Nintendo has a habit of producing different kinds of hardware to experiment and see what people really like. That can make for some great devices (I’m pretty fond of my Wii U), and some more questionable ones (oh, hello, Virtual Boy).
Nowadays, we have access to tons of peripherals for Nintendo’s newest consoles, the Wii U (our review) and the New Nintendo 3DS (our review). Some of these are Nintendo-made, and they’re called amiibo, but you could also buy Activation’s Skylanders or Disney’s Infinity figurines.
All three of these options allow you to essentially buy a toy that comes to life within the game, but they vary a lot in the way that they handle that. We’re here to break down all the differences and help you choose which to invest your money in.
Famous for being highly desired and nearly impossible to get a hold of, Nintendo’s amiibo launched last fall with the release of Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS. 12 core amiibo were available at launch (if you were able to order one before they sold out), and Nintendo has been releasing more every few months.
They’ve since created a bunch more amiibo-compatible games, though some figures are only compatible with certain games. While Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party 10 support a wide range of amiibo, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse only supports a Kirby figures, and Hyrule Warriors only supports Link and Toon Link.
Likewise, the amiibo serve very different functions in the various games. While amiibo in the Super Smash Bros. world can be leveled up and customized, the Kirby amiibo in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse only gives you a special in-game bonus once every day. Nintendo has a nice compatibility chart for seeing which games work with the different amiibo.
And Nintendo has no plans of slowing down. The upcoming Yoshi’s Woolly World is set to feature plushy wool amiibo, and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival will be compatible with eight brand new Animal Crossing-based figures as well as new amiibo cards.
Figures are currently sold individually for $9.99 to $12.99 each. They’re the only toys on this list that are supported without an external reader. Amiibo are read via the Wii U’s GamePad or the lower screen on the New Nintendo 3DS. Because of this, however, they are the only toys on this list that are limited to only Nintendo-consoles in terms of compatibility.
Amiibo uses NFC technology to do this, and they plan to launch a peripheral for the old Nintendo 3DS that should allow people to use amiibo with those devices — though you might just want to look into upgrading to the New 3DS at that point.
Chronologically, Skylanders are actually the first of the toys that come to life (technically, they’re second to the UB Funkeys, but Skylanders was the first to be widely successful). With a little help from the famous Spyro series, Activision basically created the popular market that Nintendo and Disney later jumped into.
The first ever Skylanders games, called Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, came out all the way back in 2011. It came with three characters — Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt — but there were 32 total standard characters available for purchase, each belonging to one of the eight elements of the Skyland world (though this was later expanded to 11 elements).
The next game in the series is Giants, followed by Swap Force, then Trap Team, and now Superchargers. Superchargers is set to come out on September 20th, and it will be the first of the series to use vehicles.
Nintendo and Activision also reached a deal so that Donkey Kong and Bowser could make an appearance as playable characters in the game. The Donkey Kong and Bowser figurines will actually have a switch on the bottom that allows them to switch between being amiibos and Skylanders.
Prices of the Skylanders figurines vary wildly, and they can be sold individually or in packs. Since they’re necessary for the game, Starter Packs are generally sold with several characters included. You also get a Portal that allows your characters to jump into the game.
Older figurines from the earlier series are often much cheaper, and most of them work with the newer games. Compatibility has been a been confusing with so many games and figurines available, but there is a fantastic website for seeing which figurines are compatible with each game.
Skylanders can also be used across platforms. The newest game currently available, Trap Team, is on the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, and iOS.
Launched in 2013 after the initial success of Skylanders, Disney Infinity is very similar. It’s equally cross-platform and uses toys that you place on a reader (called the Infinity Base) to make them appear in the game. There are also World Discs that unlock areas to play and Power Discs that can enhance characters and can change the environment.
The original release, Disney Infinity, included popular Disney characters from movies like Frozen, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Cars.
The second edition of the game, Disney Infinity: Marvel Superheroes, featured characters from Big Hero 6, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, and more.
The upcoming third installment, Disney Infinity 3.0 (which will be released on August 23rd), is based heavily on the Star Wars franchise, introducing Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and more.
Like Skylanders, figurines can be bought individually or in bundles with prices varying wildly. Cheaper figurines can go for $6 while bundles of multiple can sell for upwards of $30. The good news is that older figurines are always playable on the newer games (though newer figurines won’t work on older games).
The game also has two main game modes, Play Set and Toy Box. While Play Set has a story line, Toy Box is more of an open world adventure. Toy Box does manage to set Disney apart from Skylanders in terms of replay-ability, and most people probably have a stronger connection to the vast array of well-known Disney characters than the relatively less known Skylander characters.
Wait, There’s More?
Even though it will be coming out around the same time as Skylanders: Superchargers and Disney Infinity 3.0, it has no previous iterations for us to judge it on.
The idea is similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity, though. You have a device that you place toys on, allowing them to come to life within the game. LEGO characters come from a variety of universes including DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, the Wizard of Oz, the Simpsons, and more.
While it is cross-platform in terms of consoles, LEGO hasn’t said anything about it being available on mobile operating systems like Android or iOS.
Which Is Your Favorite?
These toys-to-life games, while fun, can be a major drain on the wallet. One report found that in the last six months, parents have spent $131 on average for toys-to-life figurines like amiibo, Skylanders, and Disney Infinity figurines.
So, while you should try not to get that sucked into this money grab, it’s probably likely that you’ve at least purchased one of these. They are pretty fun, after all.
Which is your favorite? Have you gotten a bunch of amiibo for Super Smash Bros., or are you more a fan of Skylanders or the Disney universe? Let us know in the comments!