Video game publisher Activision struck gold in 2011 with the simple idea of combining games with toys. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure zapped toy models equipped with radio-frequency ID tags into its virtual world by way of a plastic “portal,” which connected to Xbox, PlayStation and Wii consoles via a USB plug. The toys came to virtual life, and a phenomenon was born. But parents with kids know the downside—a cavalcade of the toys to buy and collect, which can get costly. Other game publishers are stampeding into this “toys-to-life” gold mine, which is exciting –and expensive. Here’s a guide to this holiday season’s entries.
Starter pack: $109. Additional toy packs from $14.99 to $29.99
Lego Dimensions, the newest toys-to-life game, is a full-on pop-culture mash-up that virtually every kid—and adult—will enjoy. The game mixes characters from DC Comics, Ghostbusters, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings and even The Wizard of Oz, in a quest to save their collective universe. Players use the portal’s multi-coloured light panels to solve puzzles, while the Lego toys themselves can be upgraded and rebuilt into new configurations. Dimensions has a leg up on the competition here—it’s engaging both as a game and as a toy. As with other toys-to-life games, new toys open up additional sections of the game—and there are many options available.
Starter pack: $84.99. Additional toy packs from $16.99 to $44.99
The fifth iteration in the series, Skylanders SuperChargers adds vehicles to its well-polished formula and fantastical game world, where players battle the evil wizard Kaos. Kids have more than 300 Skylanders toys to potentially use—including 20 new vehicles—all of them backwards compatible. SuperChargers also has online play, a first for a Skylanders game, with full parental controls, of course.
Starter pack: $64.99. Star Wars Saga Starter pack (with three additional toys): $114.99. Additional toy packs from $9.99 to $34.99
Aside from incorporating some of the biggest franchises in pop culture—from Marvel superheroes to Pixar movies to this year’s addition of Star Wars—Disney’s Infinity series also allows players to make their own creations. In “Toy Box” mode, players can spend hours building their own worlds and games, which can be shared online with other players.
Always one to do something different, Nintendo’s Amiibo toys aren’t tied to any individual game. Instead, the toy models—including the likes of Super Mario and Donkey Kong—introduce new features across a host of games when they are scanned by the Wii U’s gamepad controller, or new 3DS portable game systems. Some unlock new costumes or weapons while others insert hidden treasures into the game. Without an expensive starter pack to buy, Amiibo are the budget-friendly choice.