Technology

Skylanders Trap Team takes toy-enhanced game to tablets

Skylanders
Image caption The tablet can be slotted into the side of the "portal" base to keep it upright

Activision has announced that for the first time it is releasing one of the main games in its Skylanders series for tablets as well as consoles.

The tablet app is free, but must be paired with a new version of the publisher's add-on Traptanium Portal base to access the whole game.

As with other titles in the series, extra content and powers are unlocked by placing Skylanders toys on the base.

The US publisher pioneered the "toys-to-life" genre in 2011.

Since then, the franchise's games and figurines have generated more than $2bn (£1.2bn) worth of sales.

But the company is now facing growing competition from Disney's Infinity game, which is about to release Marvel playsets featuring characters that appeared in its Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Lego and Nintendo have also announced plans to release their own "smart toys", which will interact with their respective video game franchises.

Activision said the iPad, Android and Kindle Fire versions of Skylanders Trap Team would offer the same contents and level of graphics found on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game when they are all released in October.

Image caption The tablet starter pack will cost the same as the console edition

"This looks like a really smart move, both in terms of strengthening the Skylanders brand against rivals and also for the way it targets the young market that is predominantly gaming on tablet devices," commented Guy Cocker, a video games writer for Wired and T3 magazines.

"It's good that existing toys work with the tablets, but having to buy another portal is asking quite a lot of parents who've probably already bought other versions.

"Skylanders is a great game, but I worry about how much it costs parents over time."

Games controller

Skylanders figurines feature radio-frequency identification chips in their stands, which allow them to interact with the portal, which acts as a RFID reader/writer.

In addition to unlocking in-game content, the figurines can also be used to store data. This allows players to save progress, take the toy to a friend's home, and then continue playing using a separate device.

The tablet version of the portal connects to the touchscreen computers via Bluetooth, unlike the console versions that use a USB cable or special dongle.

Image caption Disney is releasing Guardians of the Galaxy toys for its rival Infinity video game

The new base also includes a detachable games pad designed for the size of a child's hands to allow them precision control.

But the title can also be played using touch controls that appear on the tablets' screens when the game pad is turned off.

The portal will be sold as part of a starter pack costing £65 that also includes two Skylanders toys and two "traps", which can be used to capture in-game enemies that can subsequently be played with.

A further two characters are built into the app, so that it can be used even when not connected to the base.

However, parents are likely to come under pressure to buy more figurines to open up extra areas in the game and add powers.

Skylanders Trap Team introduces more than 50 new playable characters bringing the total to more than 225, each costing £9 or more.

Console alternative

The toys have proved to be a valuable commodity to Activision.

The California-based company announced in February that it had sold 175 million figures.

Earlier this month, it boasted that its Swap Force line-up of Skylanders characters were outselling Hasbro's Transformers and Star Wars toys as well as all other ranges of action figures in North America.

Image caption Activision says tablets will offer the same quality of graphics as last-generation consoles

Extending the series to tablets offers the firm the opportunity to boost sales further.

"We know we have a huge audience of kids that are gaming almost exclusively on tablets," Paul Reiche, president and co-founder of Toys for Bob - the studio that developed the game - told the BBC.

"I feel like this is a legitimate audience for us to address. We really wanted to make sure that we could invest and give a complete 'triple-A' [big budget] choice that is one-to-one with our consoles."

This is not, however, the first Skylanders game for mobile devices.

Activision has released three prior titles that allowed players to unlock content by typing in a code included in the toys' packaging, paying in-app fees or using an earlier Bluetooth portal for iOS devices that Activision says is incompatible with the forthcoming release.

However, these games were more shallow than the console releases and were marketed as spin-offs.

Media captionWATCH: Nintendo showed off its forthcoming amiibo toys in June

One industry watcher noted that this was the first time players would not need a console to play one of the series' core titles.

"It might be considerably more expensive than a normal tablet game - with the starter pack price - but it could be seen as a bargain by parents who now don't have to buy a new games console for their kid," said Rik Henderson, senior editor at the tech reviews site Pocket-lint.

"It's portable too, so could keep younger kids entertained on holidays. And because [most tablets have] HDMI or screen mirroring technologies, they can also play the game on a big screen anyway."

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