Skylanders: Trap Team
Skylanders has grown from a curiosity into a $2 billion dollar enterprise in a matter of only three years. With three major AAA releases on console, handheld iterations, mobile experiences, and merchandising, the franchise has grown into a pillar of Activision's business.
This year, Vicarious Visions, the studio behind last year's Skylanders: Swap Force, is building its most ambitious game yet. Instead of a companion handheld game or casual mobile iteration, the Albany, NY studio is adapting the full Skylanders: Trap Team experience for tablets.
In order to make this work, Vicarious Visions knew that touch controls weren't going to cut it for many gamers. The studio was given permission to develop its own fully featured bluetooth controller compatible with smaller hands. More importantly, Activision has found a way to bundle the game, portal (which doubles as a tablet stand), and controller for $74.99 (the same price as this year's console pack).
The tablet version features co-op and graphics that are comparable with the Wii or Xbox 360/PS3 iterations, depending on your tablet's power. Activision won't be selling additional Bluetooth controllers though, you'll have to buy a third-party solution from MOGA, Razer, or one of the other companies selling them.
The Bluetooth controller is impressive. It's comfortable even for my adult hands, and pairs with one touch to the portal and tablet. When not in use, it stores in the underside of the portal. Most importantly, is that it's compatible on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices (the three platforms on which Trap Team will appear). Toys and traps work just like they do in the console version, and as always, the plastic figures are compatible across platforms.
Touch controls are an option, and kick in when the Bluetooth controller is turned off. The virtual thumbstick appears wherever your thumb falls, so resetting to center is as simple as lifting and dropping your thumb.
There is even an option to play without the portal. The mobile app, which is free (giving those who don't buy a chance to experience the beginning as a demo), includes two characters: Instant Snap Shot and Instant Food Fight. These level up independent of a physical toy and offer a way to progress without having all of the companion accessories. Two virtual traps are also included
Activision does not intend to sell more instant characters as in-app purchases. "There is so much value, and it's such a well-established play pattern playing with action figures, that removing that pulls a tremendous amount of value out of the game," an Activision representative told us.
Activision has been cautious about its push into mobile, and some of its experiments haven't been terribly successful. Call of Duty: Strike Team wasn't the finely tuned experience players expect from the brand (and studio Blast Furnace was later shuttered). Skylanders Battlegrounds, Vicarious Visions' last mobile toys-to-life attempt was a bit hollow.
Both developer and publisher seem to have learned from those missteps, resulting in a tablet experience that doesn't feel like it's on a mobile device. Console-quality games on tablets have been done before, with 2K Games' XCOM: Enemy Unknown setting a high bar. However, Activision has accomplished it content complete, day-and-date with living room versions.
Because the controller is platform agnostic and the app is free, retailers only need to carry a single mobile SKU. The recipe is in place for success, and if the market bears out the gamble, this could have significant ramifications for the future of mobile gaming. If sales are there, expect more publishers to try to replicate the success, and if more bluetooth controllers get off shelves and into hands, the risk is significantly reduced.
Regardless of what you think of Skylanders, this accomplishment is worth noting (especially since the game plays quite well in this format). Whether consumers will agree is something we'll find out come October 5. Skylanders: Trap Team will also be releasing on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Wii, and 3DS.
Skylanders: Trap Team is compatible with iPad (3rd generation, 4th generation, Air, Mini Retina), Kindle Fire HDX (7" and 8.9"), Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (8.4", 10.1", 12.2"), Samsung Galaxy Tab S (8.4", 10.5"), and Samsung Galaxy Note (10.1", 12.2")