The world of video games and the world of toys have always had an interesting dynamic. Many people will remember the main outlet for purchasing their original NES games was from the cage at Toys R Us. Then, as gaming evolved and players matured along with the content of the titles, video games began getting their own stores and found their way into electronics superstores like Best Buy.
As that happened, many people began their arguments that video games were a form of art and not just simple boys. But… why can’t we have both? Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure works behind the concept of “Bring Your Toys To Life” where players blur the lines between their collectible figures and their gaming console experiences.
The various development teams across each platform took this unique technology of Toys with Brains that actually store players data that can be transferred between any console and platform along with a story penned by the writers of the original Toy Story feature film and the Spyro license to great a new and intriguing type of gameplay that has its own self-contained marketing package all built into one.
When starting Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, the player must plug the “Portal of Power” into their console. This base effectively acts as an e-reader for the player’s collection of figures. Instantly, the game will show a brief introduction animation before placing them into the game. At any time, players can hot swap their characters off and place a new one on instantly depending on the situation in front of them. The technology is surprisingly fast and hasn’t had any hiccups between any of the toys we placed on it.
The most interesting aspect of these figures is that they store the progress of each individual character including their experience, money and online progress (more on that later). This allows for players to take their Skylander figures with them not only to their friend’s houses where two players can play simultaneously but also transfer character progress between different gaming consoles as well. As far as we can tell, this is the first time a character has ever truly been crossplatform on this many different gaming consoles. The only thing that doesn’t save to the figure itself is the player’s story progress which is saved to the individual console.
The controls of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure are simple but effective ones. Players must traverse a level getting past enemies and solving puzzles in order to reach a goal at the end. Each Skylander plays differently, especially as they level up and spend coins to upgrade themselves. Some are more melee focused with some up close defensive abilities. Others are blasters which attack from a distance. Others fall somewhere in the middle. As players advance, they can further customize the strengths of their Skylanders by taking on Challenge Missions with give them bonuses in various skills like strength, defense and luck. They can also choose which new powers they want to purchase for their Skylander as well.
During gameplay, players will inevitably take damage. Taking enough before healing will knock their Skylander out of action. This is where the in game marketing can be quickly seen. If a Skylander is knocked out, players get two options. They can either restart the level or place a new Skylander on the “Portal of Power” to continue their progress.
For younger gamers (or less skilled gamers), this means the more Skylander figures they own, the better chance they have of completing a difficult level. If they add in Magic Items which can be purchased with extra Adventure Packs, they have an even better advantage. Only when a player has had every Skylander available to them knocked out of action are they forced to restart a level.
Like many action adventure titles, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure has various boss battles. Some of these include fighting Kaos’ own dark versions of the Skylanders while others focus on fighting bigger baddies.
These are very reminiscent of classic boss battles of the 8-bit era where players had to find patterns to chip away at their opponents health and avoid massive damage causing attacks. The nice thing about these battles is unlike the days of yore, these boss battles are not punishingly brutal and are accessible to the younger audience this game is geared towards. While players may get a Skylander knocked out in the process, these battles are beatable.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure features both cooperative and competitive multiplayer. The cooperative features drop-in, drop-out play where players can switch off their Skylanders on the fly, just like they do in single player to traverse levels. As stated earlier, progress of the individual Skylanders will be carried over via the toy itself so going and playing at a friend’s house is beneficial to both players. Competitive mode acts as a battle arena where players can duke it out using their Skylanders to see who the strongest Portal Master is. Of the two modes, cooperative is definitely where the game shines as it allows both adults to help their kids through tougher zones of the game and encourages teamwork as varying character types can complement each other in battle.
Skylanders can also be used on the Skylanders website which gives an alternate game people can play on their internet browser with a different set and style of adventure to play through. The Nintendo 3DS version also allows players to use their same Skylanders though the game is drastically different in playstyle.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure hits on the notes you would expect from the scribes behind Toy Story. The characters all have relatable quirks with distinct archetypical personalities with dual layers of humor. The cast of supporting characters help progress players along their journey and give an enjoyable narrative along the way. The villain Kaos is also the perfect fit for the game’s kid centric story. A huge Napoleon complex on a clumsy but overpowered foil gives kids everything they want to dislike in a bad guy without crossing the line into being something that would legitimately feel like a threat to them in this lighthearted tale.The voice acting is surprisingly pleasant as well with the likes of Patrick Warburton making appearances.
The place that Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure falls short is the lack of a true main character. Because the player takes the role of the Portal Master and is never seen on screen, there is less of a personality behind them than there would be of say a silent protagonist like Gordan Freeman. Though characters on screen may address the player, there is never a response given. Likewise, the personalities of the individual Skylanders never come out either as they are silent during any of the game’s cut scenes except in the brief animation screen when they are summoned to the Portal of Power. Even if the game switched to only specific Skylanders (like the three included with the Starter Pack) it would have made the individuals feel more like heroes than chess pieces.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure isn’t going to be a graphical powerhouse of a title but it also isn’t expected to be. Much like Toy Story is a kids movie with models that resemble a high res Saturday morning cartoon show, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a kids game at heart. As a result, there are lots of rounded edges, bright colors and amplified personalities at work. There is also a fantastic variance in the design of each of the characters. While there are a few ongoing themes, like a dragon type for each of the elements, each character looks drastically different from any of the others. These different Skylanders aren’t just a different texture over the same model but a drastically varied set of unique characters to play as and collect.
As stated early, the voice acting behind Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a great feature of the game. Though there are some brief stutters in the mixing, the actors themselves deliver on all fronts.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a surpising lighthearted treat in the middle of a very mature holiday season. No war tore battlefields to deal with but instead there is a fantasy world with likable characters that is incredibly approachable for all gamers. While the game definitely has a youthful target audience, there are aspects of it that can be enjoyed by any gamers, especially those who were so addicted to the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” mentality of Pokemon a decade and a half ago and are still eagerly purchasing newer titles.
While the marketing behind the game can be objectively questionable, it is no different than years ago when Hasbro and Mattel funded the Transformers and He-Man television shows in hopes of selling more toys. The big difference between this game though and just another marketing scheme is that Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is actually a good game. It is a fun, unique and creative experience with some awesome new uses for the technology in it. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure may just be the surprise hit this holiday season.
For more thoughts on Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, check out Episode 3 of The Bitcast as well.
XBox 360 (Also available on Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3Ds, PlayStation 3, Mac & PC)
Price: $69.99 (Starter Pack), $19.99 (Adventure Packs), $19.99 (Character 3-Pack), $8.99 (Character Packs)