There is more here than your assumptions can put together. There was a reason why Disney pretty much had their entire E3 booth dedicated to this game.
The gameplay in Disney Infinity is a mixture of Disney Universe, Skylanders and Minecraft. Playing adventures (Skylanders), using Disney characters to use (Disney Universe) and building huge structures that people you know come to visit (Minecraft) means that this game is enormous.
The comparison to Skylanders you can pretty much figure out by just looking at the game box. You get a single base with the game to put three objects on it (two for characters, one for the world globe on the back). That's where the similarities with Skylanders begins to push further and further away. While certainly you will be asked/begged by your kids to go and purchase new Disney characters to play in the game (again, much like Skylanders), each character can have up to two power chips to go along with them, which is something new for a game like this. For example, the chip that our game came with is the Fix-it-Felix's Repair Power, which gives your character a chance at bonus health throughout the game. That's a neat little element that comes in handy when the adventures get somewhat more difficult.
At the top of the game base is a world globe, which actually contains your playsets. Each playset contains the world one of your characters lives within. For example, our set came with Mr. Incredible, Sully and Captain Jack Sparrow. When I launch the playset of my choice (Monsters Inc.) it takes me to Sully's Monsters University campus. Within this world, Sully has a set of missions that he must accomplish within one main storyline. It's not linear at all, and you can choose to explore the worlds and find objects laying around, if you want. The worlds, in kid standards, are pretty large with multi-tier structures that allow for climbing and exploring. Even as an adult, I had a fun time with this particular land for Sully, so I know kids will waste plenty of hours just hanging around and doing nothing (I have seen it first-hand in my household from this past weekend).
The only caveat to the standard single-player exploration with any of the worlds is that each world must contain the character related to it. For example, if you try to put Captain Jack Sparrow in the world of Monsters University, the game will tell you that you have the incorrect character on the Infinity base. Technically, yes, it makes sense. For a kid, sometimes they just want to mix it up a bit. Of course, a kid going around hacking/slashing/firing a gun on Monsters University campus isn't the best of ideas. Disney Interactive should probably consider the cross-world possibilities, though. It would be neat.
Going back to the world globe, you can stack toy chips underneath it to add to the toy box the game contains, which is where we're going to next with this review.
The chips make toys available to the player when they're doing their 'Minecraft'-ing in Disney Infinity. The catch with the toy chips is that they come separately from the game (as do the power chips -- they both come in one package, but it's random). You can pick these chips up for $4.99 a pack, which isn't a bad deal when you're purchasing items in addition to the game. These items can be used for any character when the players are building within the Toy Box. For example, we received Stitch's blaster and Cinderella's carriage. We can't bring those into Pirates of the Caribbean's world, but we can use them in the world's we're visiting or building. It's limiting and I think eventually some of the toys should pass over to the adventures, but for now they're strictly for the toy box.
Confused yet? Don't be. It's just a very big game. Take it as such.
Let's talk a bit about this Toy Box world. Here you can build pretty much what you want with the Toy Box items that you either earn or purchase for the game. As you progress in the world adventures (Monsters University, Pirates and The Incredibles), you gain coins, Infinity spins and toys. The coins can be spent to unlock toys in the adventure. The toys you unlock can be used to build the worlds you want in the Toy Box, and believe me that there are a lot of elements to earn. The Infinity spins you gain through the world adventures can be used to randomly spin a bingo-like card to earn things like people to populate your worlds, new costumes and other elements such as pieces to build roads/such. The toys can be used in the Toy Box to add a bit of flavor to everything. For example, my oldest daughter acquired Mr. Incredible's car in The Incredibles world and built a racetrack inside of the Toy Box to drive it around. She just didn't build some flat track. She built hills and valleys for this track to reside on, so if one of her friends comes to visit her world (and that's possible) then they'll have a heck of time racing.
The Toy Box world also offers a variety of different tasks for players to earn more spins in the vault, coins and toys through several different preset pads in the Toy Box. For example, there is a red pad called 'Travel' from the Toy Box, which offers up the ability to go through Adventures (you go through a series of trials related to specific characters you own), Mastery Adventures (you'll learn to drive, combat and build through these -- consider them tutorials, except not forced on you and not as drab) and access Prebuilt Toy Box Worlds. The other pads include the Infinity Vault (where you spin for items), the Hall of Heroes and the toy chest where you can pick specific items to bring into your Toy Box world.
Again, this game is quite big and contains enormous amounts of options. Kids love options, even though us adults can get quite confused by too many.
