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Disney Infinity's Toy Box gives players freedom to create, but requires patience

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The marketable appeal of Disney Infinity is its huge stable of Disney and Pixar characters, all of them available for purchase in the form of collectible toys and play sets that can be imported into the game. But the longterm draw may be the game's Toy Box mode, where players will be able to game worlds from scratch.

Infinity's Toy Box mode is likely where many players will spend the majority of their time: creating game rules and levels from scratch, tweaking their custom-made games and playing in their sandbox. During our hands-on time with a near-final build of the game at Comic-Con, we began work on a cooperatively-built level. After joining up with another player on Xbox Live, we started in on building a race track in the sky.

My partner started the process of our sky racing adventure by building a series of ladders for me to climb. Then, I and my partner started laying down track, stitching pieces of virtual black plastic together to build our race course. With limited time, we decided to end the track with a finish line that ended with an ESPN X Games-branded half-pipe, where our race cars — characters from Pixar's Cars, naturally — were free to perform skateboarding tricks, just for kicks.

In my first real Toy Box experience, I found myself at something of a loss for what to do. Disney Infinity provides so much open space and — because every toy, gadget and prop had already been unlocked for us — so many opportunities, the freedom can be daunting. Fortunately, Disney Infinity executive producer John Vignocchi showed a few quick examples of what the game is capable of.

In one example, Vignocchi showed how quickly one could set up a 2D style camera. He dropped a camera prop into the world, then placed a switch nearby, then associated the two items together, quickly programming some simple logic: step on the trigger button, switch to a 2D perspective. That made it possible to transform a corner of the Toy Box into a 2D platformer.

Players' design choices can be made or modified with the help of an item, a magic wand, that gives them the power to alter objects and "Spark" mode, a free-roaming editing option that allows players to modify items as a sparkling blob of energy.

Disney Infinity's Toy Box mode will attempt to explain its complexity and flexibility through a series of tutorials called Masteries. In the Mastery we played, which was guided by a little plastic action figure, instructions consisted largely of placing objects in a 3D space. Other tutorials will teach players Infinity's logic programming and more complex systems.

Navigating all that Toy Box mode has to offer can be intimidating. Opening up the toolbox of vehicles, building blocks, toys and action items shows a massive grid of choices. An alternative view of that huge list of unlockable Toy Box items breaks things down by category, making world-building much more manageable.

Infinity's Toy Box mode, similar in fashion to games like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft, will reward players who invest the time and energy to learn its systems and explore its breadth. We've seen the results of developer Avalanche Software's more elaborate creations — games of chess or an imitation of Super Mario Kart — but it's apparent that Disney Infinity will require a bit of work before it pays playable dividends.

Disney Infinity will be released for Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC on Aug. 18.

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