Skylanders: Skylanders takes the top spot as the best toys-to-life series. With its innovative gameplay, diverse character roster, and immersive worlds, it captivated players of all ages
During the mid-2010s, a popular trend emerged known as the 'toys to life' genre. This phenomenon quickly gained significant market presence, only to f...
During the mid-2010s, a popular trend emerged known as the 'toys to life' genre. This phenomenon quickly gained significant market presence, only to fade away just as swiftly. For a period of time, game stores were filled with an abundance of vibrant plastic figures, creating an immersive experience. The concept was straightforward: players purchased physical toys representing their desired in-game characters, placed them on a designated portal, and delighted in watching them come to life within the game. Both toy collectors and players alike were captivated by this innovative concept.
It was understandable that companies quickly recognized the profitability of this trend, leading to the market becoming completely saturated by 2016. Let's take a look at some of the most notable endeavors from this extravagant trend.
5 Starlink: Battle For Atlas
Ubisoft's entry into the toys-to-life genre arrived in 2018, significantly late to the party when interest in the genre had considerably waned. As a consequence, it experienced a tremendous failure, and the game's sets are now challenging to find. It's unfortunate because the game itself is quite enjoyable.
In Starlink, you assume the role of a deep-space pilot participating in the Starlink program. Your mission is to traverse the galaxy, engaging in research, combatting villains, and earning achievements akin to a boy scout collecting patches.
The available pilots in the game are a diverse and eccentric group. Mason, who is included in the starter kit, is rather ordinary. However, there are other intriguing choices such as the assassin Shaid, the empathic robot Judge, and Kharl, an intelligent lizard-like creature, among others. Nintendo Switch players even have the option to play as Fox McCloud, a crossover addition that undoubtedly boosted sales on that platform.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft lacked confidence in the toy collecting aspect of the game, which led them to make it mostly optional. They provided the option to purchase digital versions of the characters and ship parts instead. While the ability to assemble your own craft, with the ability to snap on and off wings, guns, and cockpits that immediately impacted gameplay, was incredibly cool, the process of mounting it on the controller was awkward and unwieldy.
As a space exploration simulator, Starlink achieves great heights and provides an exceptional experience. However, when seen as the demise of an entire genre, it becomes a rather melancholic and somber affair.
The monumental success of Activision's Skylanders series, which kick-started the entire toys-to-life phenomenon, cannot be overstated. It originated from the intention to revive the Spyro the Dragon series once again, and developer Toys For Bob took a risk: would consumers be willing to make additional purchases after already investing $70 in the starter pack? The answer was a resounding "yes," as evidenced by the sound of cash registers ringing with every sale.
Starting with Spyro's Adventure in 2011, which was a bit of a misnomer since playing as Spyro was not even necessary, you take on the role of the Portal Master of Skylands.
In this world, the Skylanders, the heroes of the story, have been transformed into statues by the villainous Kaos and banished to Earth. (They were also conveniently sold as toys in stores for $15 each, although that detail was strangely absent from the marketing.) Once you free them and place them on the portal, you will embark on a series of action-platforming stages, each designed for a specific element of Skylanders. It's important to have a Skylander of the corresponding class if you want to progress through those zones, so make sure you have one, kids!
Setting cynicism aside, it is undeniable that the gameplay loop is highly engaging. It involves battling enemies, leveling up your characters, and using in-game currency to purchase upgrades, which in turn allows you to engage in more battles and further level up. With each subsequent title, new elements were introduced. Giants introduced larger figures, Trap Team featured a talking portal, and Superchargers introduced vehicles. However, the release of six entries in just five years proved to be overwhelming for both players and parents alike. Nevertheless, the franchise continues to hold a special place in the hearts of its fans.
Never one to miss a chance to make money, and being familiar with the world of toy manufacturing, Nintendo joined the toys-to-life market with their line of 'Amiibo' figures and quickly dominated the scene. Among the major toys-to-life brands, Amiibo is the only one that remains relevant and successful to a significant extent. This can be attributed, arguably, to a unique factor that sets it apart from its competitors: versatility.
