Toys -- speaking as a child informed by the 1980s' halcyon infusion of Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers -- are things you want to play with using your hands, not virtual appendages. You want to feel their heft, to pick them up and set them down, to put fingers to their plastic contours and movable joints and smooth or spiny textures before positioning them along imaginary compounds and battlements.
Activision's Skylanders series celebrates the physicality of toys by folding that experience into a virtual one and back again. But until now, you've always had the virtual part of the experience with a television screen, probably up off the floor and away from the toys themselves. The toys were the physical experience you had to carry to the virtual one.
Activision's finally remedying that by inverting the formula and bringing the virtual experience to the physical one: Skylanders Trap Team, the newest installment in the series that lets players "trap" characters from the game in physical objects, will be the first to support tablets, and it'll launch simultaneously with the console versions when they ship on October 5.
It's not a scaled-down version, either, but the full Trap Team experience you'll have with any of the console versions, soup to nuts. What's more, and this is where the notion of a table version starts to get interesting, Activision's engineered its own Bluetooth gamepad. Imagine an Xbox 360 controller with all the trimmings, including dual analog thumbsticks, d-pad, face buttons and triggers, only one that's slightly smaller (designed for the game's younger target demographic).
It's available as part of something the team calls the Skylanders Trap Team Tablet Starter Pack, which includes a Bluetooth version of the Traptanium Portal (the plastic stand you set the Skylanders action figures on, as well as the traps) and the gamepad itself, which rests under the platform in a formfitting cubby hole.
The starter pack includes the controller, the built-in tablet stand (it's part of the platform, so "included" may be overselling this point) and a display tray that lets you track the traps and villains you've collected. Activision told me all 175 existing Skylanders toys are compatible with the platform, and that's in addition to Trap Team's over 50 new playable Skylanders heroes and 40 new villains.
The tablet docks directly to the portal, tilting backward slightly, nestling in a crook-like stand (built into the portal) designed to grab and hold it without mechanical latches. That's so you can pull the tablet out or drop it back in with ease. Watching Activision demo the new interface, it looks like coming home, like a game that's finally found the interface it was designed for.
How much? You'll need a tablet, of course, but assuming you have one that's compatible -- Activision supports the 3rd gen iPad forward, the Kindle Fire HDX, the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Note -- you can lay hands on the starter pack for $74.99, same as console.