The next big thing in action figures is "interaction figures." That's the pitch we heard today during a showcase event in New York City for a revival of the video game hero Spyro the Dragon as part of a band of toys that interact with video games.
Spyro will be one of at least 30 toys - colourful, small statues, really - that each contain a microchip that stores the progress players make with those characters in a related video game. A new Spyro toy will be sold as a level one character, but playing Spyro in this fall's Wii game Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure will start leveling him up, adding powers as he rises from rank 1 to 10.
It helps to see this in action.
The toy version of Spyro connects to the Wii game by being placed on a plastic disc called a portal. (See the video atop this post.) The portal reads the chip in the statue so that the Wii game can render a Spyro who has the right character levels. Putting someone else's Spyro toy on the portal would render a Spyro in the video game who is at that toy's level.
This isn't a Spyro game, though. It's a game featuring line of toys featuring a line of characters. Removing the Spyro toy from the portal and putting a different Skylanders toy on it pulls Spyro from the game and replace him with the properly-leveled version of the new toy. Each colourful Skylander character has different powers in the game. Playing as one or the other will trigger changes in the game level's terrain. A player can finish the Skylander game with any one toy, but the company behind this game, Call of Duty publisher Activision, would prefer that players collect them all.
Here's an example of one of the characters... a guy called Trigger Happy. His rap sheet:
Element: Tech Primary Attack: Gold Coin Shooters Secondary Attack: Safe Cracker Bomb Upgrades include: -Pot‐of‐Gold Bomb -Super Charged Gold Blasters -Gold Nugget Slinger
Bio: Trigger Happy is more than his name, it's his solution to every problem. Nobody knows from where he came. He just showed up one day blasting gold coins everywhere with his custom‐crafted shooters. Now everyone throughout the lands knows of this crazy goldslinger that will take down any bad guy… usually without bothering to aim.
This is kid's stuff, of course. We were warned before attending that the game might be for younger people than the typical Kotaku reader. You can decide that. But as we heard more details it was obvious that this Skylanders concept could be expanded. Even if it isn't, there are some strong influences from everything from Lego Star Wars to World of Warcraft that make this more interesting that it might appear at a glance. There's drop-in co-op that works if two kids each put a toy on the portal. There's character leveling, though it is accelerated (a kid can hit the level cap in a few hours), and there's even an option for player-vs-player combat.
Paul Reiche, creative director at Toys for Bob, the game studio behind the concept, explained to Kotaku that the Skylanders figures will be aligned to one of several elements, with certain character types - dragons, for example - represented in each class. Collecting and using more of the same element or type will add powers to the other toy characters of that same group. The portal and the game can track this, he explained, by automatically associating the toy with the portal to which it is first connected (for that reason, a child wouldn't be able to cheat by having their friends' toys pose as their own.)
The toys are all colourful if a bit fragile-looking, well-sculpte