If you listen to clamoring on Twitter or various other places on the internet, you’ll find people generalizing their comparisons of Skylanders and Disney Infinity to basically being “the same type of game but with different toys”. As someone who owns and enjoys both of these types of games, it’s important that you know the difference between the two titles before you go out there and dive into the cash sink that these two games can become.
With the holiday season coming up, I thought this list might help consumers who might be looking to purchase one or the other for the little gamers on their shopping lists.
Be fair warned: Both games are more of an investment than typical games because the cost of the figures is pretty high.
You don’t buy a game like Skylanders or Disney Infinity as a “one and done”. I suggest you buy it as a base for a gift and buy figures for it as rewards for good grades, good behavior, or other accomplishments. I’ve personally spent a considerable amount of money on both franchises thus far. The figures, play sets, adventure packs, and other goodies are essentially physical expansion packs, and should be viewed as such.
Both Disney Infinity and Skylanders are built on the same principals: They both feature a USB powered platform that reads RF chips embedded inside the bases of the plastic toys in order to “bring the toys to life” by making them appear in the game as playable characters. This also means you can theoretically “play with” the characters without ever taking them out of the packaging. We’ll talk more about the toys a little bit later in this article, but for now, here’s more information about the games.
What is Disney Infinity?
Disney Infinity is a hybrid title that brings together some of the most common types of kids games (platformers) and adds the sandbox world building found in LittleBigPlanet (a popular PS3 game where you build/customize your own levels and then play/share them online) and what you get is a hybrid fusion that essentially feels like two different games melded together to create an all-in-one gaming solution for pretty much anyone to pick up and play. The first half is the platformer side: The character packs come with an adventure pack called the “play set”.
The play sets typically come with two figures from the franchise they feature (with the exception of the starter kit because it comes with three figures, and a play set that has three Play Sets contained within the play set toy.) The starter kit features Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Incredibles.
Because it’s a starter kit, it only has one character from each of these worlds, the others must be purchased individually, and in order to play two-players cooperatively, you will need at least one more character from these franchises in order to play together. You cannot play with characters that do not exist in the world of the play set you’re currently in. This means you can’t take Captain Jack Sparrow and play him alongside Sully in the Monsters University play set. Instead, you’d need to individually purchase Mike or Randy in order to have a companion for Sully in Monsters University.
The other play sets, such as The Lone Ranger, Cars, or the (at the time of this writing) newly released Toy Story all come with two figures from their universes, so co-op is available right out of the box. This is where the majority of your money sink comes with Disney Infinity. You want more of The Incredibles? Fantastic! Mrs. Incredible, Dash, and Violet are also available to play with Mr. Incredible whom you’ve likely already got – but they’re around $10 each, so just completing the set of The Incredibles will cost you another $30. This means you’re already over $100 just buying the starter kit and the rest of The Incredibles figures. Add in Mike and Randy from Monsters University, and Barbosa, and Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, and you’re looking at $70 just for all of the possible characters to play in the starter kit’s three play sets.
The play sets allow you to visit the world of your favorite Disney movies and you’ll basically do a bunch of random stuff to complete goals and find Toy Box items (more info on the Toy Box later), as well as finding new things that help build the world inside the play set you’re currently playing in. This means as you complete fetch quests or finish missions, the world you’re in becomes more alive and has more to do within it. In The Lone Ranger play set, you’ll restore a train that goes around the town, as well as retrieve horses for the Ranger and Tonto to ride around on. In Cars, you’ll give colors to bland plain grey cars and you’ll add more buildings to Radiator Springs.
While these are fairly straight forward ideas, you’ll find that once you’ve completed all of the assignments in the play sets (generally 2-5 hours of gameplay) there’s not much reason to return to them unless you want to find Toy Box pieces you may have missed or you just liked being in those worlds. They’re quite linear by design, and you’ll have little problem completing whatever task you’re assigned, so you shouldn’t have to help the kiddos out too much. For adults they’re low difficulty and they’re repetitive (mostly go fetch this, kill X amount, or shoot targets, etc) so they’re good if you’re playing something that doesn’t require much concentration with the kids to make them happy, but older kids may find the play sets just a little too easy and breeze right through them. They do offer a pretty decent amount of content for the money (and they offer more than most DLC packs for other games) but they are still considerably short, considering $25 will typically buy a new older game.
