Toys-to-life is a genre of video game that lets players take physical figures, tap them onto an interactive base, and watch them jump to life inside the video game. The plastic figures and toys each contain an NFC chip inside that unlocks content within a game when placed on a USB peripheral. The beauty of this gameplay style lies in the fact that kids get the best of both worlds: physical toys and digital games.
In 2007, Mattel launched U.B. Funkeys, a personal computer game and collectible figure set that marked the first toys to life system. But the brand saw little success, and after three years of production, the game was out of production. A few years later in 2011, Activision launched its Skylanders franchise, which is one of the most successful toys-to-life games to date. A spin-off of the iconic Spyro series, Skylanders lets kids place their character figures on the “Portal of Power,” a device that reads the figures tags through NFC functionality and brings animated versions of the characters to life inside the game. With more than 300 figures released and six game titles to date, this series is known as the pioneer game of the toys to life category.
In 2013, Disney hopped on the toys-to-life train with Disney Infinity, and Nintendo got in on the action with its line of amiibo figures in 2014. Even LEGO joined the party in 2015 when Lego Dimensions hit the shelves. While Disney has since discontinued its Disney Infinity franchise, the other toys-to-life players remain in the game.
At first glance, these games can look like a money pit in the eyes of most parents. In addition to the Starter Packs, which cost anywhere between $59.99 and $99.99, kids will be clamoring for additional characters, vehicles, and more to enhance their gaming experience and grow their toy collections. But think again. These add-ons come at a value, and provide kids with tons of new gameplay content, something that is relatively new to the gaming world. LEGO Dimensions is one of the most popular toys-to-life games and its add-on packs provide kids not only with new characters, but also with new levels, stories, and more for as little as $12.99.
DLC (downloadable content) packs have been popular in the gaming world over the last few years. For a fee, players can download new levels, characters, and more to bring their gameplay to new heights using the same video game. Essentially, toys-to-life figures are like physical DLCs, meaning you actually get more for your money. Rather than just paying to download new levels, you also get a physical figure, offering kids twice the play value.
But, not all toys-to-life games are created equal. Before sinking a fortune into new figures and story packs, kick things off with the Starter Pack and gauge your child’s level of interest before diving in deeper. Starter packs typically include a few figures to start, and gamers can complete the main story in full using a starter pack without additional purchases, so see if your child gets through the entire thing and is still wanting more. Then, maybe there will be a figure or two on top of their next birthday gift. Once kids get the fun add-ons they’ve been waiting for, they can go back through all game levels they already beat and replay with new content.
Unlike most toys-to-life games on the market, Nintendo amiibo do not require a starter pack to kick off the fun. These figurines work with multiple Nintendo games, unlocking additional characters, outfits, power-ups, or other fun bonuses. They come in different shapes and sizes, from high-quality character figures to small, portable cards. For under $15, amiibo are a true value for the Nintendo enthusiast.
Virtual reality and the portability of new gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch will let developers take these games to the next level. Upcoming toys-to-life projects are emerging as proof to both fans and investors that these figures and games are of great value. One upcoming title, Light Seekers Awakening, with toys produced by TOMY, has been fully funded on Kickstarter and will be available to consumers later this year. As we look to the future, the success of amiibo, Skylanders, and Lego Dimensions will continue to pave the way for new toys-to-life video games. The possibilities are endless.