Physical DLC in our gaming
Is it the way forward or a cheap cash grab?
Physical DLC. Since 2011 we have had Spyro and his band of merry creatures visiting us yearly with new sets and figures, all the while adding new game mechanics. But what is physical DLC? For the sake of this little ramble, I’ll be discussing three types of physical DLC, games which use figures to enhance their gaming experience.
When Disney Infinity was released, it was largely dismissed as a desperate attempt to get a piece of the “use-figures-to-play-games” pie. By then, Skylanders had a pretty firm stranglehold on the market and refused to let up. Add to that the fact that, save for a few fan favourites like Jack Sparrow or Mr Incredible, the characters they chose to represent it weren’t exactly A-listers to anyone over the age of five. For a while, it seemed like it was a swing and a miss for Disney.
But then the great Marvel-Disney merger happened. And with it, came Disney Infinity 2.0. Blazing back with a flurry of suckerpunches delivered by both The Avengers and the (at the time, unknown) Guardians of The Galaxy, supported by new and far more timeless characters, such as Aladdin, Tinkerbell, Stitch and Maleficent to name a small amount, people stopped and paid attention.
However this glorious counterattack wasn’t the total knockout Disney might have desired. Unlike the Skylanders franchise where its games had an arcing storyline, the Disney Infinity experience was very much segmented. Their figures were released individually or in three packs, with two characters and a crystal clear level pack. Placing them on the portal would open up specific levels with quests to complete and storylines to follow. However, they are extremely specific to the characters that would inhabit those worlds (and not, in some places), meaning many characters, especially in Disney Infinity 2.0, can only be used in the Toy Box.
And the Toy Box is what sets it apart from the other games of this ilk. You are able to create your own sprawling levels, filled with vehicles and made exactly how you wanted. Or go online and take your figures into the levels made by other players!
However one aspect Disney Infinity has over the other physical DLC games is its Power Discs. Sold in blind bags, they offer up a wealth of in-game bonuses you otherwise may not be able to access. They offer up “Sparks” needed to level up, different themes and patterns for your created worlds and even vehicles! You can even place some of them underneath characters to unlock different costumes, such as Spiderman’s Black Suit or turning the Hulk grey.
When I started my temp position at a game store last Xmas, I admittedly didn’t know a thing about Skylanders. “Oh, that Spyro thing with the figures?” was the extent of my knowledge. But I had to learn fast as the flurry of mothers, accompanied by their children, asked for “Traps” or level packs. I learned and eventually became so well versed that I took the plunge myself and bought a portal, one of the earlier games and a handful of figures.
Skylanders essentially plays like a deceptively deep platformer. Older gamers are unlikely to find much to challenge them but if you have a younger sibling or relative, it can quite happily keep them occupied. You place your chosen skylander onto your portal and the character instantly loads, ready to play. Destroying enemies yields cash which can be used to unlock more abilities for your character, many of whom have branching paths. You’ll follow the storyline, meeting more and more characters. However, without a massive selection of characters, you’ll only experience part of the full package. Skylanders come in many varieties and with each incarnation of the games, more features and variants are added. Each Skylander has its own element and you’ll run into literal walls that prevent you reaching extra cash for upgrades or special unlocked moves for characters. Another aspect of the diabolically clever game is that you can unlock moves for characters that you do not have. The game then offers to show you a trailer for the character you dont have, a fiendishly clever way to have children know EXACTLY who they want for their birthday and or xmas. Add to this the need for “Giant” Skylanders to unlock certain sections and you may miss huge sections of game if you didnt pick wisely.
Add to this the newer variations such as swap force and trap teams and you’ll soon find you’re paying out for the privilege of experiencing the full extent of your game. A fun aspect is that with each figure, your stats are saved onto the figure, meaning you can take them to a friend’s house and continue with them. The Trap Team introduces “Traps” which you use to capture boss level monster, unattainable anywhere else. However you can only have one boss per trap meaning you’ll need quite a few and a wide selection to fully appreciate it.
At time of writing I had only played Skylanders Giants, but it was an enjoyable enough romp.
Not content to sit back and not innovate, Nintendo are keen to get in on the action with their range of physical DLC, the Amiibos. Compatible with the Wii-U and the New 3DS (launched at time of writing), the Amiibos are figures which can both store and unlock extra content, much like Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
Represented by the Nintendo All-stars, or the entire cast of Smash Brothers, the Amiibo offer a nice figure of your favourite Nintendo character. From Mario and Yoshi to the Wii fit Trainer, Meta Knight, Little Mac or even Shulk, you can store Smash Brothers data with your unlocked abilities and equipment to take it to a friends house and smash them. In other games, you can unlock costumes, skins based on your character, use them in Mario Kart to unlock Race suits or even unlock them as playable characters in specific games.
While they do not have a game they are tied to specifically, Amiibo are perhaps the purest form of literal physical DLC. The more the range of games on the New 3DS and Wii U grows, the more functionality we will see from these versatile figures and with the announcement of a new range coming to coincide with Mario Party 10, it looks like the Amiibos are here for a while to come.
So how do you feel about games that come with figures? Exploitative to younger gamers or a great collector’s item? Evil genius or just a bit of innovation? Let us know in the comments below how you feel about the issue.