The Licenses, Compared
A big part of the appeal of toys-to-life games has to do with who and what the figures represent. After all, the game may be fun, but when all's said and done, will you really want a dozen of these guys hanging out on your desk or shelf?
Skylanders is kind of the wild card, because unlike any of the other toys-to-life products, its characters don't exist outside of the game. Where everyone else kind of cheated by attaching its lineup to existing pop culture properties, Toys For Bob creates a couple dozen all-new characters each year. (There are, of course, a few exceptions; Spyro the Dragon was a key character for the first game, and Bowser and Donkey Kong appear as characters exclusive to the Wii U and 3DS versions of SuperChargers.) As such, the question becomes not how much you already love these characters but whether or not you're willing to give them a chance. If the design of Skylanders figures appeals to you, great! If not, it can be hard to form an attachment, especially since the characters have very little personality in-game. The exposition comes entirely from NPCs who refer to every character by the generic "Skylander" moniker, and the extent of every character's personality comes down to a few lines of specific dialogue and incidental quips.
Disney Infinity represents three pop culture juggernauts in one package: Disney and Pixar flicks, Marvel's Avengers lineup, and Star Wars. While not as broad a collection of properties as in LEGO Dimensions, Infinity's treatment of those franchises goes much deeper, offering a huge array of characters from each universe.
Infinity's house art style also manages to make all these diverse characters feel like they belong in the same playset; the most out-of-place figurines are probably the emotions from Inside Out, which have a rounder, more classical animation look than the angular design of other figures, but even then they don't feel terribly at odds with, say, the Tron Legacy characters.
Commendably, Infinity offers the strongest array of female characters of any toys-to-life franchise. Where most toy lines shy away from daring to appeal girls, Disney has counted its appeal to girls as a core business strength for years. This is reflected in the presence of characters like Minnie Mouse, Gamora, and Princess Leia. The ladies in Infinity are just as viable as action heroes as the boys. Hasbro may be scared to sell Black Widow action figures, but Ms. Romanov can assemble alongside the rest of the Avengers here.
With a handful of exceptions, amiibo is by Nintendo, for Nintendo fans. The series kicked off with a focus on Nintendo franchise crossover Smash Bros., and currently it's digging deep into the Animal Crossing universe. Aside from third-party Smash Bros. cameos like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pac-Man, it's a Nintendo love-in from top to bottom. That will be changing soon—Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight will be arriving soon as the first amiibo manufactured by a third party—but amiibo definitely has the most limited appeal. Also, unlike other toys-to-life series, amiibo are only compatible with Nintendo systems.
The LEGO Dimensions line takes a shotgun blast approach to pop culture; if it's not a Disney or Nintendo franchise, it's probably here. (The exception, weirdly, being Warner-owned cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny; they'll probably show up in LEGO Dimensions 2.) That includes a couple of heavy-hitters like DC Comics, Back to the Future, and The Simpsons, and a ton of niche franchises like Doctor Who, Portal, and even Midway arcade classics. With such a scattershot approach, not every selection is a winner—Ghostbusters is great, but do people care about Scooby-Doo in this day and age?
While the dozen or so properties covered in Dimensions represents an impressive array of films, comics, and games, it all feels very surface-level compared to Infinity's treatment. The Dimensions sets only include a handful of figures, and some of them seem like strange choices (of all the Lord of the Rings characters to make playable, they picked Gollum!?). Of course, the advantage of the LEGO franchise is that these toys can be used with other playsets, but that also works against Dimensions: Do you really need another Batman or Gandalf minifig? Ultimately, Dimensions feels a bit like amiibo in that it feels like it's geared less towards "everyone" and more towards "existing LEGO fans."
Advantage: Disney Infinity
Between the strength of its licenses, the overriding stylistic consistency of the characters, and its fair and equal treatment of dozens of female characters, Infinity offers globally recognizable characters (and some fun obscurities!) and makes them all feel like part of the same world. LEGO Dimensions comes in a close second, as despite having a wider array of properties to work with it does less interesting things with those characters and worlds.