A new sub-genre of video games has cropped up in recent years, and judging by the shelf space it takes up at retailers, it seems to be enormously popular. We’re talking about toys-to-life video games. These games, which include Skylanders, Disney Infinity, LEGO Dimensions, and Nintendo’s Amiibos, let you “load” digital versions of physical toys into the games. As with any new video game trend, it can be hard to know where to begin if you want to start collecting. Here’s a primer on each series, with pros, cons, and pricing information, so you can make a smart buying decision.
Skylanders is the toys-to-life series that proved people would buy a truckload of figurines if you let them play as the toy characters in the game. This toy-video game combination was an immediate hit for publisher Activision because kids love them.
The Skylanders games are pretty standard action platformers. They consist of colorful levels filled with environmental puzzles and cartoonish enemies to battle against. The latest starter set, Skylanders Superchargers is somewhat pricey at $75, but it comes with the game, two figures, a vehicle, and a plastic portal that let you zap the toys into the game.
One thing to note about Skylanders is that all of the characters are original creations, which means they probably won’t appeal to toy-collecting adults. But if you have a gaming child in your life, he or she will probably love them.
2. Disney Infinity
When Disney saw the success of Skylanders, it realized it was sitting on a potential fortune thanks to its treasure trove of beloved characters who come from Star Wars and Marvel, as well as Disney and Pixar films. The company has capitalized on all of those fictional universes with its Disney Infinity series of games.
Besides the widespread appeal of its characters, what sets Disney Infinity apart from the competition is the game itself. On one side you have Play Set Mode, which contains levels based on specific movies or characters. The other side is Toy Box Mode, which lets you create levels of your own, using any Disney Infinity figurine you have on hand. You can also upload your creations, and download levels made by other people.
The starter set for Disney Infinity 3.0 only costs $65, and it comes with two Star Wars characters and a portal. Not bad. Get this one if you or the child in your life enjoys creating your own levels, and has a fondness for characters from Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, and Pixar.
3. LEGO Dimensions
The newest entry in the toys-to-life genre comes from one of the biggest toy makers around: LEGO. In addition to adding a block-building step to the physical side of the game, LEGO has made licensing agreements with tons of well-known entertainment brands to assemble a tough-to-beat lineup of figures. This game has (or will have) characters from The LEGO Movie, The Simpsons, Back to the Future, Portal 2, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, and more.
The biggest downside to LEGO Dimensions is the price. LEGOs have always commanded higher prices than most other toys because of the precise nature of their construction, so that’s somewhat to be expected. The starter pack retails for $100 and comes with a portal, the Batmobile, as well as tiny figurines for Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle.
4. Nintendo Amiibo
Nintendo tends to blaze its own path, even when it’s following in the footsteps of others. To that end, its toys-to-life offering works a little differently than the rest. Instead of having a single game to go along with its series of Amiibo figures, Nintendo offers a number of games that interact with the Amiibos. The catch is that the Amiibos aren’t as deeply integrated into the games as the other toys-to-life series.
Games like Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Maker, Yoshi’s Woolly World, and Splatoon work with Amiibo toys. But not every Amiibo works with every Amiibo-compatible game. You can view Nintendo’s compatibility chart here. To risk an understatement, it’s complicated.
The best way to think about Amiibos is probably as toys first and as video game accessories second. There’s no real Amiibo starter pack, so (with a few exceptions) you have to buy the games and figures separately. Most Amiibos retail for $13.
So which toys-to-life series should you buy? It all depends on what you’re looking for. All of the video games are quite good, so it really boils down to which toys appeal to you most.
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed