Early 2011 brought a tear to the eye of many a gamer. After a long, painstaking hiatus, Activision had finally announced it would bring Spyro back as part of an all-new IP.
However, when the game made its first public debut, it seemed as though the power-selling publisher had stamped out a generation’s worth of nostalgic embers. Many couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at Activision’s treatment of a former gaming icon.
Skylanders came across as stupid and completely out of place. Here was a stripped down platformer with one defining feature: a gimmick in which players could use special figures to summon characters and objects into the game.
When it finally touched down towards the end of the year, however, it quickly became the next big thing. Even in the UK, where Activision’s marketing seemed transparent, you would have been hard-pressed to find a Skylanders starter kit available to buy during the Christmas rush.
From the perspective of a game critic, the series’ skyrocket to success seemed almost inexplicable at first. However, after realising just how big the children’s market is nowadays, with the advent of casual and mobile gaming, it all seemed to make sense.
With any money-making idea, however, there was always going to be competition and in the months following Skylanders Giants release a challenger came forth.
Put simply, Disney Infinity was exactly what onlookers were expecting. Drawing from its rich catalogue of motion pictures, the entertainment giant wasn’t short of characters or settings with which to populate its own Skylanders contender.
Infinity wasn’t just a shameless clone, however. Although the NFC figures worked in exactly the same fashion, developer Avalanche produced a much more open and creative experience for players.
While enjoying its moderate success, however, Activision geared up for its biggest Skylanders launch to date and drafted in Vicarious Visions. Last year’s Swap Force was hands down the best game in Skylanders’ short history; it played great and looked even better, introducing a new range of characters equipped with swappable parts.
In terms of quality, Infinity and Swap Force were just about on equal terms. Although the former game’s focus on level-building and platforming won it some points, it wasn’t the sweeping victory some had envisioned.
With the battleground having been set, we’re now ready for round two. Shots may have been fired last year but now both will finally go head-to-head in what can only be described as biggest PG-rated contest the gaming industry has ever seen.
So, what’s the tale of the tape?
Coming straight out of the gates, Activision has announced a new central mechanic for the Skylanders series. The upcoming sequel, subtitled “Trap Team”, will allow players to use all-new figures to capture some of the game’s most notorious villains. Forever stored in these little plastic keys, they are converted and turned into allies, becoming part of your very own cartoon crack team.
Alongside these crystal keys will come a new host of characters, some of which are identified as “Trap Masters”- essentially the badasses of the Skylands universe.
Comparatively, Disney Infinity “2.0” is also bringing something new to the table. Developer Avalanche promises bigger open worlds and more in-depth characters customisation. Another central gameplay feature is the improvements being made to Infinity’s “Toy Box” mode. As well as building your own custom stages you will now be able to construct actual games, be it tower defence or dungeon crawler.
Though admittedly cool, it’s hard to gloss over 2.0’s real trump card – Marvel. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk are but a few of the characters Disney is drafting in from its vast entertainment empire with more to come.
When comparing the two new products, one thing gamers and parents will have to consider is pricing. Though an RRP has yet to be confirmed for both games, Disney Infinity immediately clutches a small victory thanks to its backwards compatibility. Not only are all the collectable figures and in-game content transferable, so too is the core base peripheral.
This certainly makes the sequel more accessible to fans, whereas with Skylanders players have already had to buy two portals with a third being included with Trap Team.
It must be said that this is only part of the story, however. Overall value will ultimately depend on not just the game’s themselves but the pricing of figures. Currently, standalone Infinity figures retail for around £15 with Skylanders coming in at around £9-15.
It’s still early doors for both games, especially considering that E3 is still to come. However, for now, Disney Infinity 2.0 seems to be the obvious choice between the two. The inclusion of Marvel characters is simply genius given how popular the movies are at the moment and this synergy will just continue to grow stronger with each passing release, as films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers 2 are already on the horizon. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if 3.0 was devoted to the re-emerging Star Wars license.
That’s not to say the race is already won. Skylanders is still hugely popular and hopefully new co-developer Beenox (who have ironically been working on the latest Spider-Man game) will bring some fresh gameplay quirks to the mix. How the two games make use of being fully multi-platform will also be interesting to see.