As the huge doors of the Koelnmesse convention centre in Cologne open for Gamescom publishers jostle for headlines. Activision drew first blood today with their announcement of Skylanders Trap Team coming to tablet devices and a slew of new characters.
Unlike previous mobile offerings, this is a full Skylanders Trap Team experience that matches the console versions feature for feature (and price). It's a savvy move that properly crosses over the full adventure from the likes of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 to the tablet audience.
A new Bluetooth controller comes in the Skylanders Starter Pack for tablets. This gets around the often vague touch controls other tablet games struggle with. Not only that but the special tablet version of the Portal includes a slot for the tablet screen so you can play hands-free and can store the controller underneath when not in use.
Young players will appreciate being able to play Skylanders in their room as well as on the move. Parents will benefit by getting the big screen back for other uses in the lounge.
The tablet pack will be released the same day and date as the console game. It will support all 175 of the existing Skylanders and come with two new Skylanders characters and two Traps. From time playing the game it looks equivalent to the Xbox 360 version in terms of visuals and features, it even supports multiplayer - with a second official controller or another third party option.
Interview with Skylanders Studio Heads Paul Reiche and Karthik Bala
One potential issue is that the game will retail at the same price (around £52.99) as the full console version. Add the cost of a few figures to the starter pack and this quickly becomes one of the most expensive tablet games of recent years. Some families will find this too much to swallow, however this does underlining the console equivalent experience offered in the tablet app.
Battery life is another hot topic for families, and was previously stated as the reason for moving to wired Portals on the console games. Some new technology has helped here as Studio Head Karthik Bala underlined when I spoke to him. "This is the first Bluetooth Low Energy gamepad, which means that the portal will last eight hours and the controller longer".
This is a considerable Ace to keep in the hand for Activision. Previously it had been Disney Infinity taking the initiative with extended support for its Toy Box modes on both PC and iPad devices. With this announcement, its ongoing support for the Wii and upgrade path to Wii U, Skylanders Trap Team takes the lead again in terms of enabling players to experience the game in full on the technology they already own.
It's here in the tablet market that other competitors have been encroaching on Activision's Toys to Life genre with considerable success. Rovio has leveraged its ever popular Angry Birds brand along with Telepods toys to cash in on the toy-game cross over.
The tablet version of Trap Team with its physical controller certainly lays down the gauntlet. It also signals where the real heartland is for family gamers now. This considerable development investment must surely outstrip the investment in the 3DS version, and still absent Vita edition of the game. It seems likely that we will see previous versions of Skylanders coming to tablets before long too, although Bala wouldn't be drawn on specifics.
The next challenge for developer Vicarious Visions will be to extend the list of devices the game supports. Currently a target set of hardware has been published, happily the portal and controllers are compatible across platforms:
- 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 offering is rounded off by the ability to play on the go without the portal. Here you use two "Instant" special characters to progress rather than toys from your collection. This also provides a free taster option without buying the Starter Pack, although limited to the first few levels.
In addition to the mobile version there were also new Skylanders Trap Master characters revealed today, Bushwhack and Head Rush. There were also a range of Skylanders Minis shown off that offer a new way to play the game for youngsters who like collecting in miniature.
Skylanders Trap Team will be released on October 5 in the US and October 10 in the UK.