The Games, Compared
The toys are only part of the equation, of course. These are toys-to-life games, after all, and any bozo can manufacture a neat toy. Making a great game to go along with those toys, however... that's trickier.
The Skylanders series falls most in line with the classical sense of what a video game is supposed to be. It's straightforward and direct, offering a linear story with huge levels and tons of things to unlock and collect. SuperChargers in particular does an excellent job of encouraging the use of Skylander figures without demanding parents go out and buy them all; using optimal characters feels more like a way to drum up a tactical advantage than a matter of necessity. SuperChargers largely does away with the need to own one of each elemental character and instead focuses on the three vehicle types. Mission objectives are always clear and to the point. The level-up path for characters encourages players to swap toys regularly while performing key tasks with each hero. The racing mode is solid. The storyline and voice acting are definitely a notch above the competition. And the game uses a lively hub world to tie everything together. It's a polished, refined game experience—as you would expect from a series in its fifth iteration.
Disney Infinity 3.0
If LEGO Dimensions takes a scattershot approach to licensing, Disney Infinity does the same with game design. The core game is an action-driven affair, mixing linear missions with sandbox worlds. Hanging out on Tatooine is like playing a Star Wars skin on a kid-friendly Grand Theft Auto game. For many people, however, the structured playsets have much less appeal than the Toy Box mode, a free-form area to goof around and build things. Infinity 3.0 also includes a solid racing game mode and more varied design to the actual playsets than previous releases.
Each component comes off as quite well-made, but the overall package feels like it's held together with string and chewing gum. The front-end of Infinity is a clumsy mess that feels like a PC command console from the ’90s, and swapping between playsets and modes is a messy, unclear process. For a game designed for all ages and audiences, the actual process of setting up the game feels like a heavy burden for harried parents.
Rating the games of Nintendo amiibo is a little tricky, because only a single game to date (amiibo Festival) requires amiibo... and it's not all that great. Instead, amiibo tend to offer extra perks, like unlockable modes in Mario Party 10 or training bonuses in Smash Bros. Honestly, amiibo has yet to feel like anything more than a novelty at best, or incredibly-hard to-come-by downloadable content (as with Splatoon's modes, which are locked behind rare and expensive amiibo). Most amiibo collectors appear to enjoy the pursuit of the figures more than their actual interactivity with the games.
LEGO Dimensions has a lot going for it, but the actual game design isn't one of them. Built around mundane repetition and incredibly simplistic tasks, Dimensions lacks the substance and variety of its competitors. Yes, there's a lot of content here, but it all plays the same... and that play feels decidedly lackluster compared to the chunky physicality of Skylanders or the freewheeling variety of Infinity.
Dimensions is absolutely packed with fanservice, though. If you love any of the franchises involved, the appeal of seeing the LEGO journeys of Doc Brown or Wyldstyle through may be sufficient to keep you soldiering on despite the repetition. The presentation varies wildly in quality, using a mix of original actors and soundalikes spouting corny jokes (though the soundalikes are only barely soundalikes in some cases) as well as dialogue samples from some original films and shows. Like Skylanders, Dimensions uses a hub style to connect its worlds... though that aspect of the game feels barebones and clumsy, much like Infinity, and the bulk of the game's content is locked behind pricey expansion sets.
Advantage: Skylanders SuperChargers
Perhaps because it doesn't have beloved media properties to lean on, Skylanders tries harder as a game. It's a bit more focused, a bit more compact, and that specificity seems to have allowed the series' developers to pour their efforts into making the game content better. Infinity does a nice job of creating fun worlds for its beloved characters as well, but the overall package feels less refined.