During the modern hustle and bustle of being an adult gamer, and especially a parent to young gamers you may have heard the phrase “toys to life” thrown around a couple of times. But, what does this mean? How can a toy “come to life?”. In layman’s terms is it a collectable figurine or toy of some kind that can influence, or even control your video games in some form.
Where It All Began
The OG of Toys to Life is Skylanders. This was a brand new IP published by Activision in 2011, and was extremely revolutionary for its time. The concept was to have a toy of your choice become a playable character in the video game, utilized by NFC technology. The base game came with a copy of the game, three standard toys and an accessory used to scan the toys at will. It was very charming and simple to use, so naturally, kids ate it up. This franchise became huge in the coming years with a new game being released almost annually. What started as a simple good idea became a good step forward in the video game industry, helping players feel more immersed in their games. It was a genius idea in my opinion. Kids loves toys, and they love to play with them. So, what could be cooler than being able to play with your new toy in this awesome new game? Well…
Jumping on the Bandwagon
So, of course when something becomes popular it is quickly replicated. Thankfully, I’m not talking about cheap Asian knock-off type products (though, I am sure some exist). I’m talking about the big boys! Shortly after Activision’s success with their new series there was talk of Disney – of all companies – deciding to dip their toe into the market with Disney Infinity. Unfortunately, this series was discontinued in 2015, which is a shame because this was a huge deal around its initial release.
Where we originally began with generic monster and dragon-like toys to put into our games, we now had the ability to play with iconic characters from the Disney franchise. The original release featured characters mostly from Pixar movies. But, as the market (and Disney) grew there were two more waves released, sporting characters from the newly acquired Star Wars and Marvel franchises. With so much variety, it was a crying shame that this had to end, especially with the live-action revivals of some of the company’s older material.
Though I won’t go into too much detail about this franchise; Lego Dimensions is still going strong to this day! Similar in style to Disney’s strong attempt, this franchise takes the normal toys to life concept, but with Lego figurines and small sets. Lego has a huge market on a lot of different types of media, so they can dish out almost any character at their disposal to this range, and that is what they have done! While all starter sets and additional sets that came with the game acted the same as the previously mentioned franchises, this came with the added bonus (or chore… You decide) of having to physically build everything before being able to use it in the game. As a big Lego fan, I always found this pretty cool, but never had the time or space to try for myself. Maybe some day.
With the market certainly booming in the mid twenty tens it was only a matter of time before a real gaming company would throw their hat into the ring. Think about it… first we had toys we could play as in some games, next we had big movie characters to play as and then, finally, we could play as real video game characters… Enter Nintendo and the amiibo range.
Originally released in 2014, amiibo were Nintendo’s answer to the toys to life market, which is still growing incredibly strong to this day. With this range there are slight differences compared to the previous three gaming toy types. You see, amiibo can be used in multiple games across Nintendo platforms, however these are not all utilized to their fullest extent in my eyes.
The best way to have a good time with your amiibo is with the Super Smash Bros. franchise, in which the player can use a figure of their preferred character as a computer controlled ally or opponent which can be trained. This feature came with the launch of amiibo and Super Smash for Wii U and 3DS (2014), and is still the most ambitious way that one can play with them. In basically every other game with amiibo functions they can be used to unlock special features, costumes and modes, depending on the game. I feel that Ninty dropped the ball with this one, as most people were waiting for them to release a big amiibo focused game in the same way the other toys to life games were handled. Five years later and it doesn’t look likely that it is going to happen.
I could write for days about this, but for the whole time amiibo have been available the market has seems to be more for the collectors (like myself), which is a shame for any casual gamers, kids and parents that might want Mario for example, but you have a hard time finding him, because he is sold out in most high street retailers. So, you check online and you get a ridiculous mark-up in price. For anyone wanting to dive in to be a collector it’s almost impossible to tell which amiibo will become popular and which will become rare. It’s quite a struggle to get the one you’re after, but this has become less of a problem since the toys have released. If you’re thinking of buying any of these for your kids, just think about the possibility of some becoming unavailable.
You can check out a more in-depth discussion on this topic in Arlo’s video here:
Where We Are Today
Though the market has come to a sort of slow-down these days, amiibo are still holding very strong. Casual gamers and collectors are still looking hard for the ones they want. It’s a great way to spend time with the kids, even if you’re just out to shop for the ones you or they might like. They are still fun to collect and play with, and maybe that one Mario figure your kid has been after for months may show back up. It can’t hurt to keep an eye out for a good deal. Just watch for pre-orders on new releases, they can sell out within minutes. You can also always check Ebay when you can’t find them elsewhere.
-By Alex Mills 25/4/2019
Alex “Sun Spirit” Mills