When I go to Target, as I did this weekend, I make it a habit of checking out the Pokemon toys that are in stock. There are usually only a few, tucked away between figures of the latest Disney abortion and those mini skateboard for your fingers that no one knows how to use. My goal is always the same: to find a simple figure of one of my favorite Pokemon for my desk at work.
I haven’t purchased many, most of them don’t appeal to me, generally featuring a collectible monster I don’t want. Another, more common problem, is that the figures aren’t simply figures, but part of some larger poorly constructed game in which users launch plastic projectiles at one another to determine a winner. At least, I think that’s how it works. Here is one of these toys I am talking about I saw yesterday at Target:
If you’re confused as to exactly what this toy does, allow me to present you with the copy taken directly from Toys R’ Us:
With the Pokemon Black & White Pop n’ Battle Launch with Attack set you can become a Pokemon Champion by mastering this awesome game play experience with this 1.5 inch Poke Ball Launcher and 1 inch Pokemon inside that launches out to battle! Includes attack target that snaps closed on Pokemon when a successful attack is launched.
Was that written by a coked up nine year old who attended a marketing class at a community college?
Now you may be an amateur to the world of Pokemon, but I’ve played every game since 1998 when the series first broke soil in North America, and the above description makes no fucking sense to me. Are you attacking with this Scraggy or are you attempting to catch it? Why is there a box? Is the box within the Pokeball, like some kind of dream within a dream Inception-style bullshit? Either way it’s clear that these toys aren’t consistent with the world of Pokemon which no doubt confuses fans of the series.
Recently a certain brand of toys has begun successfully bridging the gap between toy and video game as well as consumers both young and old: Skylanders. You’ve no doubt heard about the impact the franchise made on the 2011 holiday season, with sought after figures selling for close to hundreds of dollars an auction sights like eBay. If you’re not in the know, this trailer explains more or less how the game and its figures work:
So in a nutshell you purchase the game as well as at least one figure. You can’t actually access a certain character without its relative figure, meaning if you want ‘em all you gotta buy ‘em all. After acquiring a figure, you place it on the magical stargate thingy, and you assume control over that character in game. There you are free to battle enemies using simple action-RPG and platforming mechanics, accruing EXP which can be used to customize your character and their abilities. At any point you may remove the figure from the base and replace it with a different one to seamlessly transition into another figure’s persona. Any modifications you make to a character are saved on memory built into the figure itself.
Now I’ve never played Skylanders, but allow me to explain what the series is doing right in my eyes (which is largely why it is succeeding):
It Recognizes Its Market
When toys are made to emulate anything pertaining to video games, it can be assumed that the target market understands video games. That’s not much of a leap, right? They are familiar with the rules and concepts that permeate the medium, so why give them boiled down nonsense, like that Scraggy Pop n’ Battle Launcher?
Desire to Collect
There are a number of successful video game and action figure franchises that appeal to the consumer’s desire to collect. Skylanders builds on this principle by offering something that is both physical and digital.
Considering the popularity of Skylanders it’s easy to imagine the technology being used for other games in the future. This seems even more likely given the recent announcement that the Wii U will feature the same NFC technology in the console’s controller. I wonder what Nintendo could have in mind for this feature? Could this be the feature that sets the newest Nintendo console apart from the pack in the way motion control once did?
Not Just DLC
One of the biggest gripes concerning DLC is that you pay for something that isn’t tangible. After a brief download or an unlock, you’re left with little else to prove your money was turned into something that matters. With NFC technology, nearly any physical object can be used to store and transmit data which effects your game. Provided that these figures aren’t simply a vehicle for said data, but a well designed piece of plastic, NFC technology starts to look far more desirable than DLC.
Letting my imagination concoct different possible applications of this tech is exciting. Here are some examples which should get you salivating:
- Pokemon Colosseum — Collect Pokemon figures, level them up, organize their skills, battle your friends
- Monster Hunter — Collect monster figures, unlocking them in-game as well as weaponry and Felyne comrades
- Animal Crossing — Bring your character’s figure to visit someone else’s town, purchase new village residents or town upgrades
- Fighting Games — Customize your character’s outfit (store the data on a figure, card, fight stick) load it up at your friend’s place and fight in style
- Multiplayer RPGs/Shooters/Etc. — Buy a character’s figure, customize them, level them, team up with friends to take on bigger, badder enemies, purchase new weapons which are unlocked in-game
My wallet just shuddered, anticipating a world where I lose all control over my credit card hand. But in all seriousness, Skylanders has begun to fuse together my love of video games with my love of toys in an innovative and relevant way. Seeing the massive popularity of Skylanders as well as the adoption of its core technology in future consoles tells me that we haven’t seen the last of this fusion, and I look forward to seeing new ways it is implemented.