because, really, I wanted the toys more than the game) rather than feel like I want to play it. The year they get those two to switch places? Well, you’ll know where to find me.

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • More challenging
  • Skill trees
  • The endearing real-world figures and their spot-on in-game personalities
  • Which makes the combat fun to watch...
Cons
  • ...But sort of a grind to play
  • Graphics that easily could be mistaken for early-era 360/PS3
  • The audio is pretty bad across the board
  • Less content as last year for the same price

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