There were more than 25 great games this year, so our list of the best games of 2016 doesn’t include all of our favorites. Over the last two weeks our editors and writers have been looking back on their favorite games of 2016 that didn’t make that list. The last one left is games editor Garrett Martin.
Disney Infinity died suddenly and without fanfare, its cancellation revealed through a passing mention in a quarterly earnings call last May. It was a shock at the time—the third iteration, released in 2015, had surpassed Skylanders to become the best-selling toys-to-life game. Although its fans would’ve been disappointed by Infinity ending no matter when or how it was announced, this was especially horrible timing; the game’s many development studios were finally producing consistently good expansions, from new play sets based on specific Star Wars and Pixar movies, to add-ons that opened up new styles of play for the entire sprawling ecosystem. The best of those additions, and one of the last, was Marvel Battlegrounds.
Battlegrounds introduced an arena-style fighting game into the world of Infinity, letting four players brawl it out in three-dimensional environments based on various locales from Marvel history. Of all the Infinity releases, this felt the most like its own complete game, recalculating not just how the rules of action and motion work within Infinity, but even changing the specific moves and abilities of the Marvel characters that it was restricted to. It feels like Capcom’s brawler Power Stone, and not like Power Stone recreated within Disney Infinity, but like an entirely new game indebted both to Capcom’s classic and the visual aesthetic of Disney’s toys-to-life series. If Disney somehow rereleased Battlegrounds today as a standalone game, with the same line-up of Marvel characters, but without the need to own the individual figure for each one, it would probably be a hit.
Marvel Battlegrounds was released less than two months before Infinity was axed, and that made the cancellation seem even crueler. Here was proof that Infinity was finally going to break out of its weirdly defined shell. It wasn’t another repetitive open-world game based on a specific movie. It wasn’t an endless dungeon crawler, plunging you through anonymous tunnels filled with the same easily beaten enemies over and over. Despite its strong similarities to an almost twenty-year-old fighting game, here was something new and fresh. An earlier add-on, Toy Box Speedway, introduced a fine Mario Kart-style racing game to Infinity that also bucked some of the restrictions that had been present since the first installment, but Battlegrounds transcended Disney Infinity in a way nothing had before, pointing to a bright future for the entire franchise.
Marvel Battlegrounds was the best Power Stone homage in years (one that featured some of the most beloved characters in all of fiction) and a final reminder of the versatility and diversity of Disney Infinity. Disney Infinity promised players the freedom to dabble in all manner of game genres, both as players and creators; although the early results could be awkward, by the end of the platform’s life its many developers had figured out how to make fine platformers, kart racers, sandboxes, and, yes, fighting games. None of them were as striking as Marvel Battlegrounds, though; with its willingness to rebuild our entire relationship with Disney Infinity, rethinking how we interact with it and letting us play it in the same room with more friends than ever, it made this game feel more alive than ever before. And eight weeks later it died in an instant.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games, comedy and wrestling sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.