$75 For a Mobile Game? Skylanders Makes it Sound Worth It

Activision is taking an interesting gamble with Skylanders Trap Team: the same game is coming to console and mobile on the same day.

I don't play Skylanders. I don't have kids who play the game or collect the toys. But after seeing the next game in the series, Skylanders Trap Team, running on a tablet, I think I'm looking at the future.

That's not hyperbole. Activision is touting the game as the first title to launch simultaneously across both tablet and mobile, but this is a case where the tablet version doesn't noticeably differ from the version running on more powerful hardware. The mobile version of Trap Team will launch in stores with the same mix of figures and items, with the same backwards compatibility of all 175 existing Skylanders toys, and it's at the same price as the version on Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation. But the Bluetooth-enabled version of the game's Portal comes with a wireless (and also Bluetooth) controller that slots into the figurine reader's base, and there's a notch in the Portal for slotting in tablets to make them stand on their own.

Otherwise, it's the same game across all platforms, including mobile. Speaking with the game's developers and representatives from Activision as I tried out the game, I was told, "Pixel-for-pixel, what you're seeing here is the 360 content, assets, and visuals. It's the exact same content. There are no shortcuts. These are the same cinematics, the voiceover, the gameplay."

"This is day-and-date with the console launch, which isn't as easy as saying, 'Let's port over that game from seven years ago,' " I'm told when I compare the experience to BioShock on iOS, a game that had to make large concessions to run on a wide-range on both phones and tablets. "Normally, when you develop for tablet, you set a lowest common denominator trap, where you say, 'This is my list of devices, this is the baseline, and I need to get it to run on every device.' And you're really running on the operating system. ... What we've done is we're working with the device manufacturers and we're hand-optimizing this. It's a lot more work to be able to do that, but it means that we're making fewer concessions, if any. What you're seeing here, running on an iPad Mini Retina, is the same as what you get on 360."

And playing on the newest version of Apple's tablet, that statement is absolutely true. Of course, Skylanders isn't the most system intensive game out right now, but the lighting and shadow effects, the characters' and worlds' textures, and the sound quality make this feel like it like I'm playing on a console. But that's not to say that it will look exactly the same on all tablets. Activision says, "We support all the way back to iPad 3rd gen, but not any lower than that. Anything below that, we'd be making too many compromises. Now the iPad 3rd gen, content- and feature-wise are identical, but the graphics are dialed back. So the 3rd gen iPads are more like a Wii visually. Whereas the iPad Air and Mini Retina is spot-on for 360."

But whether it's the same quality as its console counterparts or not, people aren't used to paying such a premium for mobile content. The starter kit is $75, whether you buy it for Xbox, PlayStation or your Amazon tablet. But even there Activision seems ready to address potential problems. There are no download codes for you (or kids) to deal with inputting -- an introductory version of the game will be available as a free download on the various app stores. When you sync the game with the starter kit's Bluetooth portal, the game will automatically unlock the full experience. While that leads to a rather obvious loophole of letting players access the full game without paying for anything, when the game isn't directly tethered to the Portal, you only have access to two characters. Of course, the real draw for kids isn't just the game, it's collecting. Activision gets around any hesitation you might feel about spending $75 on an app by making you pay $75 for some hardware. The app is just the gateway.

I don't have any more interest in playing Skylanders than I did before this reveal, but the precedent it sets is both exciting and strange. One of the Skylanders developers I talked with said, "When you stand on a ledge of innovation, you get to a place where you have to change people's thinking, and we're going to have to. We tend to treat all platforms equally, but because this is new, because this is something no one has done before, we're talking about it. And we think people will be incredibly excited about the opportunity."

This doesn't mean that the console Skylanders games are going away, or even that all regular games will shift to mobile devices, but it opens up possibilities that are both strange and a little exciting. Mobile gaming doesn't have to be its own niche genre of quick-hit time-wasters. Games like FTL and Baldur's Gate have already shown that there's an audience among adults for gaming experiences that didn't used to fall under the "mobile" umbrella. "We have a massive console business, and it's going to continue that way. But this is another option. This isn't a five-person mobile studio that's going to throw something up on the app store. It's substantial, and leading that charge is not something they're going to shy away from."

