Lego Dimensions, Skylanders, and Disney Infinity mark the beginning of a new age for gaming, and a tough time for your wallet. They all are part of a growing genre of video games hitting shop shelves known as 'toys-to-life', i.e. games that require you to buy toys in order to unlock certain parts of the game, bringing the real-world action figures into the digital world created inside you gaming consoles.
The thing is, buying a bunch of toys to go with your game can empty your wallet faster than you can say "put it on your Christmas list". So before you go out and buy your child (or yourself) a game that requires hundreds of pounds of purchases, you should work out which is the right game to buy.
We're here to help, so lets take a look at the three big names in the world of toys-to-life video games to work out which one is right for you.
Disney Infinity is a platforming game that involves playing through a number of different levels and sandbox modes. Unlike Skylanders and Lego Dimensions, the games do not have an over-arching story. Individual levels are story-driven, but are self-contained in their nature. There's also a free play Sandbox mode called Toy Box, where players can create their own games, play with friends, and level up characters to unlock new in-game items. Obviously the levels and characters all come from various Disney-owned franchises, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Classic Disney characters.
One of the things about Disney Infinity is that specific characters are restricted to playing levels that correspond to their own franchises. That means you can't have Spider-Man swinging through the Death Star, and vice versa. There is, however, Toy Box, where players can use whichever characters and enhancements they like.
The main toys involved are plastic statuettes that are attached to a plastic base. This base is where the toys attach to the game's main NFC portal, linked to the console, to unlock in-game content. The toys unlock the equivalent character within the game, while hexagonal 'world discs' unlock new levels and in-game areas. There are also 'power discs' that can unlock enhanced character abilities (circular shaped) and others that enhance the in-game environments (hexagonal shaped).
Toys are forwards-compatible in Toy Box mode, meaning if you've bought an older Disney Infinity game its toys will work with the newer ones, but still require older versions of the software to play levels. Toys also come with a code that can be used to unlock the characters in the iPad and Windows versions of Disney Infinity's Toy Box mode.
The play portal/bases are also forwards compatible, and bases for Wii U, PS3, and PS4 consoles will work cross platform. Bases purchased for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One will only work for the original console.
Disney Infinity 3.0 is available on Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Starter kits cost £42-£45. The game is also available on its own for £23-£30 for people with portals from previous versions of the game.
Prices for older entries into the game series, and toys from previous generations will vary.
Disney Infinity 3.0 Expert Opinions
"I like this game (or at least the version I got to play). More importantly, my kid likes it too. She loves the toys, loves the cinematic presentation (there’s a Star Wars text crawl in the intro and the music is piped straight from the soundtracks) and despite setbacks with stuff like menus has had a blast in just about every game mode present." - Luke Plunkett, Kotaku
"A potent nostalgic mix, but despite improved combat, older fans will likely be left bored." - Alex Jones, GamesRadar+
Nostalgia | Open world sandboxing | Relative value for money (just about, when compared to the competition)
If you've ever played a Lego game, then Lego Dimensions should feel incredibly familiar. It plays exactly like a Lego game, sending you through a variety of levels to solve puzzles, collect studs, and defeat baddies. The difference being that the levels are set all over the place, in various different dimensions that the playable characters call home. That means that all sorts of Lego-fied pop-culture characters can come together in a single game. Want to see what would happen if Gandalf ever met the Ghostbusters? Or if Batman bumped into Marty McFly, or Scooby-Doo? Lego Dimensions will let you thrust them together. It's hilarious.
The game's main villain is Lord Vortech, who's hell bent on merging all the Lego dimensions together into one world where he is the ruler. Sadly he made the mistake of kidnapping various Lego characters from across the multiverse which leads him into conflict with Batman, Gandalf, and The Lego Movie's Wyldstyle.
Unlike Disney Infinity and Skylanders, Lego Dimensions doesn't rely on plastic statuette-like toys to unlock new content. Instead you have actual Lego toys (minifigs and buildable accessories) that can be removed from the stands that interact with the game and properly played with like normal Lego. In fact, the toys don't need to be attached to the stand but its obviously more fun if they are. The toys connect to a single portal, which also has buildable components.
The toys are separated into three different categories: level packs, team packs, and fun packs. Level packs do exactly what you'd think, they unlock new levels for play and come with a single character and two vehicles/items for in-game use. Fun packs have a single new character and vehicle/item. Team packs are similar to the fun packs, but come with two characters and two vehicles/items.
