My favorite parts of Disney Infinity 3.0 don't involve a game.
In the war of "lucrative toys that operate as DLC " the Skylanders series has, on the whole, offered a better "game" than the Disney Infinity series. The -themed playset for 3.0 is much better than what we've played in the past, but for me this aspect of the package isn't very attractive. The industry is drowning in games, for all ages.
Disney Infinity offers something few other games can match; the ability to play with your toys.
There are no rules
My children range in age from early teens to toddlers, and just about everyone can play Disney Infinity without frustration or fear of failure. The game's extensive Toy Box features, where you can design your own levels with their own game-like mechanics and rules, means that Disney Infinity is much more of a platform than a standard retail game.
While the themed playsets may limit which characters can enter the missions, the Toy Box modes are open for all. So you can load, or create, a city-type environment and have Groot explore it with Yoda. Or you can create a Princess-themed race track where characters from Tron can race each other in any number of silly vehicles.
This all comes at a price, of course. The base game will run you $65 and the characters are around $13 per depending on where you shop — although you can always find sales — but the price is worth it for small children because the game presents a safe world where they can play with those toys. There doesn't have to be a mission, nor are there always enemies that can you kill you. Falling off the edge of the world doesn't hurt your character. You can add themes, items or buildings on the fly, making Disney Infinity feel much more like a set of blocks than a standard video game.
The only other game that offers this sort of play is Minecraft, but Disney Infinity offers an amazing mix of characters and items from different worlds that all act together. It's a blast to watch the kids play, and local splitscreen is supported. Combine that with the fact the worlds can be edited in real time and you have a sort of dungeon master set of tools where an older child can create a playground for the younger to play in.
"Let's race!" a younger kid may yell, and my oldest son dutifully places a few motorcycles on the ground and makes sure there is a track for them. When they get bored he brings in Ghost, the ship from Star Wars Rebels, and they fly around the environment. My younger son loves being, and will often hop out to swing around the buildings. Watching the children arrange, remix and adjust the levels on the fly to suit their current objectives is amazing; it feels like a child-safe version of the loading programs from The Matrix.
This is an experience that younger kids can't really get anywhere else. It's one thing to play with an Obi-Wan Kenobi toy and make up your own adventures, but most games based in the world of Star Wars are locked down; forcing you to play a very particular way.
It can be whatever you want it to be, and it's welcoming to everyone
The value of Disney Infinity, and Disney's intimidating collection of IP, means that children can put the Obi-Wan toy on the portal and make up their own story. They can download fan-made toy boxes from Disney's servers, or simply bum around the Toy Box hub to see everything hidden in the game's world. He's not a character locked in a single world, he's someone who is operating by the kid's rules in whatever universe they want to visit together.
This sort of free-flowing exchange of characters, items and worlds between classic Disney, Star Wars, Marvel characters and things like Tron is hard to believe until you see it all in action. A second player can drop in and out at any time. My son can set himself up an empty toy box and practice his flying with Iron Man, and when I have a few free seconds I can put my own favorite characters on the portal and join him, or adjust the environment on the fly to make his practice a bit more thrilling.
After spending the last week or so with Disney Infinity 3.0 it feels like the game has finally begun to grow into itself. It can be whatever you want it to be; the playsets offer worlds with stories and rules, the toy boxes offer a variety of options and the editing features allow you to do whatever you want.
It's fascinating to leave everything set up throughout the day and watch the children change how and why they play as they attack in different combinations. The younger kids like to just run around and explore, my daughter will play through the Inside Out playset, and my oldest son loves creating while the other kids play through his worlds. It can be whatever you want it to be and it's welcoming to everyone.
It's a rare game that two of my five kids can agree on, much less all of them. The youngest kids even enjoy playing the toys themselves when they're not on the portal. While I may personally like other games more this year, Disney Infinity 3.0 is likely going to be my family game of the year, and it's made game time in our house much more creative and inviting.