If you take your children to a family movie, chances are there will be a video game tie-in to play at home too, but they’re often overpriced and less than great. In the first of a new series, technology critic Andy Robertson looks at how one new game, Disney Infinity, aims to rejuvenate the genre – at a price…
Video games, likes books and films, usually revolve around characters and stories. The popularity of these personas and tales often determines how well the game sells. Because of this, it has long been a trend for video games to follow the release of big-budget movies. This not only grants them a ready-made story and set of characters, but also a household name that will appeal to families, ie children.
Disney and Pixar movies are particularly popular because their digital nature means they are made for conversion. Character designs, voice work and even their virtual worlds offer a perfect starting point for game makers.
Many tie-ins, however, are best avoided – they fail to live up to the movies they’re based on or don’t hold up as games in their own right. Fight Club the video game, for instance, reduced its intelligent and emotional movie reference to an experience about hitting other people. Then Enter The Matrix, while it valiantly attempted to be true to the movie’s themes, failed to deliver a game that was enjoyable to play.
Still, there are a number of movie-based games that I regularly recommend to families. Tangled on the Wii offers a great video game version of the film story. It can be enjoyed by two players via a split-screen mode that lets each one progress at their own pace, making it ideal for families with children of different ages. Other titles offer a similar experience across other gaming platforms – Brave and Rise Of The Guardians on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, for example.
Another movie tie-in that has been a success for family gamers is the Cars 2 iPad app. This uses a physical toy car that’s placed on the screen of a tablet computer to control the in-game vehicle. By purchasing different toys the player can access different characters in the game and go on quests and adventures. This has the added benefit for the retailer of combining the toy and video game lines. It’s an approach that is shared by Skylanders, which uses collectable toy figures to grant access to in-game characters.
For families, these games offer a new way to play together and some interesting real-world/virtual-world crossover, but there’s also the potential to spend a lot of money. Provided parents know that you don’t need all the figures to complete Skylanders, things usually stay the right side of obsessive collecting.
New game Disney Infinity is particularly interesting here. It combines Skylanders-style toy figures with Disney and Pixar movie tie-in franchises. The game, which was announced at a glitzy Hollywood event this month and is due for release on 28 June, offers a series of collectable Disney figures in a variety of playsets. Each set provides a different Disney story to play through with the related characters.
As in Skylanders, you access both levels and characters in the game by placing the physical objects on a USB peripheral (the Infinity Base). The game then saves progress back to the toy figure. Unlike Skylanders, though, there’s another physical element to Disney Infinity: plastic upgrade tokens are purchased in foil packs (like the collectable Lego Minifigures) and grant characters special attacks and abilities in the game. This increases the potential to spend a lot of money, something that many headlines make clear, but provided as a parent you show some restraint, this can be a long-term investment. You don’t have to buy everything at once, so the extras can be added to present lists or bought with pocket money over time. These games aren’t cheap, but it’s up to you – not your children – whether you buy them, and you can use the investment to help teach your children about the value of money. You can have this, but you can’t have that…
Disney Infinity comes as a Starter Pack for about £64.99, which includes three figures and three play-set adventures: The Incredibles, Monsters and Pirates Of The Caribbean. Additional figures are £12.99 and upgrade tokens seem to be about £4.99 for two, although that price is still to be confirmed.
It will be interesting to see how well the Disney brand of ready-made stories does against Skylanders, which has written its own script. However the game pans out – and we haven’t played it yet – it still underlines how important stories and characters are to families – if your wallet can stretch to it.
If you want further details on the game, you can watch more about the launch here.