Mari, one of two Lightseekers races available at launch in July.
Lightseekers isn't another toys-to-life game. It's got gorgeous articulated figures that talk, vibrate and evolve, powered by a mini-computer. They play in a Diablo-esque mobile adventure and are augmented by a massive standalone trading card game. It's very impressive, but are people going to buy it?
Don't even say "toys-to-life" around a member of PlayFusion, the employee-owned independent game developer and publisher that debuted Lightseekers as a successful Kickstarter last year. During a presentation held at the Tomy booth during the 2017 New York Toy Fair this weekend I was corrected several times. The term they prefer is "connected play."
It makes sense that PlayFusion would want to distance itself from the "toys-to-life" term. It brings to mind games like Activision's Skylanders, which is taking a year off in 2017 following declining sales of recent installments, and Disney Infinity, which was cancelled in 2016 after three years of success. Both of those franchises features toys that were essentially colourful statues, the characters of which only came to life in their respective games when placed on portal devices connected to game consoles or mobile devices.
Lightseekers toys are definitely not statues.
Tyrax, the other Lightseeker race available at launch.
Lightseeker toys are large (18cm tall), detailed and fully articulated. These are toys you can pose and play with outside of the game. They talk, reacting to the way they are held or moved. They vibrate when damage is taken, full-range LEDs fading slowly from green to red.
The toys feature interchangeable accessories (sold separately) that not only make them look cooler, but augment their abilities. Snap the Spinblade 3000 weapon to Tyrax, and it appears in his claws in the Lightseekers game. Attach a flight pack and an all-new set of flying mini-games is unlocked, in which the player can control in-game movement by physically manipulating the character.
A Tyrax battles in the Lightseekers game.
When PlayFusion says the Lightseekers are powered by a mini-computer, they mean a mini-computer. They call it a FusionCore, and it features a dual ARM CPU, 16MB of memory, a speaker, an accelerometer, a motor and a rechargeable battery. The FusionCore is inserted into a toy to control and connect it. The FusionCore is built with forward compatibility in mind, with the ability to have new features added via wireless updates.
The Lightseekers Fusion Core.
The Lightseekers game proper runs on tablets and other mobile devices — there are no plans to bring the game to consoles. It's a free action role-playing game that the official website says offers "thousands of hours of repeatable gameplay." While some content will be locked unless characters wield specific weapon types or accessories, for the most part it will be free to explore and conquer.
It looks to be a rather deep game, filled with abilities to unlock, talent trees to climb, equipment to uncover and enhance and combo-driven action-RPG combat. I talked to some beta testers at the event who likened it to Blizzard's Diablo, which is a good thing to be likened to.
Along with the toys and the game, PlayFusion and Tomy are also launching a Lightseekers trading card game.
Demoing the game at the Lightseekers event, next to a wall of cards.
The card game will launch with some 385 different cards, each one boasting augmented reality features activated within the video game and special one-time bonus spells, boosts or combat pets. In the card game, players choose a hero, equip items and use cards to determine how their hero fights and reacts to their opponents' attacks.
Here's a video of the card game in action.
So Lightseekers is toys, a video game, a card game . . . what else? During the demonstration a Lightseekers comic book was interfaced with the mobile game, one of the panels coming to life as an augmented reality mini-game. Future plans include creating videos with embedded cues that cause the mobile game to react while being viewed.
Lightseekers is an incredibly ambitious project with tons of potential, but there's one big hurdle PlayFusion and partner Tomy have to jump first — getting the game, toys and cards into players' hands.
The Mari are adorable. I was told that the cute blue race was preferred by male testers, while female testers preferred the Tyrax, which is both odd and wonderful.
No matter how much they say "connected play," parents and gamers are going to look at a game where a toy becomes an in-game character and think "toys-to-life," and toys-to-life hasn't been having a good run lately. Perhaps the fact that Lightseekers is only launching with figures from two of the game's playable races instead of flooding shelves with dozens of new characters will help. Or maybe consumers will wonder where all of the other characters are (I've seen a couple of the upcoming additions, and they're quite cool.) It's hard to say.
Then there's the price of entry. A starter kit, featuring a character, a FusionCore and some accessories will retail for $US70 ($91) when they go on sale Saturday, July 1, with accessory packs priced at $US15 ($20). Individual figures will sell for less once released, since players won't need an addition FusionCore mini-computer. The card game starter decks will be $US20 ($26), with a $US30 ($39) two-player pack also available.
$US70 ($91) is a pretty big ask for a new, unfamiliar "connected play" system, but Lightseekers has several points in its favour. The toys are extraordinary. The concept is several steps above anything we've seen in the genre it doesn't want to be associated with. And Lightseekers' has Toys'R'Us on its side, which means it will make big noise at launch in the world's most popular toy store.
Lightseekers packaging also features augmented realty. Players can use their mobile device at the store to see the packaging come to life. But don't call it "packaging-to-life." It's "connected packaging."
With an ambitious game plan, amazing toys and the support of the biggest toy retailer going, Lightseekers could be a huge holiday hit this year. Or it could just be a very cool thing that arrives with a bang and goes out with a whimper. We'll find out soon enough — Lightseekers go up for preorder exclusively at Toys'R'Us on April 15, with a July 1 launch date.