The biggest “draw” for Disney Infinity comes from its Toy Box mode. As I mentioned before, the Toy Box is essentially lifted from more popular games such as LittleBigPlanet. What this mode does is gives you a pre-built Toy Box to play and explore in, which you can rearrange or build new things inside of. Inside the Toy Box, pretty much anything goes. You can also opt to choose a blank Toy Box and start building your own new world from scratch. In this area, you can play co-op with other characters regardless of which world they came from. You want to play Dash and Lightning McQueen? Have at it and see who’s faster. Tonto and Barbosa? Which sidekick is superior? It’s all possible in the Toy Box. You can make obstacle courses, create new things for your characters to do, or simply just goof and build whatever your heart desires.
My step kids thought it would be hilarious to fill a hole they accidentally cut out of the terrain in with grass, and then fill it full of horses and call it a horse parking lot. Of course, the horses couldn’t get out unless you rode one out and jumped it over the wall, but it was created on a whim, made me laugh, and was just another example of what you could do inside Disney’s virtual sandbox. This is also where you’ll use all the pieces you’ve collected from the play sets, and you can also find spins to gather random pieces from the roulette wheel type chance game. This is similar to the coin machine in Super Smash Bros Melee where you’d spend coins to unlock new statues for the collection room.
Disney Infinity offers both creative freedom to build your own entertainment, as well as a romp through “levels” that you can’t do anything with just like any other game. Kids who like Minecraft or LittleBigPlanet will have a blast with the Toy Box mode, and the play sets offer enough content to feel like pretty much any other kid movie tie-in game you’d imagine, but because it was built by Snowblind Studios, you know it’s going to at least work well and be fun to play and not simply be a cash grab put out solely to make a few bucks. For those who prefer a little bit more of a challenge, there’s another contender in town.
What is Skylanders?
Skylanders is a franchise that’s currently in its third iteration (Skylanders Swap Force) and it basically brought this “bring your toys to life” idea to the mainstream. Although not an immediate success, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was originally thought to be a revamp of an old IP Activision owned called Spyro the Dragon. Spyro was a fairly successful character on Sony’s PlayStation (spanning several games featuring a small purple dragon who breathed fire), but had limited success on the PlayStation 2. Spyro was all but forgotten until the pitch for Skylanders happened. While Skylanders was never really meant to be a revamp of Spyro, Activision saw fit to use a moderately successful IP to help bolster sales, and the results have been tremendous. While originally the “star” of the game, Spyro took a backseat to the other unique characters that inhibited Skylands, and he’s more of a cameo appearance than anything, as you can easily play all three games without ever touching Spyro himself. The game started picking up steam around Christmas and became a huge success, despite being on the market for a while prior to the holiday.
While Disney Infinity features a ton of immediately recognizable faces from movies you’ve likely seen before, Skylanders features a cast of characters completely unique to its franchise (aside from Spyro) creating a certain charm that you can’t get from movie characters.
You won’t see a turtle with a shiny shell and tornado powers in a Pixar movie any time soon, but you will in Skylanders. Think it’d be cool to play as a clockwork dragon who shoots lasers from his eyes and flaps saw blades from his wings? He’s named Drobot, and you’ll find him in Skylanders. The unique creations found in Skylanders are as much a part of the charm as the actual game is, and my step kids love getting new Skylanders just to see what sort of cool powers they have in game.
Skylanders is also a fairly linear game much like Disney Infinity, but it doesn’t feature a Toy Box that allows you to build your own creations. Instead, Skylanders weaves a story that’s continued across three (as of the time of this writing) games, which you’ll try to thwart the evil Kaos and save Skylands from certain.. well, chaos. Kaos himself is as obnoxious as he is adorable, and you’ll have a hard time deciding if you want to hug his face or punch it – because despite being the evilest of evil, he’s still kind of likable. Skylanders has a very familiar style of play, as it is basically Gauntlet for the new generation of gamers.
