If you ask any of the developers behind the Marvel Battlegrounds playset why they’ve turned the base exploration/adventure gameplay of Disney Infinity 3.0 into a four-player arena brawler, then you’ll get the same answer every time—kids just like to beat each other up. In fact, one of the game’s developers told me that in multiplayer testing sessions for the game’s earlier playsets, the first thing kids would do when they hopped into the fanciful world of Disney Infinity was start whacking each other over the head.
After hearing the fact that children enjoy walloping on their friends in games—a notion which isn’t all that surprising now that I think about it—Avalanche Studios’ decision to hand the Marvel Battlegrounds playset to studio United Front Games makes a lot more sense. Who better to help Marvel fans realize their fantasy of playing out fights between their favorite superheroes than the developer that created Sleeping Dogs?
As a result, the combat in Battlegrounds is surprisingly satisfying. Characters have been rebuilt from the ground up in order to maintain balance, but each one still feels powerful in their own way. More agile characters like Spider-Man or Iron Fist deliver rapid-fire punches and specializes in getting in and out of the fray, meanwhile massive characters like Venom and Hulkbuster Iron Man can smash enemies with environmental objects.
Battlegrounds uses rock-paper-scissors style combat—blocks beat punches, punches beat grabs, and grabs beat blocks. The simplified battle mechanics are very easy to pick up, but lend enough variation to keep fights interesting without the controls ever getting in the way of fun. Laying down a mixture of punches and kicks layered in with a few grabs and long-ranged attacks makes engagements intense, but the real battle begins once Power Discs come into play.
In Disney Infinity 3.0, Power Discs are scanned into the Infinity base and are immediately teleported into the game, but in Battlegrounds, they are scanned in before a round starts and drop randomly within the battle. Since the discs contain some of the most powerful moves in the game, and can deplete an opponent’s health bar almost instantaneously, gameplay devolves into a mad dash the moment a Power Disc spawns. Picking one up doesn’t ensure that you’ll get to use it, however, as it can be knocked out of your hands with a few swift punches. Be careful utilizing the power discs, folks—I foresee them ending as many friendships as fight rounds in the future.
When it came to creating the arenas where you’ll duke it out with your favorite heroes, United Front Games approached this the same way they would a character. Each of the game’s eight venues—many of which are set in locations from the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Guardians of the Galaxy’s Knowhere or Black Panther’s Wakanda Province—has its own personality. Every level also features an environmental hazard that is activated by a special button located somewhere in the stage—the Brooklyn trainyard is my personal favorite because there’s nothing quite like bashing a buddy with a giant train.
Most of my time with Marvel Battlegrounds was spent playing the four-player free for all mode. There are some other interesting alternatives, however, with my favorite being the Super Hero mode. This mode pits one player, who controls an ultra-charged version of their selected character, against three other opponents. The Super Hero earns points by slaying his foes, and the only way for other players to assume the role of Super Hero, and thus gain the ability to score points, is to land the killing blow on the current Super Hero (similar to the Hero Hunt mode in Star Wars Battlefront). These matches led to some interesting interplay, where I would work with my allies to take down the overcharged foe until the last instant, as I would try to sneak in that final strike so I could start earning some points myself.
Even though the focus of Marvel Battlegrounds is on its multiplayer, the game also includes a single player campaign, but it is much shorter than those included with other playsets in the Disney Infinity series. The story mode is more like that of a traditional fighter like Street Fighter, splitting the narrative, which sees Loki and Ultron teaming up to conquer the world using robotic superheroes, across different stages. It clocks in at about an hour or so, but has plenty of replayability since the story changes slightly depending on which character you choose.
Disney Infinity’s target audience may primarily skew younger, but I’m consistently amazed with how much fun I have with each new entry, and the Marvel Battlegrounds playset is no exception. It’s an inventive twist on the main series that shows even without full-blown numbered entries every year, there’s still plenty of life and room to grow for this toys-to-life juggernaut and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.