The toys all come from bunch of different franchise, some previously brickified into Lego sets and some brand new. They include the likes of Doctor Who, Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic Word, DC Comics, and many more. Lego has decided to release the toys in three different waves, so you won't be able to buy everything right now. There are a number of sets available at launch, but others won't be released until November or early next year.
Despite the mishmash of different Lego franchises, there are two obvious licenses that are missing: Star Wars and Marvel. It's rather a shame that Spider-Man and Darth Vader won't be able to interact with Frodo or Homer Simpson, but I'm assuming it's because both franchises are owned by Disney, with it's own toys-to-life franchise Infinity making use of those characters. It makes sense that Disney would keep two of its biggest brands for its own game, but who knows? Maybe in a couple of years time we'll see toys that are compatible with Lego Dimensions and Disney Infinity -- like the two Skylanders amiibo for Nintendo's Wii U console that were released this year.
Lego Dimensions is available for Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The base game costs £73-£85, depending on which version you get.
Lego Dimensions Expert Opinion
"The LEGO Group has been producing toys that come alive in the minds of children of all ages for the better part of a century. TT Games has been creating LEGO video games for a decade. LEGO Dimensions is the perfect marriage of the two—the digital evolution of imagination play." - Mike Fahey, Kotaku
"Lego Dimensions is the ultimate Lego game, a charming adventure that has glaring flaws. Its portal is a delight, but the reminders of the areas you’re missing out on grate." - Ben Tyrer, GamesRadar+
Actual toy-based play | Mashing pop-culture franchises
Skylanders was the first toys-to-life game to be a real success following its release in 2011, and has released a new game (and a new batch of figures) every year since. Unlike Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions, Skylanders is mostly based on original characters and stories.
The plot and gameplay of each game remains roughly the same, and involves the evil villain Kaos who has a new plan to take over the magical realm of the Skylands. The levels themselves are your typical story driven platforming affair. In them you take control of the Skylanders to beat up bad guys, solve puzzles, and navigate your way to the end in anyway you can. The style is rather manic and very reminiscent of children's cartoons, so there's no denying who these games are aimed at.
Skylanders toys are primarily plastic statuette-like figures that sit on a base that connects to the game's portal, along with a few smaller accessory-like items that unlock different things in each game.
The sheer amount of stuff does make the topic of Skylanders toys rather complicated. In previous versions of the game you generally needed to have a toy corresponding to the games' ten elements to complete certain challenges. The toys are forwards compatible, though, so really you're not required to buy all that much. Kotaku pointed out that Skylanders Superchargers is a little bit different in that it doesn't require elemental figures, and it's possible to complete the game with only four toys.
With the toys being forwards compatible you can save some of your money if you're buying multiple generations of the franchise.
It's also worth pointing out that two of the Superchargers figures double as Nintendo-compatible amiibo. Bowser and Donkey Kong, the two in question, are available with the 3DS/Wii and Wii U starter packs respectively.
Five different Skylanders games does mean that there are five different 'portals' that let you use your physical toys inside the game. Does it matter which one you have? From the looks of things, not really. The most recent portal that comes with the Skylanders Superchargers starter kit is backwards compatible with all previous Skylanders figures and games. On top of that (with the exception of the portal from the original Skylanders game), previous portals are forwards compatible with newer games in the franchise.
It's also worth mentioning that portals sold for the Wii, Wii U, PS3, and PS4 are interchangeable between consoles. Unfortunately for Xbox gamers, the portals sold with the Xbox 360 and Xbox One are console specific.
Skylanders Superchargers is available for 3DS, Wii, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and iPad. Prices range from £43-£54 depending on which version you're buying.
Prices for older Skylanders games and their toys will vary depending on which version you buy and where you buy them.
Skylanders Superchargers Reception
"Multiplayer notwithstanding, Vicarious Visions latest foray into the Skylanders universe has resulted in a wondrous combination of fighting, driving and flying that I’d recommend without a single piece of colourful plastic in play." - Mike Fahey, Kotaku
"Skylanders Superchargers is a competent sequel, but it lacks some of the charm of its predecessors by focusing too much on its collection of vehicles." - David Roberts, GamesRadar+
The amount of available game content | Original characters and stories