Change is coming. I don't think it's going to make gaming better or worse, and in some ways Trap Team is perfect for this type of release. But games follow wherever the audience goes. It seems like people push back on mobile experiences because they tend to feel lesser and incorporate unsavory monetization practices. But when console experiences come to tablets, and there are no extra microtransactions, is there anything to hate?

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justinhaywald

Justin Haywald

Senior Editor, Earthbound fan, and snazzy dresser.
Skylanders Trap Team

Skylanders Trap Team

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30 comments
chippiez
chippiez

Parity with 360 version is nothing to be proud of.  The hardware is about 10 years old.  Xbone and PS4 versions look MUCH better with the higher res textures, models, more light sources, pixel shader effects, etc.  

jundox
jundox

This game DOES have micro transactions... not in the traditional sense, but requiring extra figures or accessories to access parts of the "unlocked" game is the same thing.  Sure you get to "collect" something, but $15 per figure retail more than exceeds most games micro transactions.

Suaron_x
Suaron_x

The Skylanders games are fun to play but the action figures get in the way.  I find it to be super annoying having to change dudes every 5 minutes or so to access another area.  Also, while the game is fun to play, it's not fun enough to justify the expense to play it.  You can typically get the game half off on black Friday $37.50.  To complete the last game you needed 8 different guys who retailed for $15 and an older guy who retails around $12.  It was impossible to beat everything Swap Force until after 3 months or so after Christmas when they finally released the toys you needed to do so.  In summary, plan to pay at least $139.50 (using buy 2 get one 1 guy deals on black friday) to experience everything without any vasoline.

lunchbox2042
lunchbox2042

So they downgraded the console versions for parity with mobile devices?

DrDuncs
DrDuncs

I'll carry the 60+ characters in my backpack too shall I!

xcollector
xcollector

Is that the future they envision? A tablet on a rug acting like an expensive little TV screen. This is another one of those stupid moments in time.

tomservo51
tomservo51

A gamble with Skylanders? Didn't that game make them like $100 Trillion dollars?

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

No, it's not worth it.  Anyone paying more than $5 for a mobile game is mentally damaged.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

That kid looks like he came straight out of the 70's.  If he was in an Atari commercial he'd fit right in.

Mr_Big_Boss
Mr_Big_Boss

360 is 9 year old tech, this isn't much of an accomplishment.

Relvar
Relvar

$75? I wouldn't pay $7 for this!

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

No, I don't see how this sounds worth it. That's just the starter kit. Why not just buy the PC versions? They cost a lot less and work even on low end machines. What are ya?

Whargies
Whargies

(Man finds lamp on floor; rubs it)


Genie: 3! You get three!!! Say your wishes!!!! 

Genie: Tell me your wishes!!!! I will make them come true!!!!

Genie: My name is Activision. I have to thank you for releasing me from the lamp.

Activision: So tell me your three wishes!

(Man becomes apprehensive)

Man: Wait.... three wishes? 

Man: You... You can make a new Skylanders game... right now?

Activision: Is that your first wish?

Man: Do it if you can. Otherwise, stop screwing with me!

Activision: All right.... I'll make it come true.....

Activision HAIL 2 U!

(Activision disappears)

Man: What the heck was that?!

(Man hears some noise)

Man: Hmm? Sounds like a game...

Man: AH! THIS... THIS IS...!! IT CAN'T BE!!!!

Man: This is a new Skylanders Game!!!!

Man: It's not an illusion, it's not a dream!!!!

Man: It's real!!! It's absolutely real!!!!! It....

Man: WAIT A MINUTE! IS IT PLAYING AROUND WITH ME?!

Man: No...No... If it was trying to trick me, it would have to had made the game before I arrived. It never had the time after I told it my wish. How did it get here?

