Skylanders is getting smaller, by going bigger

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There have been a number of ways that Activision has tried to make the universally successful Skylanders make the jump to mobile, with varying degrees of success.  The question that has hitherto remained unanswered is how do you translate the full Skylanders experience to mobile? That question has finally been answered.

For the first time ever, Skylanders will be getting a mobile version of the game day and date with the console releases – but it has a lot more in common with them this time than just a release date. At a private meeting before gamescom,  handful of us were ushered in to  tiny room, and shown the future of Skylanders as it pertains to portability. And it’s rather bright indeed.

Like the console versions, the mobile version of Skylanders Trap Team will be met at retail with a starter kit, containing the necessary Traptanium Portal, two Skylander figures, and an equal number of baddy-trapping Traptanium crystals. It’s not an ersatz Skylanders though; it is indeed the full version of the game – a bona fide 1:1 port of the game, just on mobile. But how does a game like that work with touch controls? Well, they’re not necessary, you see. Hidden within the base of game’s portal of power is a controller, with all the buttons, bells and whistles you’d expect; twin sticks analogues, a d-pad, shoulder buttons.

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And it’s comfortable too, with perfectly set dead-zones, and all the other sorts of refinements that the folks from Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions are known for being sticklers for. It’s packing some neat tech. Powered by just two AAA batteries, it utilises Bluetooth Low energy – which is a smart sort of Bluetooth that makes pairing a cinch. in fact it happens without you having to do anything but press a button on the controller while the game is running . As it uses BLE, it means the controller can run for ages on just those batteries – but it does come with the caveat that it only works with Skylanders Trap Team. The game places no restrictions on only using those controllers, so will pair with third party controllers to allow for co-op, just like the game proper.

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How on earth two people share one little screen? There’s an answer to that question too – as the new portal includes a mount that just about any tablet will slide in to, making it a whole Skylanders experience, wholly disconnected from the TV. Of course, one of the neat things about tablets is their portability, and here too there’s a clever answer for when the portal and the controller aren’t at arms reach. Not only will the game still be playable sans portal, but also without the controller. Without the portal, with which its necessary to pull those delightfully designed characters in to the game and bring them to life, the game uses a pre-set pair of characters that will always be available in an untethered form.

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Without the controller, a full set of contextual touch-based controls allow players (of all ages) to just pick up the game and play. The mobile versions will work across iOS, Android tablets and Amazon Fire ones too, all from the same starter pack. Not included in that pack? The game itself, which will be available from stores of choice as a free download – which even those who don’t buy the game will be able to download and play, in a limited capacity. It comes in at about 1Gb, and once you synch it with a portal of power, starts downloading the rest of the game on demand. hook up a new Skylander, and it’ll download his animations and details from the internet as its needed. The whole thing bridges the divide between the console and mobile versions of Skylanders – looking for all the world just like the Xbox 360 version of the game.

And honestly? It’s really impressive how it all comes together, thanks to how clevery designed and engineered it all is.  There’s an entire generation of gamers reared on tablet-based gaming, and for the first time, they’ll have a real console gaming experience in their tablet carrying hands. Plus, it keeps it all of the TV, so the kids (or you!) can play Skylanders while the wife watches 7de laan. It’s worth its weight in gold for that alone.

 

Last Updated: August 12, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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