Spyro’s Now in the Palm of Your Hand.
It’s been a few years since Spyro and his companions have graced our screens. Many fans who had grown up with the long-running exploits of the purple dragon have voiced their discontent about the direction the series is going with Activision’s newest entry, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. The game mixes in singular-purpose peripherals and figurines, a practice that is usually seen as nothing more than a novelty, especially if the gameplay is poor. In Skylanders, the platforming is simple, the combat is simple, and the RPG elements are simple, yet robust content, more than just superfluous use of the miniatures, and a long epic story may have the older crowd finding their collective inner child.
The plot feels very much like a Saturday morning cartoon, full of diverse characters and a monumental struggle between the forces of good and evil. The peaceful Skylanders have long kept the darkness away thanks to the Portal Masters and a machine called the Core of Light. Eon, the greatest of these Portal Masters, has grown older, and with his power fading the darkness has begun to creep back. Enter Kaos, a power hungry villain with grandiose plans to destroy the Skylands, yet who also possesses a severe lack of machismo and the inability to command respect from his underlings or make his enemies cower. After storming in via a flying fortress, Kaos unleashes a throng of minions to destroy the Core of Light. Eon sends Spyro and the rest of the Skylanders to handle these minions, which they do in fine form, as Kaos’ second-in-command dryly indicates to his master using a score tick list. After declining plan B, Kaos instead goes with plan Z, which causes a cataclysmic explosion, destroying the Core of Light and hurling the Skylanders into space, shrinking them down, and solidifying them in plastic. They eventually land on earth, in your possession, making you the new Portal Master.
You can place any Skylander figurine onto the included Portal of Power for immediate upload to the game. Even the bases connected wirelessly have no connectivity issues, and after a brief five-second load time—which includes a nifty character animation and catch phrase—your hero is zapped directly into the game. At any time, you can quickly replace one character with another, which the game encourages with bonuses and hidden areas.
Each Skylander has one of eight elemental classes: air, life, undead, earth, fire, water, magic, or tech, with a selection of attacks unique to that element. Throughout each board, there are zones dedicated to a specific element, and playing a Skylander with the corresponding class grants a boon to your attack. Also, Elemental Gates require a specific class to unlock, yielding a princely sum of treasure and possibly a special item or skill.
The level design is rather linear, and you’ll never need to stop and ask for directions. There are some simple obstacles to overcome, but a solution is typically right in front of your face in the form of an oversized gold key or mammoth tortoise used to bridge gaps. If turtles aren’t your thing, you can always take out some aggression on the pesky and loathsome sheep infesting nearly every level. A comical spotlight throughout the story, these sheep can be pummeled, squashed, and set ablaze, but they’ll always pop right back up like cockroaches. Of course, you can take on some real enemies for more substantial rewards.
Taking cues from the RPG world, enemies will spit out experience orbs after being defeated, which will increase your maximum health when you gain a level. It’s a shame that the level cap is only 10, and that you are unable to designate your own skill points, but there are some other methods of improving the stats of your character. Sometimes you will happen across one of the many collectable hats, which not only have a great laugh factor, but also grant a property bonus to certain ability score, be it armor, critical hit rate, elemental power, or what have you. Also, after rescuing a feline NPC named Cali from some evil Drow enemies, she will offer Heroic Challenges—a new one can be unlocked for every uploaded Skylander. Considering there are over thirty characters available, these side missions are a great and challenging diversion, and success grants a stat-boosting reward.
Looking for more in the way of downloadable content? Activision has gone a step further with adventure packs, each containing an exclusive new character, a magic item, and a location piece used to access new missions, which can be uploaded using the Portal of Power.
Concerning combat, the first few chapters hold your hand for the most part, but you’ll soon find a vast array of more difficult enemies that require a moderate level of skill. The controls are very limited, and you’ll quickly discover that you can’t lock onto enemies, dodge, or, in many cases, even block. Thus your ability to deal the maximum damage possible before getting pummeled becomes the true test. Sticking with one character does have advantages, as each Skylander will hoard its own collected gold. Building a healthy currency allows you to purchase new attack skills from the fairy Persephone. The higher-end powers get a little pricey, but with cool new animations and potent effects, your pint-sized player can unleash devastating carnage.
Want even more content? Apart from the standard system specific achievements and trophies, you can always scour each level for more collectables like Story Scrolls, Legendary Treasures, or grab more Skylanders for Accolades, an in-game award system that grants bonuses like a higher experience yield. There’s even an online component, where you can register all your Skylanders on the game’s website, build them up even more, customize your lair, and many other extras.
Probably the most innovative (and coolest) design element is that the character’s information is saved directly to the miniature, not the game system. Your experience, wealth, stats and upgraded abilities, as well as your currently donned hat, all travel with you. On top of that, they are compatible with every other platform, no matter the brand. So the Spyro that you’ve spent hours juicing up on the Wii can be played on your friend’s Xbox 360, or you can take your PS3 Skylander to do some adventuring on the go with the Nintendo 3DS.
The visuals match the intended cartoony vibe, with strong use of bold colors and exaggerated animations. Except for some smoother textures, the Wii version looks as good as its more powerful console counterparts. From a control perspective, the Wii version even plays the easiest, since it is the only version with incorporated motion controls. With a broad spectrum of primary colors, each Skylander stands out on its own, making them as unique as their in-game abilities.
The orchestrations have a good beat and are pretty catchy, but the tracks are barely a minute long, and they’ll get stuck in your head because they get so repetitive. The developers certainly didn’t get stingy with the sounds effects, as attack sounds, enemy screams, and even broken barrel sounds constantly push through your speakers. Some Skylanders have the gift of speech, while others grunt, shriek, or wail, which is another great way to make your personal collection feel unique. The NPC voice acting also fits a cartoon’s expectations, but Patrick Warburton steals the show. His instantly recognizable low voice—as the cocky balloon pilot Flynn—follows a script that seems completely penned with him in mind.
$70 for the starter pack might seem a bit steep, with additional figurines at eight dollars a pop. For a hardcore gamer with an arsenal of Mature-rated titles, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure might not have enough appeal to make it worth the introductory fee. But for the younger audience, it’s certainly one to put at the top of this year’s holiday wish list—a game brimming with extra features and cool action figures with their own virtual lives. It may be simple in presentation, but the execution is near flawless, and all the extra content shows a great level of dedication on the part of the developers. Skylanders is certainly a full and unique gaming experience.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
Save a few texture pop-ins, the visuals are all welcoming, even the numerous ruined landscapes you travel to. 3.9 Control
It’s easy to pick up, but a limited button array means you can’t rely on blocks and lock-ons. The camera is fixed, but usually follows you willingly. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The effects are numerous and the voice work meets the requirements. The music is catchy, but the compositions need to be longer. 4.9 Play Value
This game offers so much content that it’s difficult to describe all of it in a single review. Let’s just say that if you like the game, you’ll never get bored with it. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best