All images are courtesy of Disney Interactive.
One of Disney Infinity's assets has always been that it lets players take on the role of their favorite characters from Disney's list of properties. Making this year's release Star Wars themed is a no-brainer because there aren't going to be many people who won't want to indulge in a bit of low intensity lightsaber slashing after seeing The Force Awakens.
Before grabbing the Starter Pack for someone, though, you should bear in mind that it's based on The Clone Wars. Included in the box are Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figures, a Disney Infinity base and a game disc. The focus of the Starter Pack on the animated TV series might disappoint devotees of the original films. This game is primarily intended for kids, however, and that is the face of Star Wars many are most are likely to be familiar with.
As with previous versions of Disney Infinity, the game itself has two parts: a Play Set and the Toy Box. The Play Set that comes with the Starter Pack is titled 'Twilight of the Republic' and is a playable adventure that begins with you attacking a Battle Droid factory before jetting off to other planets to battle Darth Maul's and the Separatists. The graphics are cartoonish and lack the kind of detail we've got used to seeing in the latest video games, which might upset Star Wars purists. Yet, the adventure itself is sufficiently entertaining in a mildly challenging way that it should amuse adult fans and keep children happy.
If you are considering Disney Infinity 3.0 as a gift for a fan of the original trilogy or The Force Awakens, you do have a couple of options. For the added price of an expansion pack, the 'Rise Against the Empire' Play Set comes with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and an adventure that starts off in much the same fashion as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. There is also a Play Set based on The Force Awakens that comes with Finn and Rey but it wasn't available for review at the time of writing.
Disney has certainly learned from past deficiencies and enhanced gameplay in the Play Sets by adding more involving stories, new combo maneuvers, maps, bonus achievements and other traits of standalone games. These make the Disney Infinity 3.0 Play Set experience feel less watered down than its predecessors. The 'Rise Against the Empire' Play Set, in particular, has some comprehensive settings that it is fun to explore if you are nostalgic about locations in the original films.
For both the expansion and Starter Pack Play Sets there are, of course, additional character toys to purchase and play with or unlock, including Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron. In addition, there is a range of characters from Star Wars Rebels. Inevitably, none of the figures are life-like but, as is typical of Disney Infinity toys, they are solid and nicely painted, making them appealing collectors' items for Star Wars fans in general and owners of this game. Another nice feature of the Star Wars range is that all the characters can be unlocked in any of the Star Wars Play Sets.
If you are buying this game for someone who has a Disney Infinity base from a previous version of the game, an alternative to the Starter Pack is a digital download (the game is on offer through the Nintendo eShop until early January 2016 for anyone with a Wii U). You then have the option to throw in whichever Play Sets the recipient might like the most and a relevant set of gameplay-enhancing Power Discs. Not everything is Star Wars-themed, too: there is an Inside Out Play Set that comes with Joy and Anger and takes place after the events of last summer's movie.
Away from Play Sets, the Disney Infinity Toy Box is a unique virtual creative environment. In this section players can build their own worlds and mini-games and share them across the globe via the Disney Infinity online community. In the first version of Disney Infinity the Toy Box was something of handicap because it made the overall game experience confusing for anyone used to the single path Adventure Mode approach used in Skylanders and similar games. There was also a steep learning curve when getting used to the controls.
The Toy Box experience in Disney Infinity 3.0 is much improved with cooler objects to build from (it's hard for them not to be when some are drawn from the Star Wars universe), better-in game controls, cute Sidekicks and mini-games that act as tutorials. It's not quite Minecraft, but it is easy to spend hours creating a detailed world or exploring those created by others. It is also a good place to mix and match characters from different Disney properties, which you can't do in the Play Sets. This includes characters who oddly don't have their own Play Set such as Mulan, Spot from The Good Dinosaur and Sam Flynn from Tron.
Disney Infinity 3.0 also has expansion material for the Toy Box in the form of Toy Box Speedway and Toy Box Takeover. As a kart-racing game, the former seems like an obvious attempt to match Skylanders SuperChargers and Mario Kart. The latter, meanwhile, is a top-down 3D puzzle-solving and combat game similar in principle to LEGO Dimensions because it involves fighting in multiple worlds based on Disney properties. Like the Play Set games, these add-ons will be a minor diversion to experienced gamers but the variety they add should help to keep kids interested.
As we take in the hype around the release of a new Star Wars movie its hard not to get excited about Disney Infinity 3.0 as a gift for a budding young nerd. The game elements are fun, the toys are cool, the menus are colorful and easy to navigate and it is the cheapest among all of the toys-to-life games released this year. Like most video games now, there are also local co-op and online play options that can make it more social. Taken together, these qualities ensure that Disney Infinity 3.0 is a force to reckon with in its genre. If it is a topical and tame action-packed video game you are after for someone this holiday season, this is the title you are looking for.
NOTE: Disney Infinity 3.0 was reviewed on the Xbox 360 and Wii U. A review copy was provided by Disney Interactive upon request.