Alright, let's shift to ACTUAL gameplay now. The overall ease-of-use for Disney Infinity is somewhere in the middle. The hard part of the game is trying to figure out where the pieces go and how they work as you're setting up the game. As I just mentioned above, sometimes adults (like me) get confused with too many options and I can see how this could get confusing quick. Thankfully, Disney recognizes that some of us are complete morons (thank you) and they have shaped the pads (hexagons and circles) on the Infinity base to correspond with where players should be putting the chips. Understanding where the chips work and within what capacity of the game is the other half of the difficulty. It only took me a good day to figure this all out, which isn't bad considering. My kids probably understood this within an hour, which is telling about the audience that Disney is shooting for with this large title.
With that said, it will still be the adults needing to figure this out before purchasing it, so it's not user friendly right out of the box.
Once you have it settled, and you get it, the game becomes surprisingly simple and fun. While I've read many complaints about how the overall adventures are pretty 'blah' for adult gamers, I have to admit that I spent about 3-4 hours playing the Pirates level with Jack Sparrow. From plundering treasures along the lands of the island to sailing the Black Pearl (which is surprisingly fun, and somewhat accurate from a sailing standpoint), there was plenty in the game to keep my attention. Please keep in mind that I am a Call of Duty/Battlefield bloke by heart. I desire high-sensation gaming to keep my mind engaged. So, I'm not exactly sure where other people were missing the boat (pun intended) in terms of fun gameplay, but this certainly had me hooked for a short amount of time.
My kids? Well, I was yelled at yesterday for having this game at work with me all day. I was yelled at this morning for taking it back to work with me. In other words, kids will connect and adore this gameplay. It's simple to move around in the game, the tasks range from easy to very difficult (especially when you get into the time trials, which is part of the Pirates adventure) and Disney Interactive shaped the gameplay inside the game to make it a 'pick-up-and-go' sort of situation for all gamers. And it's just that.
So, once you get the game set up, which is the hard part, the easy part is playing the game. I'm absolutely okay with that because the payoff is worth the effort.
Progressing along with gameplay still, the online/multiplayer is a safe bet for kids. My kids frequent a game on the 360 called Castle Miners and can randomly go visit people's worlds in it. As a parent, that makes me slightly uncomfortable. Much like Minecraft, Disney Infinity works online/multiplayer into a very restricted, parent controlled solution where gamers must make friends with people they personally know that have Disney Infinity, so they can visit their worlds. That makes me happy because that plops the responsibility of keeping my kids in check solely in my lap. It doesn't give them the option to visit unknown people on their own accord, who might be getting 'too' creative with their landscape (gamers are clever) in their worlds. While we certainly haven't played the MP yet, no one we know has this game, the fact that Disney Interactive pretty much lays the solution out there is pretty nice.
Moving to presentation, the worlds of each character are spot on with the films and worlds that Disney has already built prior to this title releasing. For example, The Incredibles has that very angular look to the world, where people, characters and buildings all fit nicely within the scheme of the movie released from Pixar. Fans of the film will immediately engulf themselves in the worlds that they know through the movies. That's a big deal when you're trying to justify adventures in this world with these characters, as well as sell the gamer into believing they're playing a separate game. All three of the characters that came with this set have their own separate worlds that feel very much different from each other. Heck, even the music and voice overs are directly related to the worlds that Disney has already established with these characters through their respective movies. So, you get that Klaus Badelt drumming with Pirates, while Captain Jack is slurring a bit when giving his thoughts about the adventure at hand. It's far more impressive than I imagined the worlds would be, and Disney really didn't have to do that much to get gamers into the groove of these worlds. They did, though, and it's a nice result at the end of the day.
With all of this available to gamers, the look and feel to the worlds, the ability to create their own world and the possibility of expansion thanks to a large Disney library of stories/characters, is this worth the price of $74.99 to start and additional costs to continue? If you're an adult looking for a serious game then this may not be what you're looking for to satisfy your gaming needs. For kids? Yes. I would purchase this game for my kids if it wasn't already given to me. It's a familiar game consisting of characters/worlds from under the Disney umbrella with a possibility for cheap expansion. The cost of new characters for Disney Infinity ($13.99 for singles/$30.99 for three characters) is comparable to Skylanders prices ($9.99 - $14.99 per single / around $25.99 for triple packs), so you're not seeing anything unusual in terms of adding more people/things/monsters to the game. The only real departure in terms of costs is the addition of power packs, which cost $4.99. Considering what people pay to put items in stockings during Christmas, that's not too terrible.
In other words, it's completely worth the price you pay.
To the summary!