Reviewed: October 19, 2011
Released: October 16, 2011
Skylanders: Spyroís Adventure is going to be the biggest thing since Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon; perhaps even bigger if marketed properly. Combine the incredibly cute and beloved platform game hero, Spyro, with 31 of his delightfully designed friends, and put them all in a fun and equally challenging video game that will engage the entire family, and you have the recipe for sure success.|
The marketing boys at Activision sure had a winner with this concept. Imagine your child (or you) opens this awesome new Spyro video game. Inside is this cool faux-stone pedestal with a surface that pulses and glows with hypnotic purples, blues, and greens. Also in the box are three miniature figures, which can easily be mistaken for pack-in trinkets if you donít know any better. You load up the game and after a cute intro movie and very brief conversation the fourth wall is broken. You, the gamer, are being directly addressed as the Portal Master and instructed to place one of your miniatures on the pulsing pedestal.
SIZZLE...BOOM! Almost instantly, that same character appears on the game screen as a playable character complete with very detailed modeling and fluid animations. Living toys arenít just for Pixar movies anymore folks. You can use this character to walk around, explore, and smash a few things like environmental objects and the occasional enemy. You can also replace your figure with either of the other two that come in the box with the game, and instantly, your on-screen character will change according. While the commands to control the characters and their base functions are the same; their attack animations and various special effects vary from character to character.
The game sets up a clever world with a hub system to launch your characters into their various staged environments and subsequent missions. The story is even a bit intriguing, although the game tries way too hard to explain how the Skylanders were scattered into space and shrunk down before landing on Earth Ė before being captured by Toys for Bob and packaged for retail. (I added that last part) Itís all a clever wink-wink excuse for an even clever integration of toy meets video game.
You see, the collectibles donít stop with the three figures in the initial package. There are 32 Skylanders that you will need to complete the entire set; although they arenít all needed to complete the game. But you can be sure that chronic collectors will be scouring stores and eBay to find and finish their set, and these are sure to be the next-gen Beanie Babies of the 2011 holiday season. A special note to true collectors; you can load characters into the game without even removing them from their package, and then reset the character data if you decide to sell or trade later.
In truth, you can play much of Skylanders with the three figures that come with it; Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt. Each of the characters (and their miniatures) represents one of several classes like Magic, Air, Life, Water, Fire, etc. Throughout the game you will be prompted to place a figure matching the desired class on the pedestal for certain gameplay bonuses. Example, a fire character will do better in a volcano level, or a water character might do better in a swamp level. Itís not required, but you will gain significant enhancements if you match the character to the current game environment.
There are also character-specific Hero Challenges; another great inducement to go out and buy the entire Skylanders gang, but at least these challenges can be tackled by any character and not just their intended hero. Where the game takes a slightly more evil (and expensive) twist, especially if you are a closet completionist like me, is that some areas of the game are totally off limits and inaccessible unless you have a character of a certain class to unlock the gate to that area. This means that you are either going to need to acquire at least one character of every possible character class or find friends who already have them, so you can use their figures to unlock areas in your game.
And that takes us to the real beauty of this hybrid game design. As you play the game and earn cash and collectibles for your characters their stats and possessions are saved on the actual figure. You can then take these figures to your friendís house and play on their system Ė and it doesnít even have to be the same system! The data is non-system specific, so progress you make on your Xbox 360 is playable on the PC, PS3, Wii or even the DS. How cool is that?
In addition to the charming solo adventure you can also opt to take a friend into the action with two-player co-op. Just connect another controller and set two figures on the disco dance floor. There is even a Battle Mode that will test your skills in leveling up and combat where you face off against another playerís character and their earned stats and special abilities.
On the surface Skylanders: Spyroís Adventure sounds like a blatant attempt to drain parentsí pocketbooks when their kids start begging for that missing character. They even have "previews" (aka commercials) for the other characters as collectible icons in the story mode. I know there were several times during my first several hours where I was ready to hop in the car and head to the store to get a Life or Air character just to see what was being that gate, and nothing bugs me more than a level-ending stats screen with missing items and objectives, and me knowing I canít even replay to get them without an additional purchase. And at $8 per character, youíll have to make some tough decisions, or start making new friends.
Skylanders delivers a solid presentation perfectly suited for the genre and the target age group. Everything is cute and charming, even the more sinister creatures have a unique flair about them. The 3D worlds are magnificent with a floating-fixed camera that never loses track of the action, and actually gets pretty cinematic at times. The colors and special effects are guaranteed to delight almost as much as the engaging voice acting that is loaded with equal parts humor and charm, all focused around the pivotal role of Flynn, voiced by Patrick Warburton. There are even some clever control moments like pushing the stick to insert a key or waggling the stick to shake open a chest or package.
Sure, compulsive completionists will have to spend $300 to get it all, making me wonder why they donít have some super-deluxe edition that does have it ďallĒ. But for average folks on modest budgets, you and your kids will certainly find hours of entertainment in the core box, and you now have 30 carrots to dangle on a stick to get your kids to do chores, get good grades, or stop hitting their sister. Ultimately, Skylanders: Spyroís Adventure is a joy to play and a surprising treat that is destined to be the most talked-about game of the holiday season.