It wasn’t the very first game in the genre, but it’s safe to credit Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure with kicking off the whole toys-to-life phenomenon in 2011.
That sounds surprising, given Skylanders publisher Activision isn’t exactly known for innovation. They’re usually criticised as a house of annual updates to series like Call of Duty. They’re also one of the world’s most profitable game publishers.
So actually… it makes perfect sense. If Activision was ever going to innovate, it had to be with an annual franchise that demands players (parents) buy endless new accessories to unlock content and keep up with their friends.
From a parent’s point of view, that’s Skylanders and toys-to-life in a nutshell, an expensive nightmare – although those who can afford it find toys-to-life games a fun way to play with their children.
For kids, it’s a craze they love.
To help you out with your present shopping, here’s our guide to the big three toys-to-life games for Christmas 2015.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, iPad
Price: £25-40 for the Starter Pack, £8-25 for additional toy packs
Let’s take a sec to explain how toys-to-life works. It’s a regular video game, except you can add new characters by placing special figures on an NFC ‘portal.’ You get a couple of figures, the portal and the game in a starter pack – then you have to buy more figures. And a whole new set comes out each year.
The newest Skylanders set is Superchargers, which introduces vehicles and racing to the series. In fact, about half the game involves driving.
A cool addition to Skylanders Superchargers is the amiibo figures. Special Donkey Kong and Bowser figures are available for the Wii U and 3DS versions, and they work in both Superchargers and as amiibo figures. Nice!
But most importantly for budget-conscious parents, with Superchargers you don’t need to buy loads of toys. While previous Skylanders games required many different toys to unlock all their game content, you can play the whole of Superchargers with only four toys. That’s welcome news for a lot of people.
What’s in the Starter Pack?
- Skylanders Superchargers game
- 2 driver toys
- 1 x vehicle toy
- 1 x Portal of Power
- Available for older consoles (Wii) and portable systems (iPad, 3DS)
- Amiibo-compatible figures for Nintendo versions
- If your child doesn’t like driving games, this might not be for them
Disney Infinity 3.0
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360
Price: Around £25 for standalone game, around £35 for the Star Wars Starter Pack, £10-30 for additional toy packs
Skylanders is all well and good, but are its characters as lovable as those from Disney IP – which now include Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar? For many kids, probably not.
Now in its third iteration – figures from the original game and version 2.0 still work with 3.0 – Disney Infinity is a mix of platform gaming and a sandbox world. In other words, kids can play through traditional game levels or create their own play areas.
Reviewers mostly agree gameplay is rather simplistic, so Disney Infinity 3.0 might be better suited to younger children.
What’s in the Star Wars starter pack?
- Disney Infinity 3.0 game
- Disney Infinity base
- 2 x Star Wars figures (Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker)
- 1 x Star Wars Twilight of the Republic play-set piece
- 1 x web code card
- Lots of beloved Disney characters to choose from
- Sandbox gameplay encourages kids to be creative
- Gameplay is a bit shallow
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360
Price: Around £75 for the Starter Pack, £13-35 for additional toy packs
What happens when you combine the incredible popularity of Lego and the toys-to-life phenomenon? Possibly the most-wanted toys-to-life set this Christmas.
It’s also the most expensive. But reviewers are calling it the best toys-to-life game available, and the best Lego game yet. That’s high praise.
While the cost of Lego Dimensions is high, the cost of regular Lego is high too. So if you were going to buy that anyway, why not go interactive for about the same cash?
What’s in the starter pack?
- Lego Dimensions game
- Lego toy pad
- Lego Gateway bricks
- Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle Lego mini-figures
- Lego Batmobile vehicle
- You can use the figures and bricks with your other Lego
- Tons of favourite characters and worlds, from Batman to Portal, come together in one game
- It’s the dearest toys-to-life set out there
If I had to pick a toys-to-life this Christmas with money as no object, I’d go with Lego Dimensions. It’s arguably the best-made and most fun game, and Lego pieces can be re-used in lots of ways.
But which you go for will most likely depend on your budget, and what your kid asks for. If you want to save money, steer your child towards Skylanders.
Otherwise, there are all well-made games – we hope you and your kids have fun with them this Christmas!