War of the Cute – Disney Infinity vs. Skylanders

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Just over two years ago, a fierce purple dragon and his friends rushed onto the gaming scene in what was perhaps the one of the most underestimated franchises of this generation: Activision and Toys For Bob’s SkylandersSkylanders: Spyro’s Adventures, which officially released in October 2011, introduced a unique gameplay mechanism that saw real-world toy figures being ‘teleported’ into the virtual world of the video game through a peripheral called the Portal (connected to the consoles by a USB cable), which also enabled cross-platform play.  These toys catered to different audiences, as they ranged from cute to fierce, eccentric to somewhat terrifying.

Although Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures was aimed at the 6-11 demographic, adults were playing it too – and not just the parents who decided this was the perfect family game with its local Co-op mode, but also those who are still young at heart, drawn to the characters, compelling storyline, and action adventure gameplay.  The developers also snuck in a bait for players: the game features a diverse range of characters (a grand total of 31 Skylanders for Spyro’s Adventures), each belonging to one of eight Elements (i.e. Magic, Water, Tech, Fire, Earth, Life, Air and Undead), and there are Elemental Gates within the game that unlock extra areas with treasures and goodies, which can only be accessed by the Skylanders that belong to the same Element.  Although one can finish the game without accessing all the Elemental Gates, this feature would have surely given completionists the incentive to go out and buy additional Skylanders in order to unlock all of these special areas – not to mention the kids who wanted to own every new toy in a given franchise.

The franchise then virtually exploded in late 2012, with the arrival of the sequel Skylanders: Giants in October.  With this new game came a new breed of Skylanders: the titular Giants which are twice the size of the regular Skylanders (both as physical toys and in-game); Lightcore characters with toys that light up on the Portal and have a special Area of Effect spell not unlike an explosion upon first entering the game; and Series 2 toys that are revamped versions of some of the original toys from Spyro’s Adventures.  It’s no wonder that the franchise just recently passed $1 billion in sales, inclusive of all the toys and accessories.  Toys for Bob and Activision inadvertently created a juggernaut that can easily contend with the Disney brand… and no doubt Disney feels they missed out on a huge cash cow.

This year, consumers will be able to see the two family-oriented giants go head-to-head.  On January 15, Disney Interactive unveiled Disney Infinity, which seems to stem from an idea very similar to that of the Skylanders franchise albeit with some very interesting additions.  Set to release in June this year, Disney Infinity will have interactive Disney character figures that can be placed on the Disney Infinity Base, which will allow players to unlock the respective character’s world.  Additionally, the game will feature a Toy Box mode that lets players “build and customize their unique virtual worlds” using a combination of the characters, settings, and accessories.

Disney Infinity may very well live up to its name, as Disney has access to a huge treasury of trademark characters, stories, and settings.  Players will be able to enjoy a mash-up of iconic personalities and environments from such movies as Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Cars, and so much more!

As if that wasn’t enough to have kids squealing with delight, on February 5, 2013, Activision announced the next Skylanders game, Skylanders SWAP Force, which introduces 16 new characters that have interchangeable body parts – giving players a total of 250 possible combinations! The game will feature the same mechanics of the other first two titles, but returning players will be jumping with joy as the developers have heard their fans’ feedback and the characters are now able to jump in-game.

It’ll be an interesting year, with this War of Cute, Disney Infinity vs. Skylanders.  With very similar mechanisms, will the age-old family favourite win out? Or will the fresh heroic faces of the ever-evolving Skylanders continue to seize the hearts of players both young and old?  Adults will definitely be feeling the hit in their wallets, though, with Disney Infinity prices rivalling (if not surpassing) those of the Skylanders toys: a Starter Pack will be $74.99 and will include the game, three figures, the Disney Infinity Base, Play-set token that includes three adventures, and an upgrade token; an Expansion Pack that includes two characters and a Play-set token will cost $34.99; and individual character figures will cost $12.99.  Although the Skylanders SWAP Force prices haven’t been announced yet, if current prices are any indication (e.g. regular Skylanders cost $9.99, Giants are approximately $15.99 each, and an adventure pack with three characters and accessories cost $24.99), gamers will surely have to pick and choose what to spend their hard-earned cash on.

With the timelines of the two series presented, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that Disney saw how well Activision and Toys For Bob were doing, and decided they wanted a large piece of the same pie.  Not that Disney hasn’t had some creative ideas of their own, with games like Disney Universe and Epic Mickey. However, personal experience and observation of friends and family have taught me that oftentimes the execution of a Disney game doesn’t quite live up to the potential.  Indeed, they are fun to play, but don’t seem to grab a child’s attention like the Skylanders games do.

With Disney Infinity and the Skylanders series in direct competition, it will boil down to creativity and game design.  While Disney Infinity will allow players to build their own worlds in the Toy Box, Skylanders SWAP Force lets us create our own toys and characters.  Maybe they’ll both have amazing sales this year… or maybe, Skylanders will surpass Disney, Activision and Toys for Bob will go on to create Skylanders movies/TV shows.  Now that’s a future I can see coming to pass. Only time will tell!

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