While Skylanders and similar products may appear visually appealing, their functionality is limited to the specific games they are designed for. Outside of those games, they serve little purpose other than collecting dust on a shelf. Essentially, they only unlock content that is already present on the game disc. Amiibo, on the other hand, addresses this issue by not restricting the figures to a single title. Instead, they unlock enjoyable additional features in a wide range of Nintendo games, offering a diverse and extensive experience.
In games like Smash Bros, Amiibo figures allow you to save and battle against player ghosts. In Mario Party, they can be used as game pieces, and in Mario Kart, they provide you with Mii outfits. Nintendo has cleverly ensured ongoing compatibility and relevance for the figures you may have purchased years ago by incorporating them into various games. Additionally, with a continuous release of new figures, they cultivate a "gotta have 'em all" mentality among fans, indicating that Amiibo will remain a prominent presence for a considerable time to come.
2 Disney Infinity
It came as no surprise to anyone that a massive entertainment conglomerate like Disney desired a share of the toys-to-life market. Especially considering their continuous efforts over the past decade to enter the mainstream video game industry, which included unsuccessful projects like Epic Mickey and Disney Universe. Disney Infinity emerged as the promising culmination of these endeavors, offering the ultimate celebration of the diverse Disney intellectual properties. It allowed players to mix and match characters from different franchises, resulting in a chaotic and lively experience.
The Disney Infinity experience was primarily divided into two main components: Play Sets and Toy Box. The Play Sets offered complete campaigns based on specific series such as Monsters Inc., Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. These Play Sets provided truly enjoyable and immersive gameplay experiences. On the other hand, the Toy Box mode served as Disney's response to Minecraft, offering players a creative and open-ended environment to build and explore to their heart's content.
With the appropriate unlockable content and a bit of patience, you had the ability to construct any incredible world that you could imagine. Do you desire to witness Woody and Davy Jones racing Lightning McQueen on top of the Epcot ball? You could bring that vision to life. Additionally, the online mode allowed for hours of enjoyment as you played levels created by other builders, expanding the fun and possibilities even further.
Disney Infinity had a lifespan of three installments, spanning from 2013 to 2016. The second installment, 2.0, introduced Marvel superheroes, while the third installment, 3.0, incorporated the Star Wars franchise and even featured a kart-racing mode developed by Sumo Digital. Unfortunately, the project met its demise due to high manufacturing costs, leading Disney to discontinue it. However, Disney Infinity continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many as a beloved nostalgic favorite.
1 LEGO Dimensions
LEGO Dimensions stood out as the most ambitious among the prominent toys-to-life contenders. It aimed to expand upon the Disney Infinity concept of crossover and take it to a whole new level, without being restricted to only Disney-owned intellectual properties. Developer Travellers' Tales sought to incorporate as many franchises as possible into this grand venture. The range of franchises included DC Comics, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Portal, Scooby Doo, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Sonic the Hedgehog, Adventure Time, and the list goes on and on.
One significant advantage of LEGO Dimensions was that the figures and vehicles were made of actual LEGO pieces, leveraging the reputation and trust associated with the well-established LEGO brand. Beyond the game, these LEGO elements seamlessly integrated into your existing LEGO creations. Fortunately, they were also enjoyable and appealing within the game itself.
The mashups made possible in Dimensions were utterly absurd and unique. It was a platform where you could witness the Doctor engaging in conversations about jelly babies with Homer Simpson, or Sonic sharing memories of his Werehog form with Marceline the Vampire Queen. These unexpected and amusing combinations of characters and interactions were exclusive to Dimensions and couldn't be found anywhere else.
The gameplay mechanics that held it all together in LEGO Dimensions followed the familiar and captivating style seen in other TT LEGO games. Platforming and collecting studs remained the core gameplay elements. As the game received its final update in 2017, Dimensions had expanded to an immense scale. It offered a staggering number of 30 unique worlds to explore, each brimming with countless quests and adventures to undertake.
Regrettably, the utilization of actual LEGO pieces drove up the costs, and coupled with the decline of the toys-to-life genre, it ultimately led to the demise of the game. However, there is still a strong demand from players for a digital re-release. It would be a great loss to confine such a remarkably eccentric project to older hardware, and many believe it deserves another chance to be enjoyed by a wider audience.