In Skylanders, you’ll play from a close camera third person pseudo-isometric angle, and you’ll romp through levels stomping bad guys and collecting experience orbs, uncovering new paths, finding hidden elemental walkways, treasures, story scrolls, and level specific upgrades for each owned Skylander. These upgrades are BRILLIANT marketing tools, as you can collect one (or more) in each level, each of these upgrades (called Soul Gems) allow you to purchase an “ultimate” upgrade for each Skylander. Some of them aren’t so great, like giving your character the ability to float in water and regenerate life – but some are extremely useful, and will amplify your Skylanders power tremendously or increase their defense to make them a small impenetrable force to be reckoned with. The reason these upgrades are brilliant is simple – once you collect a soul gem, you’re asked if you’d like to see a preview of that character. If you say yes, you’re shown a quick 5-10 second video of that character which showcases their moves and basically acts as a “MOMMY I NEED THIS” type commercial for the kids.
Each character typically costs around $10, but you can also find battle packs or adventure packs that either contain an item you can use in game for something, or a new level. These are pretty close to Disney Infinity’s play sets, but since Skylanders are unique to their universe, there’s no restrictions on who you can play where. This means you could theoretically finish all three of the Skylanders games with the characters that come in the starter pack and no others. Do you need to buy more for either of these games, honestly? No, not really – but you know you’re pretty much going to have to. In Disney Infinity, owning all of the characters of one type allows you to open a vault in each play set, which grants you a whole collection of goodies that would normally be hidden away.
In Skylanders, the incentive to own every figure is far greater, as not only will owning at least one character of every type allow you to access secret areas hidden by elemental gates (or events that require certain swap force abilities) but each of these will unlock areas that contain a lot of treasure (for buying in game upgrades) and usually a new hat for giving your Skylanders new powers while they have the hats equipped. The other big bonus to owning all of the other figures? Each figure is registered with the game, and they add elemental power to your characters. As I’ve been playing Skylanders since the original, I had one of every character from both the original Skylanders as well as Skylanders Giants, so my characters in Skylanders Swap Force all have like +45 or more elemental damage, meaning their magical abilities do huge damage even at level one. There’s also “giants only” boxes in Skylanders Swap Force, and opening these requires a giant but spits out a bunch of treasure once opened. This is smart, because it encourages brand loyalty and pretty much ensures that those who really get into the game will try to find every character.
While the levels are linear, they offer a ton of replay value because they have a star system which gives you incentive to find all the collectibles, complete any side tasks – such as don’t let anyone die, and of course, finish the level under the suggested amount of time. Each new game offers more and more content. The original Skylanders offered heroic challenges, Giants continued the trend and also included a difficulty setting, and Swap Force offers a ton of new content including survival arenas, more collectibles, and a plethora of other things to keep you busy. Skylanders also realizes the gamers who have been playing since the beginning are getting older, and because of this, each game has gotten progressively more challenging.
Rest assured, early levels are pretty simple but as you get closer to the end, things start to get pretty tough even for people like me who have been gaming their entire life.
The other plus about Skylanders is that you don’t have to buy the newest game to get into the franchise. You can probably find decent deals on Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and Skylanders Giants (or possibly both from people who sold their Skylanders to get into Disney Infinity), but you can also jump straight in with Skylanders Swap Force and still be just fine – you just won’t have the giants for those unique treasures.
Rest assured, Skylanders is a more challenging game and you’ll actually have to pay some attention to it if you don’t want to get wrecked.
So, now that I know about the games, what else were you saying about the toys?
The build quality is pretty terrific on both figurines, but there are a few specifics that I thought you might want to know about. The Disney Infinity characters are heavier than the Skylanders and they’re a bit more sturdy – but they have pretty cheap looking bases, and they aren’t as unique looking as the unfamiliar oddities of Skylanders.
On the flip side, the Skylanders have awesome looking bases, but the figures are made of a thinner, more flexible plastic, meaning it’s possible to break those figures much easier than their Infinity counter parts. Jade Flashwing fell off one of my step kids dresser and her wing broke off, while Sully bounced off the corner of a coffee table and doesn’t have a scratch on him.
The other trade off is that some of the Skylanders have “Lightcore” characters, which means they route the light from their USB platform up through the figures, enabling part of them to glow and that has an extremely unique (and very appealing) visual look. Since the toys are all statues instead of action figures, there’s not much else to say about them, since you can’t exactly play with them – though Crystal Lightning McQueen from Toys R Us is made from a frosted acrylic plastic and he can sort of light up, as an extension of the glowing from the plastic rings around the bottom of the Infinity figures.