Nothing says Christmas in America quite like unflinching consumerism, and few video game genres can match the capitalistic nature of toy-to-life franchises “Skylanders” and “Disney Infinity.”
The latest craze combines toys with traditional role-playing or action gameplay. Starter kits, which run for about $75, include the game, two toys and the life-giving portal controller. Additional characters – many additional characters – run anywhere from $12 to $17. Players are encouraged, especially in the “Skylanders” franchise, to collect all of these.
The result is a set of games that fill a child’s imagination and empty a parent’s bank account.
We’ll start with the first part. I would have killed to have either “Skylanders: SuperChargers” or “Disney Infinity 3.0” as a kid. They combine my two favorite things growing up: The characters are something you can hold in your hand or bend to your will on TV.
“Skylanders: SuperChargers” is for the budding young thrill seekers in your family. It is constant action. A storyline with original characters, various mini-games and online functionality keeps players busy.
“SuperChargers” biggest achievement, at least to a 27-year-old with little franchise experience, isn’t unique to the Activision powerhouse. The game allows players to race each other or computer characters using the all-new vehicles. This additional feature is basically a carbon copy of “Mario Kart,” which is sacred among gamers in my generation. This is one time where I agree wholeheartedly with developer Vicarious Visions decision to shamelessly rip off a gaming classic; why reinvent the wheel for a mini-game when the perfect formula already exists?
Gameplay through the title’s main story arc is pretty straightforward: Beat up the bad guys, save the good guys.
I enjoyed the top-down view when my character was fighting on foot, but “SuperChargers” forces you to do some vehicle combat in the same three-dimensional space. The starter-kit car gets extremely squirrelly, and the controls invert when you change your direction – making it far too difficult to even move around the map in your car. The camera drops to a traditional behind-the-car view for other maps, which is much easier and more enjoyable.
The voice acting and animation are top notch. Many of the characters speak directly to you, the player, when they ask you to place a Skylander on the magic portal. The portal lights up and makes noise. The overall aesthetic is perfect for kids ages 5-13.
“Disney Infinity 3.0” appeals to the more creative child. It’s entirely possible to play the game without fighting a single bad guy. I would actually recommend it, as the game’s strengths lie in the ability to build and customize your own home and in-game levels with layers of delightful Disney swag. Recreating the palace in “Aladdin,” then filling it with characters from “Toy Story” – what kind of evil person wouldn’t love that? This franchise brings 70-plus years of nostalgia that “Skylanders” can’t touch.
This year’s focus is on the “Star Wars” franchise. The starter kit storyline focusing around the Clone Wars between “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.” That’s not really my cup of tea, but maybe I’m just old and bitter. Kids will probably enjoy it. Everything about it is straightforward.
The big coup will be on Dec. 18, when a single-player content pack featuring a “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” storyline will be released. Releasing a playable version of what will undoubtedly be the biggest theatrical release in history on the same day the film pops will give Disney a huge edge.
Both titles will break the bank.
“Disney Infinity 3.0” has multiple playsets featuring all three “Star Wars” trilogies, as well as a fourth for “Inside Out.” Each playset has additional characters – sold separately, of course. And last year’s characters and playsets transfer over, so you may be tapped to buy an Iron Man, too.
“Skylanders: SuperChargers” is even worse. There aren’t just dozens of playable characters sold individually; various vehicles are also on sale. The starter kit comes with a land vehicle, but the air and sea craft are sold separately. The game beats it into players that they need at least one vehicle of each type. The first level has this awesome-looking part that requires a plane. If you don’t have a plane, as I didn’t, you’re almost shamed into taking a longer land route.
However, remember that games are an immensely cheap recreational activity in the long run. The $17 you spend on a new “Skylanders” vehicle, which will likely provide four or more hours of enjoyment, is the same as buying two movie tickets. The vehicle lasts a lot longer, too.
It’s difficult to recommend one over the other. As of this week, “Skylanders: SuperChargers” is the better title. But I haven’t played the “Rise Against the Empire” playset, which inserts “Infinity” players into the original “Star Wars” trilogy, or the upcoming set. Either could very well put “Disney Infinity 3.0” on top.
It boils down to this: If the player prefers more linear, action-based games, go with “Skylanders: SuperChargers.” If your son or daughter is more creative – or perhaps if you want a non-violent option for your child – go with “Disney Infinity 3.0.” Both are quite solid.
▪ Rated E for everyone
▪ Developer: Vicarious Visions
▪ Publisher: Activision
▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U and iOS
Disney Infinity 3.0
▪ Rated E for everyone
▪ Developer: Avalanche Software
▪ Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, iOS, Android and Apple TV