2015 had a large variety of toys-to-life video games to choose from. Almost an overwhelming amount, really. Skylanders: SuperChargers, Disney Infinity 3.0, the newly released Lego Dimensions, and various amiibo supported games like Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash and Yoshi's Woolly World. One year later and the playing field has changed dramatically with just Skylanders: Imaginators and new figures/levels for Lego Dimensions. What happened and what can we expect from next year?
Last holiday's gaming market was loaded with various returning toys-to-life series including Skylanders and Disney Infinity, as well as various amiibo figures. Skylanders: SuperChargers added vehicles that included driving, flying and boating similar to games like Mario Kart 7, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and Diddy Kong Racing. Donkey Kong and Bowser appear as special characters, doubling as amiibo and Skylanders.
Disney Infinity 3.0 included Star Wars figures and storylines as well as additional Marvel and Disney content. A variety of new amiibo from the Super Smash Bros line and the new Super Mario line released as well as special Super Mario 30th anniversary amiibo. Lego Dimensions debut last year with Lego mini-figs taking place of the more common toys-to-life figurines. Including a multitude of various franchises such as DC Comics, the Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, and Scooby-Doo, the game was a successful melting pot of classic and modern properties.
Both Disney Infinity 3.0 and Lego Dimensions sold very well in 2015. Disney Infinity 3.0 reportedly outsold Skylanders: SuperChargers while Lego Dimensions outsold both series in its first year on the market. Skylanders: SuperChargers performed weaker than publisher Activision expected, but overall each series did well during the holiday season. Additionally, the amiibo were a huge source of revenue for Nintendo, cementing the genre's success for all four companies creating content for the genre. One publisher in particular helped spark this phenomenon.
Since the genre began in 2011 with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, toys-to-life games have been a huge success with multiple fans who are very passionate about individual series or the genre as a whole. When Activision, in a way, brought back Spyro the Dragon in a new spin-off series with figurines that could connect to a video game, it was an exciting time. Though the Skylanders series did move away from focusing on Spyro in subsequent installments, the series really gave the character the spotlight he lacked for so long. I can't praise Activision enough for establishing this unique genre. Other series/products like Disney Infinity, amiibo, and Lego Dimensions followed Skylanders' lead, granting us with child like fun for players of any age. So how would 2016 continue the success of the genre and exceed 2015's line-up?
In early 2016, a new installment of Disney Infinity was disconfirmed. Instead, Disney's plan was to continue updating Disney Infinity 3.0 with new content. TT Games confirmed that Lego Dimensions would not receive a sequel and instead they would continue to update the game with new content as well. A few months later, Disney Interactive Studios announced the discontinuation of the Disney Infinity series and the end of self-published titles. The series' cancellation gutted fans of varying ages and a important pillar of the toys-to-life genre sadly crumbled following the announcement.
Meanwhile Activision announced Skylanders: Imaginators, a new title in the series featuring character creation and the inclusion of gaming icon Crash Bandicoot! Besides those features, other selling points include Senesis, powerful Skylanders who can train your creation, and Creation Clash, a updated version of the Skystones mini game. Despite those additions, this game had less exciting changes to the series' formula than past installments.
This holiday season, toys-to-life players only have Skylanders: Imaginators and the new content from Lego Dimensions to choose from. If you include the most noticeable Nintendo games using amiibo this holiday (Mario Party: Star Rush, Animal Crossing: New Leaf - Welcome amiibo), that's not nearly as many games as last year.
Looking to 2017, Warner Bros and TT Games will continue to release new content for Lego Dimensions as part of their Year 2 initiative which started late this year. New franchises will be included to the game such as Knight Rider and The Lego Batman Movie. It's quite possible that late 2017 will see the start of a Year 3 initiative with additional franchises, TV series and films in Lego form.
With the recent launch of Skylanders Academy, a spin-off TV series on Netflix, Activision surely wants to continue the success of Skylanders so a brand-new installment for 2017 is quite likely. If we don't see a brand-new title, I could see Activision releasing new content for Skylanders: Imaginators similar to Lego Dimensions' form of releasing new content.
UPDATE: Recent rumors have implied that the Skylanders series' future might be in jeopardy due to low views for the Skylanders Academy series and decreasing game sales.
The most unpredictable company for 2017's toys-to-life genre is easily Nintendo. Warner Bros and Activision have a proven method of supporting their series. But Nintendo has released amiibo as figures that can work with multiple games. While that's a great idea in theory, it has proved to be divisive. Some players like the additional content figures provide in games such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Splatoon, and Mario Party 10, while others feel like significant content is being locked away. More often, Nintendo leans towards players who like small bonuses. For amiibo owners who want more functionality out of their figures, this is frustrating. But there may be a solution.
In early 2017, Nintendo will launch their latest gaming system, the Nintendo Switch. This would be the perfect opportunity to release an amiibo focused game. Instead of using the amiibo in small games or spin-offs, Nintendo could easily create an amiibo platformer similar to Skylanders and Lego Dimensions, but in their own unique way. Nintendo tends to be unique because they utilize ideas that other companies might not think of or have the audacity of attempting. That's why so many video game players love Nintendo.
A few Nintendo games have found a nice balance between small bonuses and unique features such as Super Mario Maker, Yoshi's Woolly World, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. While those games use the figures nicely, an amiibo platformer on the Switch would be great to see. The figures could be used in a very unique game based around Nintendo's various IPs. For example, an F-Zero stage could be focused on racing while an Animal Crossing stage could be focused on completing various activities. A Fire Emblem world could be a turn-based RPG set in various Fire Emblem games while a Mario world could be focused on 3D platforming from various Mario games. There's a wealth of options for Nintendo to choose from. Seeing characters like Mario, Kirby, Samus, and Sonic or Mr. Game and Watch, Chibi-Robo, Inklings, and Mega Yarn Yoshi running alongside each other in a 3D environment would be simply outstanding.
I believe if Nintendo does make an amiibo platformer for the Nintendo Switch, it could be a big holiday title in 2017 or they could save it for 2018. As long as Nintendo makes more interesting uses of amiibo, I'm excited to see what they bring us. More 3DS games could use unique amiibo support. For example, the upcoming Pikmin game on 3DS could use the Olimar amiibo. More unpredictably, the Link amiibo could unlock Minish Cap Link or the Chibi-Robo amiibo could unlock a new level. It's simply up to Nintendo.
Toys-to-life games seems to have a more than healthy life ahead of them, but they do need to keep innovating to stay worthwhile for consumers. I hope Warner Bros, Nintendo, Activision, and any new players who jump into the toys-to-life genre can avoid the issues that led to Disney Infinity's early retirement and continue to keep the fun worthwhile games coming. 2016 may be a somewhat smaller year for toys-to-life games, but I'm hopeful this is simply a stumble for a genre that has grown much bigger than anyone could have imagined back when Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was announced. And that is fantastic.