Do you want to know how I knew this would be a great game within minutes of starting the campaign? Allow me to paint a picture for you: it was a Monday afternoon, and the sun was bright in the sky. My wife sat on our couch with the laptop in front of her, while I was on the living room chair getting everything prepared for my first game of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. The Portal was set, my three Skylanders stood at attention, and voila, the game started. Mere moments into the opening scenes leading up to the first level, my wife and I suddenly turned to each other and simultaneously yelled, “SPOON!” This is how I knew that this would be a great game.
Granted, Patrick Warburton was not the voice of the animated Tick who is responsible for the warcry of “SPOON!” that strikes fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere. His performance as the live-action Tick was criminally underappreciated by the executives responsible for its cancellation, however, and when I hear his wonderfully unique voice, his portrayal of the big blue bug of justice is the first thing that comes to mind. The Skylanders character of Flynn embodies everything you would expect from Patrick Warburton, almost as if the part was written just for him. If so, they couldn’t have made a better decision.
Oh, wait. They DID make a better decision when they voice cast Kaos, the villain of the Skylanders universe for this go-around. To hear the voice of Zim emanate from the mouth of Kaos was more than I could withstand…I may or may not have done a little dance on the chair, but that’s neither here nor there. All that matters is that when Kaos was first revealed to us, my wife and I both found ourselves wondering why there was bacon in the soap.
The rest of the voice acting was wonderfully delivered as well, but having Patrick Warburton as the voice of the over-confident, libidinous ally and Richard Steven Horvitz as the voice of the maniacal, at-times incompetent source of evil were two highlights of the game.
Now, over 350 words into the review, let’s start talking about, oh I don’t know…the game! What a novel concept, to be sure.
The player is an acknowledged part of the game, with the fourth wall being broken to include you as a character within the Skylanders universe. As a Portal Master, you are tasked with putting the heroic Skylanders in play to rebuild what Kaos destroyed and repel the darkness that is threatening the world. This is where Skylanders’ real-world interaction becomes important. Each platform has a platform-specific Portal of Power, included with three Skylander statues (Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt) in the $59.99/$69.99 (depending on platform) Starter Kit. The non-platform specific Skylanders are individually placed on the Portal of Power, and within seconds appear within the virtual world in front of you. A swap from one to another takes no more than 3-5 seconds, and you can hot-swap your characters in game at any time. This is particularly handy in the way the game is designed to take advantage of the eight different elemental classes of the 32 characters (earth, air, fire, water, magic, technology, life, and undead).
When making your way through the various worlds of Skylanders, you will find secret areas that can only be accessed by using a Skylander of a specific class. These secret areas are unnecessary for beating the main quest, but are essential if you’re looking for true completion. On top of that, they do offer bonus items (hats that modify base stats) and loot (gems and coins) that will help you advance your character. While I do love the way the hot-swapping is handled, and how it becomes necessary to hot-swap for objective completion, I can’t shake the feeling that this reminds me of nothing more than unlockable DLC built into the game at launch. This is part of a real total cost issue that I’ll get into shortly.
The other way that the game is well designed to take advantage of its multiple character classes is in the environments. Certain environments are naturally more conducive to certain class types. You may be in a level that starts off with a lot of water, at which point the game will tell you that Skylanders of a water type are particularly strong in the area. Your normal Skylanders will still work just as they always have, but switching to a water Skylander, like Gill Grunt, will result in increased damage and increased loot/XP. There can be multiple class areas within a single level, so hot-swapping also becomes important for maximizing your XP and loot earnings.
Skylanders is an adventure platformer with an RPG-like system of leveling and skill development. Because of that RPG element, maximizing your XP and loot earnings is very important. Before getting into XP and loot, however, an important point is that each Skylander character maintains individual XP and loot balances. There is no communal pot of XP or loot. If you play the first three levels as Spyro, you will not have any XP or loot to level up Trigger Happy, for example. XP naturally develops as you defeat enemies. As you level up automatically, your various stats increase. As you destroy the game environment around you and find secret treasure chests, you’ll earn loot in the form of coins, gems, etc. After the first few levels, you find a fairy who becomes your upgrade store. You can use your loot (again, in individual earnings, not communal earnings) to purchase skill upgrades and abilities to make your character even more formidable.
Aside from the campaign, which consists of 20 levels, you have the option to do Heroic Challenges within the central hub world of the game. These challenges can be frustratingly difficult, but become easier as your Skylander heroes level up over time. It serves to add more challenge and entertainment to an already great game. Local co-op is included for the campaign, with the Portal of Power being capable of handling two Skylanders at a time. Hot-swapping characters still works, but you need to be patient, or you might end up hot-swapping to the wrong statue. Finally, a local Battle Mode exists as well for friends to pit their leveled and upgraded Skylanders against each other.
“But wait, if they’re playing locally, how do they have a leveled and upgraded Skylander when they’re not on their console?” Well, each Skylander has a chip that saves equipped gear, levels, and upgrades directly to the statue. If you want to take your Xbox 360 collection of Skylanders to play at your friends house on his Wii, 3DS, or PS3…then go ahead. It’ll work perfectly fine. The cross-platform capability, and the ease of going to a friend’s house and playing Skylanders with your very own characters, are both way beyond anything I’ve seen before, and that really is a great innovation.
As much as I complain about how certain companies treat DLC as a cash grab by having DLC ready at launch, or by locking the DLC on the disc itself and releasing what amounts to nothing more than an incomplete game, I seem to have been tricked into highly enjoying a game that does the exact same thing, albeit in a novel way. Each secret area that you can’t access with your Starter Kit characters is nothing more than DLC that is included in the game at launch, but you can’t access without buying. In this case, you buy the statue for that element type, and you can access the secret area. At the end of the day, I doubt I’ll own the full collection of Skylanders. I’ve got 8 of the 32 already, having purchased five additional Skylanders to round out my elemental needs, and they can get me anywhere in the game I need to go. As much as I’d love to have a full set of statues on a shelf, the remainder would cost me over $200 to collect, and that’s really pushing it. For completionists, this game will hurt you in your wallet. Even for semi-completionists like myself, if I had bought the Starter Kit myself as well, I’d have spent almost $120 just to be able to access the game’s full content. At $69.99 for the Starter Kit and $7.99 for each additional Skylander, the full collection costs over $300.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure has all the potential in the world to become a massive franchise. The game itself, aside from the occasional awkward animation or lost loot due to invisible walls, is fantastic, and fun for both kids and adults. The statues are very well crafted, and look great displayed on a shelf or desk. The cross-platform compatibility and saved-on-statue statistics make this a game that kids can play with their friends. The price has the potential to become incredibly ridiculous, but if there’s enough replay value in playing through the campaign with new characters, then maybe spacing out the statue purchases to one every week or two would be a really reasonable way of enjoying the full collection. Regardless, the game is great, even if you just stick to the Starter Kit. Well worth the price, and a real delight.
|Addictive collectible statues|
Brilliant voice casting and acting
Engaging gameplay for a child or adult
|Occasionally awkward animation|
Occasionally lose loot due to invisible walls
Expensive to play for completionists