Toys and video games often go hand in hand with each other. Be it figures from the game or well known toys getting their own video game, these are the two things that everyone one likes. What if you combined both of them? What if your little figures could be transported into a game and they joined you in an adventure to save the world? You would get Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure.
Skylanders is a joint production between toy company Toys for Bob and Activision. Toys for Bob wanted to re-invent Spyro for a new audience, something that hasn’t been done before. At first the game was to be a much darker and violent version of Spyro, but they didn’t think that would fit the vision they had. So what they came up with was integrating the toys with the video game, making them one. So is this combination of what kids love the most a hit, or will it end up being all flash and no flavor?
A Dungeon Crawler For Kids - Despite the cheery characters and the colorful settings, at the heart of Skylanders beats a dungeon crawler disguised as a kids’ game. Don’t let the platformer label fool you. All the elements of a RPG dungeon crawler are here: XP grinding, leveling up, multiple paths, things that make a dungeon crawler are here…sort of. See, this is still a kids’ game and to throw an unprepared kid into his or her first dungeon is just wrong. So Toys for Bob decided to make things easy and scale it back a bit. But just because it was scaled back for the kids, doesn’t mean that dungeon crawler fans will be left out. There is just enough challenge here to test the most seasoned adventurer. This is a great great for parents and their kids who want to get into dungeon crawlers.
First True Cross-Platform Game - What makes Skylanders stand out from the rest is its ability to take the stats of your Skylander creatures anywhere and play with them on any platform. You heard right. It works like this: Each Skylander has a unique design on the base of the figure, and you place one on the Portal of Power to summon them into the game. Let’s say you want to go over to a friend’s house and play with them, you just take the figure and the Portal of Power with you. All the creature’s stats, collectables and unlocks will be brought along without the use of a USB flash drive. Now you may be thinking “What if they have a different console version of the game?” It doesn’t matter if they have a different version of the game, it will read and upload the stats of the creature and you will still be able to play regardless. In addition to being a console game, Skylanders is also an MMO in the style of NeoPets. Here you can play mini games, interact with other portal masters and their Skylanders and earn hats that can transfer to the console game.
New Tech Possiblities - What makes Skylanders special I think is the tech behind the “Portal of Power”. I am all for new ways to expand the gaming experience, be it motion gaming or some new peripheral, only if it can be applied creatively. Activison could easily take games like HeroClix or even traditional table top RPGs and apply the Portal of Power idea to them, extending those experiences to the consoles.
DLC in Real Life - Let’s face it; DLC can be a pain in the ass sometimes. We’ll get excited for a piece of DLC and once we load it up, we start to think “I paid $20 for this? What a rip!” Skylanders does a really interesting and I think genius take on DLC, which is to bring DLC into the real world. In addition to the 3 starting characters you get when buying the game, there are an additional 37 other monsters players can buy to use in the game. But it doesn’t stop there. There are Adventure Packs that includes new areas, a new creature and a power up for players to play collect and explore. But having real life DLC did raise some issues with the game, which will be explained next.
Cartoon Voice Talent - Skylanders is light on the character voice actors, but makes it up with having some great talent to match its cartoonish visuals. On the cast we have the likes of Josh Keaton as Spyro, the always funny Patrick Warburton as Flynn and Richard Steven Horvitz as the diabolical Kaos, who also happened to have voiced Invader Zim. Whenever Kaos was on screen I couldn’t help but laugh at his antics which match Zim almost perfectly.
Hollywood Talen - Popular voice actors are not the only ones that lend their help to the game. Some of Hollywood’s finest lent their craft into making the game. Alek Sokolow and Joel Cohen lend their writing talents to the main story of Skylanders. Are their names not ringing any bells? Perhaps you may have heard of a little movie they wrote called Toy Story? It’s a simple story really, but when it’s a game made for kids, you’d want to keep the story simple, and these guys did a good job.
Real Life DLC is a Double-Edged Sword - Let me reiterate what we all know, DLC can be a pain in the ass. Be it over charging for costumes to charging for content that’s already on the disc. While Skylanders has brought DLC into the real world with a real unique spin to it, it also had brought some of the problems with it as well. In some areas of each level certain Skylanders can cross over and explore a new area of the map. This means that you can only explore areas with the initial three creatures given in the Skylanders starter pack. You can play and beat the game without buying a single booster pack, but knowing that you’re only 3% away from collecting all of the objects will eat away at you, knowing that the last few objects are just across the way but you can’t get them because you don’t have a specific Skylander. It’s pure genius in my opinion. Luckily they are reasonably priced, with a pack of 3 creatures coming in at $20 and the Adventure add-ons priced at $20 to $30 depending where you shop.
USB Receiver - My problem is not with the USB receiver itself, (although it would have been nice if it had been Bluetooth) it’s the fact that the receiver is small and easy to lose and keep track of. And since this product is being marketed to kids, parents should take care to make sure that the USB receiver is in a port where the kids can’t reach it.
At first glance, Skylanders can be easily mistaken for a children’s toy. But just because it looks like a children’s toy doesn’t mean it’s only for children. With a ‘dungeon crawler lite’ feeling, a great team of Hollywood writers, composers and voice talent behind the game; it’s for adults just as much as it is for kids. Add the addictive nature of having to collect all of the figures to use in the game and DLC in the form of additional set pieces and we have a great marketing combination here. The only downsides are that the USB receiver is small and will get lost if not taken care of and the real life DLC can be a double edge sword since some parts of the game are locked out until you buy more creatures. As I said before, you can beat the game without buying additional creatures but the call of collecting them all will eat away at you till you cave in. Either way, Skylanders is a blast to play and is one of the few games that both kids and their parents can enjoy together.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*