Activision: Tell me your second wish. I will make it come true.

Man: AH! YOU...WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? I AM NOT GOING TO FALL FOR IT!!!!

Man (in a soft voice): I'm....uh...I'll be keeping this....uh...game....

Activision: Is the answer to your question your second wish? You want another boring wish?

Activision: I thank you for realesing me. I'll give you anything.

Man:  This....Thing...Fine....Then... Let me....

Man:...Become a cartoonist!!! I've always wanted that! I want to be more famous that Disney!I'm not going to be a poor guy!!!!

Man: No. Hold it. Hold it.

Man: I want a girlfriend!!!! Love is more important than money and fame!!!!

Man: A beautiful woman.... I want to feel like I'm tied to her.

Man: A female that will like what I like.

Man: If you can do it, do it now JERK!!!!!!!!

Activision: A woman.....? Fine

Man: No no... Hold it... Just give me a sec...

Man: Can you...Release Skylanders on mobile platforms?

Activisions: Is the answer to your question your second wish....?

Man: STOP THIS CRAP!!!!! RELEASE SKYLANDERS ON MOBILE PLATFORMS ON THE SAME DATE AS THE CONSOLE VERSIONS!!!!! AND MAKE IT PIXEL FOR PIXEL!!!!!

Man: Ha! You can't do that can you?!

Activision: All right. Your wishes are granted.

Man:WHAT?!

Activision: You just said two wishes. I will grant them in order.

Activison: The first is to release Skylanders on mobile platforms the same date as the console versions.

Activision: HAIL 2 U!

(Activision disappears in a big puff of smoke)

Man: AH! HOLD IT! Who... Who are you?!

Man: What's behind all this?!

(Man hears faint music)

Man: What was that? What did I just hear? It sounds... Like a game playing.

Man: Is it coming from over there?

(Louder game music)

Man: I....IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!

Man: WHO IS IT?! WHAT'S THERE?!

Man: Hm? This is.....

Man: A tablet!

Man: NO!!! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!!!

(Tears well up in the man's eyes)

Man: THAT MUSIC IS...SKYLANDERS!!!!

Man: Is... is it you? it's you right?

(Man turns on tablet)

Man: AAAAAAH!!!! SKYLANDERS!!!!! IT'S YOU!!! IT'S REALLY YOU!!!!!!

Man: Wait.... What's this on the app store?

(The man looks closely at the Skylanders app to reveal a $75 price)

Man: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!


<To Be Continued...\\\





DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

Somebody (Activision) sure wrote one hell of a cheque to get this article didn't they.

catsimboy
catsimboy

I'm actually surprised they're making the game fully for the newest iPads and scaling down for the older ones instead of just making it completely for the weakest and scaling up. Like he said about lowest common denominator, that's the biggest problem with mobile games (besides the fact that most of them are F2P In-app purchase garbage).

Lazy devs are just going to make their game for the weakest hardware so even if you've got a Blankphone 5 all the games are aiming for Blankphone 2.

zrex2metagor
zrex2metagor

*sigh* the day and age where console exclusive dont just go to the PC but they end up on android and iOS as well.........*sigh* a sad sad day to be a console gamer I guess, or are they doing this on purpose?

wookiegr
wookiegr

If you think about it, this is the cheapest baby sitter around.

EasyComeEasyGo
EasyComeEasyGo

If this was a Pokemon, people will flock over this. 

zerooo0
zerooo0

I would rather buy a $60 game then use that extra 15 to preorder a different game.

unreal849
unreal849

This is the most awful thing I've seen this month.

DamnILoveGames
DamnILoveGames

@RC-Sev What a coincidence, so did I. He's apparently 12 years younger than me. Age sure does work in funny ways.

RC-Sev
RC-Sev

@DamnILoveGames @RC-Sev Ashtray for "Don't be a menace to south central" didn't have a problem with a younger dad, so why should we? Family matters. Oh yeah, they also owe us alimony.