Here is how you take a three-inch high plastic figurine and pull him into your 3DS, without wires, memory cards, or the device's camera. Just set your character from Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure on that portal, and aim the 3DS at him, and wait for the beam of light. When I did it, I swear I felt the slightest tug when I lined it up correctly.
"How's that work?" I asked. "Is that a chip, does it recognize the color, flash pattern?"
"Magic," said designer Ben Throop of Vicarious Visions. Meaning, why spoil the fun? (Or give away trade secrets, but I digress.) The technical answer is, yes, the infrared port on the 3DS is where the "magic" happens. We've already seen how this is handled for the console versions of Skylanders and gotten a look at three of the 32 characters for the game, usable across all platorms (and the game will ship for just about everything.)
If the 3DS isn't the lead platform for the game, per se, it certainly has the coolest implementation of Skylanders' signature feature. The handheld version of the game also differs from the console in that it's set off in a different realm, facing down a different force of darkness.
It's also a bit more of a traditional platformer, drawing on Vicarious Visions' experience with the Crash Bandicoot series. Intriguingly, the developer also said that the Tony Hawk franchise served as a model for level design, in that the designers wanted to offer multiple tasks in each board, such as scavenger hunts, races and collection challenges.
In my playthrough, I took Gill Grunt, a character Totilo introduced to us when he saw the console Skylanders in February. Gill is a fish with a harpoon gun, and has a hover/flight capability. On the 3DS, you can swap to a second teammate using the touchscreen, in my case it was a giant angry tree who supplied the heavy melee. The game will ship with a three-character starter pack.
While Activision won't short-pack the characters, making some more rare than others, it will stage their release, and the 3DS will have a special three character set although, again, all characters are usable in all versions of the game, and will even transfer their save state. Perfect, of course, for kids 6-12 whose friends may have different systems when they visit.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is due to release in the fall.