When Activision first announced Skylanders, few realized how big the now $2 billion franchise would be. It, and its new rival, Disney Infinity, are great for all ages, but they are targeted more precisely at young players. Figurine modeler Jean Bey, who has an extensive history in miniature games, and his Hanakai Studio are blending is wonderfully detailed creations with a strategy RPG experience.
For anyone even the slightest bit familiar with other "toys to life" games, the language of figures interacting with a "portal" is commonplace. Prodigy adds a third component, cards that also feature near-field communication. These are used to trigger actions in the game, similar to the generic command cards used in Sony's Eye of Judgment on the PS3.
The portal isn't a simple surface like that of the youth-oriented games. Instead, it is a larger rectangle that is divided by underlighting into three rows of four spaces each. Figures come in two core varieties: larger guardians and humanoid watchers.
My demo consisted of a simple one-vs-one match that was stripped down to its core mechanics as a tech and basic gameplay demo. Each figure has an attack, defense, and special ability, all of which are activated by placing different cards on the game board.
In the full game, players will need to capture mana to power special abilities by maneuvering their guardians to randomly selected squares. Players will also be able to "reinforce" their side by swapping in different figures mid-battle. Most matches will use seven to nine miniatures on each side.
In addition to the competitive mode, Prodigy will have a full single-player RPG campaign. NPC interactions are also handled by the miniature and card selection. For instance, when engaging a neutral NPC, you might choose to be intimidating by using a warrior and an attack card. Alternatively, you might sneak past using an archer and the will card.
The RPG will feature persistence and growth for your collection. The figures will level up and learn new abilities throughout the adventure.
Bey tells us that the computer screen is simply an extension of the game board, and the mouse and keyboard will never be required. The digital version of the game is running on Unreal Engine 4 and looks stunning. The in-game models accurately reflect the detail and precision of gorgeous miniatures.
Prodigy is headed for a Kickstarter campaign beginning on April 2, and Bey says that when it arrives at retail, the Prodigy starter kit will be reasonably and comparably priced. It will include three miniatures, eight cards, and a ring of power used for simple functions in-game (as of now).
As a fan of Skylanders, the idea of a mature game featuring stunning miniatures appeals to me. I still need to see more, including a multiplayer game played with the full rule set and examples of how the single-player campaign will work in practice.
I'm sufficiently intrigued, even if the miniatures were simply shelf warmers (yes, they are that beautiful). We'll have more on Prodigy as its development progresses.