As it says above, I’m a day late and several dollars short on this one.
It’s a crazy thing: I came up with this idea several months ago, and I tried shopping it around in the hopes that maybe someone would pick it up. Sadly, no one ever did, and the next thing I know, we’ve got an announcement.
The funny thing is, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, either. I called DuckTales Remastered and SEGA’s Castle of Illusion remake just before they were announced in one of my final articles for 1UP, one that would never be posted as that was around the same time the site was closed by Ziff-Davis in favor of IGN.
Still, as the saying goes, “waste not, want not.” I already a bunch of work on the following article anyway, so I figured that I might as well run it.
Note on the images: These were more or less conceptual, insomuch as I was hoping that if someone did want to pay for this, we might be able to get some custom art done. As it is, the following contains a hodgepodge of promotional art and figure shots combined with “stands” made by Tabby at my request.
In 2011, Toys for Bob and Activision turned the gaming world on its head with the release of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure for numerous systems, including the Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, Windows, and more. Implementing a novel “Toys to Life” system into the game, players could choose which characters– each with their own unique traits and special abilities– they wanted to use in the game by placing a real-world toy on a special reader, thus “bringing the toys to life,” in a manner of speaking.
To say that the venture was successful would be an understatement. By December the following year, more than $500 million in sales were recorded in the U.S. alone, with over 30 million toys sold by the end of March 2012. These numbers were enough to allow it to topple the king of the action figure aisle, the Star Wars line produced by Hasbro. Naturally, as Activision is wont to do when something takes off, sequels were greenlit while they cashed in on the craze with various other forms of licensed merchandise.
Speaking of Star Wars, however, the owner– or rather, the then-future owner of the franchise was not sitting idly by. Disney had been working on their own version of the idea since 2010, and whereas Skylanders was an all-original cast anchored somewhat by the one-time Insomniac Games character Spyro the Dragon, Disney’s version was ready to take advantage of their vast catalog of classic cartoon stars, from Mickey Mouse to Phineas and Ferb to Wreck-It Ralph to the cast of Frozen and more.
2014’s release of Disney Infinity 2.0 further solidified the line, not only with more new and classic Disney characters, but also by leveraging their more recent acquisition of Marvel Comics. In addition to mainstays such as Spider-Man, the full roster of heroes from the hit 2012 film The Avengers are featured prominently, with the cast of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy being added as well. Meanwhile, hints at the inclusion of Star Wars and Indiana Jones from Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm have been teased for some sort of 2015 release.
If all this weren’t enough, even Nintendo has gotten in on the action with their line of amiibo figures. Launched alongside Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Nintendo seems pleased by the reception to these physical miniature figures of their biggest characters. While fans have been pulling their hair out and literally (in the figurative sense, of course) bringing GameStop’s system to its knees, Nintendo is going full speed ahead with new Super Mario, Splatoon, and Yarn Yoshi versions of the hit figures.
With all of the bank being made by this new hybrid subgenre of video games and merchandise, I couldn’t help but notice that one company has been oddly conspicuous by both its absence and its silence during all of this: Warner Bros.
Over the years, there has always been a sort of rivalry that’s been all but unspoken between Disney and Warner Bros., Mickey Mouse vs. Bugs Bunny in a manner of speaking. Interestingly enough, with the exception of the recent Infinity fortunes, WB has excelled where Disney has faltered in the video game marketplace. And if there is any company out there that can go blow for blow with Disney when it comes to a list of intellectual property to take advantage of, it’s Warner Bros.
While Nintendo has a killer pantheon of video game characters, WB has a catalog of characters spanning all media that is second to none, with the possible exception of Disney. With so much in their archives to take advantage of and a strong video game division to back it up, one can only speculate as to why they’ve not thrown their hat into the ring of Toy to Life gaming.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the possibilities which lay at their fingertips.
There were those who cringed when Disney purchased Marvel, but at the same time, something just felt right about it, too. That’s because Warner Bros. has owned DC Comics for a number of years, using the ideas found within to produce numerous movies, video games, cartoons, and more. So naturally, with Disney flying the banner of Marvel and the Avengers for their second go-round in the genre, it would only make sense for Warner to respond in kind with the Distinguished Competition and the Justice League– especially with Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice looming on the horizon.
When it comes to major motion pictures, most fans see Marvel as the winner, while such shows as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman Beyond, Young Justice, and more have seen DC declared the victor on television. Pit the two on a level playing field in Toy to Life video games, and who comes out the winner? With any luck, the consumer.
Of course, that’s not all– not by a long shot.
As noted before, where Disney has Mickey, Warner Bros. has Bugs, and where Disney has Donald, WB has Daffy.
After that, the match-ups start to fall apart a bit, but the point is nonetheless clear: Where Disney has its line of classic cartoon characters, Warner Bros. has Looney Tunes– a more powerful brand in name alone. Sure, they were named in a fashion after Disney’s own “Silly Symphonies,” but good luck finding anyone outside of a hardcore Disney/cartoon history buff who would recognize the latter brand.
Those aren’t the only classics they own, however.
In 1996, the merger between Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting saw the latter’s 1991 acquisition of Hanna-Barbera become a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Animation, eventually absorbed into the parent company in 2001. So in addition to their own home-grown library of cartoon characters, Warner Bros. also has such characters as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw/El Kabong, and Tom and Jerry to draw from. Not to mention Scooby-Doo, whose popularity has been evergreen for many years now, including the recently concluded Mystery Incorporated cartoon.
