Donkey Kong wields a barrel that he lobs at enemies, Bowser spawns koopas to create his own mini army – it sounds like classic Nintendo gameplay, but this new outing for the much-loved characters is very different.
In a deal announced today, the duo are to appear as collectible figures in Skylanders Superchargers, the latest title in Activision’s “toys to life” franchise. Arriving with their own vehicles, the new Skylanders will also function as Amiibos, making them compatible with a range of Nintendo’s own Wii U titles.
Bowser and Donkey Kong will be available exclusively as a starter pack for the Wii U, Wii and Nintendo 3DS versions of the game. Both have been re-imagined for Skylanders in conjunction with Nintendo’s development team, with abilities that reference their previous adventures. Hammer Slam Bowser has his hammer as a primary weapon but is also able to spawn groups of koopas that can be thrown at enemies. Turbo Charge Donkey Kong, dressed in a flaming stuntman outfit, lobs barrel, but can also play the bongos to incapacitate groups of foes – a reference to the Donkey Konga game.
As Superchargers introduces vehicles to Skylanders for the first time, both characters also get a themed ride. The Donkey Kong Barrel Blaster is a car that shoots spiked barrels that provide a hazard for enemies; the Clown Cruiser is an airship that references Bowser’s craft in Super Mario 3, and allows players to fire Bullet Bills, the familiar projectile characters from the Super Mario universe.
“Nintendo and Activision have a decades-long relationship,” said Activision Publishing chief executive Eric Hirshberg. “They were one of the first companies we showed the original Skylanders to because we knew their console platform would be key to the game’s success. By the end of that first meeting everyone felt there was an instinctive connection between the world of Skylanders and the worlds Nintendo has created along the years.”
On the base of each item there’s a switch allowing players to swap functionality from Skylander to Amiibo. The figures work in the same games as their current Amiibo incarnations, making them compatible with Nintendo’s own “toys to life” titles.
“There was a real affinity in how Activision and Nintendo think,” said Reggie, Fils-Aimé, chief executive of Nintendo America. “This is a real collaboration, we did not simply lend our IP. The teams working on this had very close communication. If you look at the figures, of course, Donkey Kong has to have the red tie, but the jumpsuit was a collaborative idea from the two teams working together. The team at Vicarious Visions would come and show some of the move sets and our developers would say, ‘that’s just what we would do’.”
The character abilities within Skylanders make multiple references to Nintendo history. As a third attack, Bowser is able to transform into Magma Bowser providing him with a flame attack familiar to fans of the Super Mario series. Donkey Kong’s special attack has barrels and steel girders falling from the sky, referencing the character’s original arcade game. Plus, as with all Skylanders in the Supercharger game, if the correct character is paired with their own vehicles, the duo is super charged with more powerful abilities. With Donkey Kong’s vehicle, the super charge effect sees Diddy Kong appearing in a side car.
“It had to feel like they belonged in a Skylanders game,” said Hirschberg. “But at the same time it had to feel like an appropriate execution of these characters in any game. In every meeting we’ve had with Nintendo, there seems to be a lot of fanboy energy. There’s a creative chemistry.”
Skylanders Superchargers is the first in the series of action adventure titles to feature vehicular gameplay. Among the 20 new vehicles there are boats, cars and aircraft, all with moving parts for play use outside of the game – there are also 20 new action figures, although all 300 current figures will also be compatible. According to Activision, there are no plans to bring further Nintendo characters into the game.
Speaking about the toys to life genre Fils-Aimé said it was important for both companies to keep innovating on the genre to stop the concept from becoming staid. “Compelling gameplay is what’s going to keep kids and their parents excited about this category. How the genre continues to evolve is a conversation for the future, but as long as gamers say this is a lot of fun, we believe there will be lots of these figures in the household.”
In fact, there already are. Over 240m Skylanders figures have been sold so far since the original Skylanders was released in 2011.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 16th June 2015 17.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010