Feature

How Did E3 2015’s Toys-To-Life Games Stack Up?

by Jeff Cork on Jun 20, 2015 at 04:30 PM

Going into this E3, we knew that there would be at least three big names in the expanding toys-to-life genre. Activision, Disney, and Warner Interactive all showed off their latest games, and they were all playable. Each one is trying something different, but there’s enough commonality to draw comparisons – for better or worse. Read on as we break down how the games play, what innovations they offer, and wrap it all up with a fancy haiku.

For people who aren’t keeping up with the endless parade of genres, “toys-to-life” refers to games that incorporate physical toys into video games. Put a toy down on a special portal, and the portal will read the data on the toy’s NFC chip. With that in mind, “toys-to-life” sounds a lot more interesting than “NFC-enabled gameplay experiences.”

Skylanders: SuperChargers

The Elevator Pitch:
Skylanders get their driver’s licenses.

Innovations?
Skylanders popularized the toys-to-life genre, and each release added a new twist on the game’s core brawler theme. We’ve seen larger figures, figures that have interchangeable top and bottom halves, accessories that let players capture (and then fight as) bosses, and now with SuperChargers, vehicles. For the first time, Activision has entered into a partnership with Nintendo to create exclusive Skylanders/Amiibo figures based on Donkey Kong and Bowser.

How Does It Play?
On foot, it’s basically the same game we’ve played before, though it looks better than ever on new-gen systems. The vehicles are where the real new content is. You can drive cars, aircraft, and undersea vehicles. You only need one car to complete the game, and it’s included in the Starter Pack, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of content if you don’t buy any of the 20 vehicles. Driving is a mix of fast-paced runs through areas – including the back of a flying dragon – as well as arena-style areas where you battle enemies. Subs can obviously slip beneath the water’s surface, but they can also race along in runs similar to Hydro Thunder. You can read more about SuperChargers' features in our preview.

Oof!
Boy, getting both of those Nintendo figures is going to be expensive. Donkey Kong is only available with the Wii U Starter Pack, and you’ll have to pick up the 3DS or Wii Starter Packs to nab Bowser. They won’t be available separately in stores, so prepare to spend $140 for the pair. 

Post-E3 Thoughts (In Haiku):
A rite of passage
Getting a driver’s license
Be careful, Gill Grunt

Next, we take a look at Disney Infinity 3.0.

Disney Infinity 3.0

The Elevator Pitch:
Star Wars.

Innovations?
The Star Wars license has deservedly grabbed the headlines, but there’s more to the game than those classic characters and playsets. The Toy Box is getting a massive overhaul, with new parts, sidekicks, and Toy Box Games (racing and a dungeon-crawler). There’s even a farming game, for players who are looking for a break from smacking enemies with the retooled combat mechanics. Avalanche and Disney have had a long-term plan for Disney Infinity since 1.0, and now we’re starting to see how everything is going to fit together. 

How Does It Play?
Boba Fett might have gone out like a chump in Return of the Jedi, but he redeems himself in Infinity 3.0. He took out General Grievous with ease (and my help), and took full advantage of Ninja Theory’s air juggles, timed combos, and generally improved combat. In a closed-door demo, Avalanche let me call out what I wanted to see, and they pulled it up for me. While I still can’t speak to how the farming feels, it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I had a little hands-on time with the driving controls during our cover trip, but I got to see a race through The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Halloween Town track. The surface of the track looked just like in the film, with odd spiral shapes carved into the ground. Few tombstones survived. That’s what they get for putting them in the middle of the road.

Oof!
The platforming can still be a little wonky, and the only times I died in the demo were from botching my leaps from conveyor belt to conveyor belt. Boba Fett’s jetpack only works in the Toy Box, so I had to watch him fall helplessly into the abyss. Hasn’t he suffered enough? 

Post-E3 Thoughts (In Haiku):
Boba Fett is back
This time, he’s not a doofus
What’s a Sarlacc pit?

Keep reading to hear our thoughts on Lego Dimensions.

Lego Dimensions

The Elevator Pitch:
It’s a crazy Lego mashup!

Innovations?
Each of these games has an NFC reader of some form, though they’re all called something different. Lego Dimensions’ Lego Toy Base is sectioned into three different areas, and each is lit with color-changing LEDs. Other games have done that, too, but Lego Dimensions actually ties gameplay to the base. When The Wizard of OZ’s Wicked Witch casts a spell on your character that renders them immobile, you need to physically move the Lego character from their current spot to one that isn’t affected by the magic. It’s used to track down hidden  blocks, pulsing from red to green depending on how close you are from it. Another puzzle has you move your in-game character onto paint splotches, which color the three sections of the base to that hue. Match the correct colors, and you’re set. It’s pretty cool to look down and see that you have to do more with your base than simply put a guy on it.

How Does It Play?
If you’ve played one of Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games, you’ll be right at home in Lego Dimensions. The buttons and controls are the same, and even the new characters like Scooby Doo have familiar moves – in his case, digging on paw-printed areas to uncover objects. Starting characters Batman, The Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle, and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings have their own abilities, too. It goes further; Wyldstyle is animated in the same herky-jerky style as in the movie, and her motions are restricted by the minifigure formats. It’s a funny contrast compared to the other characters, such as Portal’s Chell. The Portal area features puzzles based on avoiding turrets and taking advantage of Chell’s portal gun. It doesn’t allow her to freely place portals, but they can be used in specific areas. The level is also filled with hidden areas, and there are hidden secrets within those hidden areas. The Scooby Doo level started outside a haunted house, and our goal was to get inside. The level is cel-shaded to look like the cartoon, which was a nice touch. We went through a variety of puzzles to open the door, but the demo cut off before we could enter. Rats,

Oof!
Getting figures is expensive whether you’re into Skylanders or Disney Infinity, but Lego Dimensions is going to give players a chance to go completely nuts. The starter pack is significantly more expensive than its competitors, as are its various add ons. Lego toys have a reputation for being spendy, but they’re also exceptionally durable and well made. Parents and Lego fans might already be accustomed to paying the Lego tax, but players who only care about the Lego video games might choose to sit this one out.

Post-E3 Thoughts (In Haiku):
The Gateway looks neat
Until you step on the thing
A rift on my foot