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.
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 great thing about Lego Dimensions is that there isn't a new game or portal arriving for Year 2. If you got it last year, all you need to buy are the new packs, rather than a brand new £40+ game. This also means everything from last year's starter set is still readily available, and has been heavily discounted since the game was originally released. The buildable components, in true Lego style, can be removed and replaced with new designs. Those designs are available with the six-level story packs, but they're purely for aesthetics and have no effect on the in-game world.
The toys are separated into four different categories: story packs, level packs, team packs, and fun packs. Story packs feature six levels, and so far have functioned as adaptations of films. Currently there are two story packs that adapt Ghostbusters (2016) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, with a Lego Batman Movie pack arriving in February.
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, Harry Potter, Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic Word, DC Comics, and many more. Lego has decided to release the toys in three different waves, and while many of them have seen staggered release over the past year there are still plenty to come.
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 its own toys-to-life franchise Infinity previously making use of those characters.
It made sense that Disney would keep two of its biggest brands for its own game, but now that the Infinity franchise has been killed there are people who hope Disney franchises can come to Dimensions. WB Games does still own the rights to make games featuring Marvel and Star Wars characters, so it's not impossible. Don't expect that until the end of next year at the absolute earliest, however.
Lego Dimensions is available for Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The base game costs £42-£56, depending on which version you get. Don't be afraid to shop around, however, especially around Boxing Day. During the Black Friday sales the starter set did drop below £30 at multiple points.
Story packs cost £32-£33, level packs cost £15-£21, fun packs cost between £9 and £15, and team packs cost between £15 and £20. That may seem expensive, but those are quite a bit cheaper than they were last year. Even the brand new stuff.
Sets from Year One are likely to be cheaper than anything brand new, so it pays to shop around and see what deals you can 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 last year's 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.
Imaginators is a whole new ball game. While there are multiple new toys for you to buy and play with, the focus of the game is for players to create their own original characters through the use of a 'creation crystal'. These characters are completely customisable, and as you play through the game you unlock new things to try out. Buying the toys, or 'sensei characters' as they're known this year, also allows you to unlock new parts for building and customising your creations.
What, did you think they were going to ditch the toys? It's been five years and the franchise is still going strong. It's clearly a decent money maker. But not so decent that Activision didn't feel the need to add microtransactions. In a kids' game of all places too.
The toys are forwards compatible as well, so won't have to worry about older toys becoming obsolete in the future.
Six different Skylanders games does mean that there are six 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 Imaginators 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 Imaginators is available for 3DS, Wii, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Prices range from £44-£50 depending on which version you're buying.
Individual Imaginators 'Sensei' figures cost £14 each, adventure packs (usually with two characters and a crystal) cost around £30, individual crystals cost £17, crystal triple packs cost £20 each, and triple packs of classic characters cost £15.
Prices for older Skylanders games and their toys will vary depending on which version you buy and where you buy them.
Skylanders Imaginators Reception
"The basic idea behind Skylanders: Imaginators was to harness the imagination of fans who have spent the past several years putting pen (or crayon) to paper to create their own Skylanders. I never had the inkling to do such a thing, but now I see the appeal. After a dozen hours romping around the Skylands with Faemily, Seamusbot, Archer Rex, Bird Kirkilton and Dadcat Robot, it feels like I’ve made the game my own. This is my Skylanders". - Mike Fahey, Kotaku
"Skylanders Imaginators is rich with customisation options, and a genuine sense of fun makes this a brilliant addition to the series." - Louise Blain, GamesRadar+
The amount of available game content | Original characters and stories | Crash Bandicoot
It needs to be mentioned at this point that Disney Infinity has been discontinued by Disney, and will no longer be getting any updates. With that in mind, the game exists almost exactly as it did 12 months ago - available playsets and a few minor additions aside.
With the games discontinued all non-console versions of the game have been shut down. Luckily those apps weren't full versions of the game, and only consisted of the 'Toy Box' mode that allowed free open world play with all the toys you've purchased. But make sure you don't go and buy anything related to Disney Infinity for non-consoles, not that it would be easy to do. That includes Android, iOS, Windows, Steam, Apple TV, and Amazon.
Online service for console games will continue to run until 3rd March 2017, after which time they will shut down for good. Thankfully, none of this affects how you play the main game. So you won't be locked out of all the levels you've already purchased.
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 used to be able unlock the characters in mobile versions of Disney Infinity's Toy Box mode. You can throw those away now, unless you like collecting them.
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.
Because Disney Infinity has been officially discontinued, the prices are going to vary quite considerably. Naturally the older the hardware (often including the toys), the cheaper it may end up being. The best thing to do is shop around and see what the best deals are. Just be warned, the toys and portals are out of production - so once they're gone they're gone.
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 taking the discounted hardware into account and comparing prices to the competition)