Gamescom 2014: Skylanders Trap Team goes SERIOUSLY mobile
The Skylanders franchise is no stranger to mobile iterations, but to date those versions have been smaller spin-offs that have opted to play it safe. Eschewing full console ports in favour of touchscreen-friendly controls, and gameplay styles that fit with that particular input method, the Skylanders mobile offerings have never been much to write home about. Development team Vicarious Visions has helmed the mobile versions of Skylanders, but have also been behind the 3DS release of Spyro’s Adventure and the Wii U version of Skylanders Giants. Insofar as mobile versions are concerned, Vicarious has always been held back by limited hardware.
With the latest tablet versions on the market getting comparatively close to last-generation console processing power, Vicarious Visions is no longer limited. So that’s one hurdle cleared in the race for a true mobile version of the Skylanders franchise. The last remaining hurdle? The series’ main hook: getting toys into game worlds. That final hurdle, it seems, has just been cleared with athletic sure-footedness.
For the upcoming Skylanders Trap Team, Vicarious Visions and developer Toys for Bob are bringing the full console version of Trap Team to mobile tablets. That means a new retail offering with an exclusive tablet version of the now synonymous Portal of Power. If it sounds like a money-making gambit based on yet another mobile cash-in, rest assured that it isn’t. Skylanders Trap Team is going SERIOUSLY mobile.
The full Skylanders Trap Team experience is coming to iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices complete with its own Portal of Power, which has been dubbed the Traptanium Portal. Sticking with the game’s main philosophy of “it must just work”, a new mobile Skylanders Trap Team Tablet Starter Pack will work with whichever tablet you’re using; there’s no proprietary connectivity that’s normally found in the larger consoles, which means Vicarious Visions and Toys for Bob are able to use good old Bluetooth tech.
The new mobile portal looks similar to what we’ve come to expect, and it hasn’t been shrunken down so as to still fit with the collection of 175 Skylanders figurines. It’s completely backwards compatible, which means players will be able to use their levelled-up Skylanders from previous games, in the mobile version of Trap Team. Naturally, this new mobile Traptanium Portal has the required trap slot, which is the upcoming game’s new hook.
So we have a new portable Portal that links with iOS, Android and Amazon Fire devices, but that’s only half of what’s so cool. The other half lies in the hardware itself: flip the Traptanium Portal over, and you’ll find a full wireless controller nestled neatly into the base. Pop it out and you’ve got a dual-stick, wireless controller for use with the game. The controller itself is slightly smaller than what one would be used to on a normal console, but Vicarious Visions and Toys for Bob are maintaining that the controller was designed with kids in mind. That being said, I handled it myself and found it rather comfortable, but I do have spindly girl hands so perhaps I’m not the best judge? Any adult with massive sausage fingers and Wreck-it-Ralph sized fists will battle to use this. Good thing then that the game can be played with any other tablet compatible controller. Up to two controllers can pair at once, which means two-player co-op is no problem in this mobile version.
Another clever addition to the Traptanium Portal is its built-in tablet stand. On the left of the portal there’s a notched slot that will allow you to stand your tablet up so that you’re free to use both hands on the controller. It’s such a simple addition, but the benefit to the player is massive. It’s also stable enough to take a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro – all 12.2” of it.
As for the game itself, literally the entire Skylanders Trap Team console experience is here. There is no downscaling to make way for more modest hardware (although older iPads will take a visual knock); there are no corners being cut. The power of contemporary tablets means that the mobile version of Sklanders Trap Team is on par with the previous generation console versions. Expect PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 levels of detail here, and that in itself is phenomenal.
How will this all be packaged? Activision is bringing a Tablet Starter Pack to market, which will include the special Traptanium Portal with nested wireless controller. It’ll include a Water Trap and a Life Trap, as well as figurines for Food Fight and Snap Shot, who is one of the new eponymous Trap Team members. There’s no game included and no download code. You simply pickup this mobile platform agnostic Starter Pack and then head onto your mobile App store of choice where you’ll find the game available to download. That download is free. Initially it’ll be about 1GB to download, which will give you access to the first part of the game. Then, as you play, the remaining portions of the game will download in the background. It’s designed to get kids in and playing as fast as possible.
So if the game is a free download on Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire stores, what’s stopping anyone from downloading it without owning a Tablet Starter Pack? Nothing, and in fact you’ll be able to play the first part of the game without any Skylanders hardware. The game has full touch controls built into the app, as well as two digital versions of Skylanders characters for you to use. The thinking goes that by allowing people to check out the core mechanics of the game, it might prompt them to head out and buy a Tablet Starter Pack. Once that happens and a Traptanium Portal pairs with your tablet and the app, then it begins to download the remainder of the game for you to continue.
Insofar as minimum tablet specs are concerned you’ll need at least a third generation iPad, but expect to see some graphical downscaling on an iPad that old. Later editions of iPads will look considerably better; I saw this played on an iPad Mini and it looked as good as any Skylanders I’ve seen on last-generation consoles. The full list of compatible tablets follow:
Apple iPad 3rd Generation, iPad 4th Generation, iPad Mini Retina, iPad Air
Kindle Fire HDX (7” & 8.9”)
Google Nexus 7 (2013)
Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (8.4”, 10.1”, 12.2”)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S (8.4”, 10.5”)
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014), Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
The Tablet Starter Pack will be available on 10 October 2014 when the console versions of Trap Team launch as well. It has a suggested retail price of $79.99 so expect this to be around the R1, 000.00 mark once it hits South Africa.
I must admit that this impressed the hell out of me when it was shown off yesterday. Despite the added Trap mechanic the game itself is nothing new, but the amount of thought that has gone into the hardware for the tablet version of Trap Team is what truly caught my attention. It’s just clever – so very, very clever, and I’m a sucker for clever.