Violent, grim and ostensibly "mature" titles took center stage at E3 this year, but it's not all doom and gloom. "Disney Infinity" and "Skylanders Swap Force" provide colorful, bloodless worlds for kids to explore while encouraging them to collect a series of toys that unlock in-game features.
" Disney Infinity " is an ambitious project from Disney Interactive Studios, and the game aims to live up to its name. In order to play this virtual game, users (or, more likely, their parents) must purchase a "Starter Pack" of physical objects, which includes a game disc, a circular plastic "Infinity base," three toys and three "playsets" based on Disney movie worlds.
The toys (Sulley from "Monsters Inc.," Mr. Incredible from "The Incredibles" and Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean") are somewhat stiff action figures that rest on circular bases and actiavte the game.
TechNewsDaily had a chance to go hands-on with "Disney Infinity." Without a playset and toy, "Disney Infinity" is nothing but a series of menus. When a representative placed a playset on the base, the game loaded up the world of "Monsters Inc." (other playsets provided adventures from "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Cars"). As soon as he added the Sulley figure to the base, the game suddenly had a playable protagonist.
Each playset offers a different experience that reflects its associated movie: the "Monsters Inc." world revolves around stealth and pranks, while "Pirates of the Caribbean" is a more traditional swashbuckling adventure. Players can add new toys to the base and play cooperatively, provided the characters are from the same movie. (Mike, another character from "Monsters Inc." could join Sulley; Jack Sparrow could not.)
The game also offers a more freeform "Toy Box" mode, where users can create their own worlds with content they find within the various playsets. Here, Disney characters of all backgrounds can intermingle rather than being limited by their respective movies. [See also: 7 Best Best Disney Video Games Ever ]
"Skylanders Swap Force" from developer Vicarious Visions takes a very similar approach to gameplay. This is appropriate, since the original "Skylanders" pioneered the formula to combine action figures and video games. Like with "Disney Infinity," players buy the action figures they want to use for "Skylanders Swap Force" and place them on a plastic base to bring them into the game.
Since "Swap Force" is the third entry in the " Skylanders " series, players will be able to use their existing toys — more than 100 in all — for the new game. "Swap Force" provides a much more traditional game experience than "Disney Infinity," setting the digitized action figures on a quest to save lush jungles, frozen mountains and even a spaghetti Western town from the forces of evil.
Each figure has special attacks (like throwing stars) and evasive abilities (like teleportation) to combat enemies, and each can level up and grow stronger over time. Since the action figures store data in their circular bases, each figure saves all of its characters upgrades and special items, and retains its status across games. In this way, no figure ever becomes outdated or useless.
A new feature in "Swap Force" allows players to take 16 new figures — held together by strong magnets — apart and recombine them in novel ways. In a demo at E3, Scott Krager, the game's executive producer, showed two characters: Free Ranger, a bipedal eagle who could command tornados, and Freeze Blade, a fanged ice warrior. By combining the two toys, Krager crated Free Blade, who had access to both the tornados of the former and ice blades of the latter.
Despite the similarities between "Disney Infinity" and "Skylanders Swap Force," Krager believes that there is room enough for both titles on the market. "It's flattering when a huge corporation [like Disney] catches on," he told TechNewsDaily, but thinks "Swap Force" delivers a suitably different experience. "Giving kids an adventure to complete, to lose themselves in is fundamental to bringing toys to life."
Selling games primarily to adults is a good strategy for now, since gamers in their 20s and 30s have lots of disposable income and some time on their hands. As gamers begin to get married, have families and advance their careers, though, that revenue stream will slowly but surely dry up.
Even though home console gaming began as a children's hobby, quality kids' games are relatively hard to come by today. "Disney Infinity" and "Skylanders Swap Force" have the potential to get very expensive, due to their expanding nature and pricey toy peripherals, but provide a much more accessible gateway into gaming than "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield" — not to mention a less violent one.
"Disney Infinity" launches on August 18 with a $74.99 Starter Pack, while "Skylanders Swap Force" will hit shelves on October 13 for the same price, both for all major gaming platforms. Additional figures range from about $10 individually up to $30 for packs with multiple characters.