An Infinity-styled Toy to Life game could potentially offer up tons of crossover opportunities, including a reunion of one of the most infamous, The Flintstones Meet The Jetsons. Like Scooby and the others, both are Hanna-Barbera creations which now reside within the Warner Bros. family.
Even if that particular pairing doesn’t grab you, it does highlight a larger issue for WB to take advantage of. For whatever reason, Disney has been keen to keep their properties as segregated as possible in the Disney Infinity games, with the exception of their Toy Box mode. Even in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes, your options are limited by which heroes can play together. For example, while Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor can all hang out and intermingle as Avengers, Spider-Man has to remain off in his own little corner, despite… well, constantly crossing paths with the Avengers, and even being an Avenger in the comics.
But Warner Bros.? They love a good crossover, mash-up, tea party, or what have you. They’ve been doing this sort of thing for years, from the aforementioned Jetsons/Flintstones movie to the Laff-A-Lympics and beyond. Superman & Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo Meets Batman… nothing is really off-limits.
Not even, say, the Scooby-Doo gang meeting Johnny Bravo. Speaking of which…
In addition to the older classics, the Hanna-Barbera lot also includes Cartoon Network’s Cartoon Cartoons series. Besides Johnny Bravo, other choice picks include Dexter’s Laboratory, Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Samurai Jack, Time Squad, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and many more, as well as The Powerpuff Girls, which is in the process of being rebooted for 2016.
For an older crowd, the Hanna-Barbera library also includes some vintage action-oriented fare in the likes of Thundarr the Barbarian, Space Ghost, and Birdman. While the former might hold some relevance to a younger crowd already through being parodied on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the latter two have interesting added potential thanks to their more recent runs on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
Suffice to say, though, that not everything with potential for a “WB Infinity” comes from Hanna-Barbera (though clearly, a lot does). Otherwise, it would be more of a “Hanna-Barbera Infinity,” wouldn’t it?
They’re tiny, they’re toony, they’re all a little looney, and in recent years, this cartoony has been released on DVD. Besides crossing over nicely with the Looney Tunes figures, Babs and Buster Bunny (no relation) would have plenty to do with other characters such as Plucky Duck and Montana Max against a backdrop such as Acme Looniversity.
Of course, if I’m reaching for that bit of 90’s nostalgia, then you know it’s time for…
…Animaniacs! Arguably the more timeless and clever of the two toons, the Warner Bros. and the Warner Sister, Dot, have lots of potential play patterns as they run around the Warner movie lot. Just think about it: Anything named in this article could be a “movie” for the trio, making them the ultimate characters for crossing over into any other property the game can throw at you. Anarchy rules supreme.
Similarly, Pinky and the Brain’s plotting to take over the world is pretty flexible as well, depending on how zany you want to get with them. Will they conquer the world, or find themselves having to save it?
Making things a little more interesting is that outside of the Marvel Comics properties, most of the Disney Infinity characters hail from movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, The Lone Ranger, Brave, Toy Story, and so forth. Meanwhile, aside from the DC Universe, we haven’t even touched the movie properties Warner Bros. has at its disposal.
The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Pacific Rim, Gremlins… each loaded with potential.
What’s more, many of Warner’s properties arguably surpass Disney’s in another unique way they could take advantage of: Awesome rides.
From the high tech Batmobile to the low-tech Flintstones car, or somewhere in between with the likes of the Mystery Machine, Warner Bros. has numerous iconic vehicles at their disposal, allowing them to expand their gameplay– and toy merchandising, of course– beyond what Disney is likely to come up with to justify such an expansion.
For all the different potential properties listed here, there are also so many more that Warner Bros. could tap for a Toys to Life game. ThunderCats? Original or 2011 version, take your pick. Captain Planet, Swat Kats, Johnny Quest, Ben 10, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Megas XLR, Steven Universe… the truth is, we could be here all day listing properties that Warner Bros. could tap for such a game.
Heck, they even have an advantage that Disney can’t easily match. While all of this is talking about WB characters that could be in a video game, we haven’t even looked at video game characters. Most of their games are licensed, but they do have the vast majority of the Midway library they acquired in 2009, as well as their own Maxwell from Scribblenauts, who might even be able to tie the entire concept together. Not that they’d really need to go there, but they could if they wanted to.
In conclusion, it can not only be described as bizarre that Warner Bros. hasn’t entered the Toy to Life business yet, but even suspect. As demonstrated here, they simply have far too much intellectual property that they can take advantage of, reaching back decades, for them not to do any such thing with it. Warner Bros. entering this business seems more like an eventuality than anything.
Of course, just before the weekend hit, so did the following trailer:
While I knew that Warner Bros. must have plans to get into the Toys to Life gaming business, I did not expect them to do so in such a way. Of course, it makes perfect sense: They’ve been partnering with Traveller’s Tales for quite some time now to make LEGO video games, to say nothing of the success of The LEGO Movie.
What’s more, while we’re getting some of what I talked about above– The Lord of the Rings, for example, and Batman with the Batmobile– there are other LEGO properties as well, such as Back to the Future (which, for me, makes this an instant win over what I came up with). The toys are not only likely to be cheaper to produce than a Skylander, Disney Infinity, or amiibo character, but it’s also tied with an iconic toy brand as well. On that same note, if they did want to include any more of the above characters, doing so through a small LEGO block set is probably a much cheaper way to go about it on the toy side of things, too.
It’s win-win for them. Besides making money off of other companies’ properties, should things ever break down between them and LEGO… well, as you can see, they’ve got plenty of their own ideas to fall back on.