Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, at first glance, is not a game I should like for a number of reasons:
1) I was never a fan of any Spyro games
2) I’m close to 20 years older than the target audience this game was created for and marketed to
3) I’ve grown weary of video game peripherals and add-on purchases, which the entirety of this game is built around
4) I’m generally not a fan of the “Gauntlet-style” of game.
5) I don’t like the thought of going into a Toys R Us to buy myself action figures for my kiddie video game
As curious as I’ve been to play it, I’ve put up all sorts of mental barriers to stop myself from playing this game at all. Then I got it for Christmas and I played the heck out of it. I made up all the excuses in the world to not play it, but it ended up winning me over in a big way.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a spin-off of the main Spyro games. Outside of the inclusion of Spyro himself, this game has no real connection to its predecessors. Instead of being a 3D platformer, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is an action adventure game cut from the same cloth as Gauntlet.
What sets this game apart from the “Gauntlet-style” of the past is the action figure component of the Skylanders experience.The fiction is set up in a way to justify the use of action figures as a character select and character data storage method. As the story goes, you are a Portal Master, and it is up to you to summon the heroic Skylanders from the Earth realm into their realm to save their world. The act of summoning a character is done by placing your Skylander figure onto the Portal of Power.
When you buy the starter kit, you’ll get three Skylanders figures to start, though there are a total of 37 different playable characters divided across 8 different elements. While you can beat the game with the starter characters, you will not be able to access all of the game’s content unless you purchase additional figures. Some of the ways the game nudges you to purchase more toys is by saying that a character of a certain element is stronger in a particular part of a level. For instance, the in-game narrator may tell you that a Water class Skylander would be stronger in this area. If you don’t have a Water Skylander, you can simply play through it at a ‘disadvantage’, or go to the store and buy an Undead figure. Also, the game isn’t bashful about using the ‘hard-sell’ approach, as it goes about this by blocking off certain sections of the game that can only be accessed by Skylanders of a specific element or by you discovering a character-specific power-up for a character that you don’t own. Just in case you’re interested, whenever these latter scenario happens, the game always gives you the option to watch a preview trailer of that character in action, in hopes they can sell you on additional figures.
If this sounds like its a mix of genius and evil marketing ploy, you’re absolutely correct. Tying the virtual nature of the game with physical toys is a brilliant move on paper, as kids love both video games and toys. However, for jaded individuals like me, I see this approach as a means for a giant corporation to squeeze consumers for hundreds of dollars more per copy through the sales of additional figures.
For me to not cry foul, all of the elements to this Skylanders ecosystem must be well thought out and of high quality. To my surprise, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure hits the mark in almost all of the right places. The story, while intended for a younger audience, is done well enough to make the forward momentum of the game meaningful. In terms of presentation, the game looks and sounds great, with no real design or technical hiccups to speak of. If you want to share this experience with a friend, the game allows for 2-player local co-op, where your friend can bring in their Dino-Rang and place it on your Portal of Power. One genius technical design decision Activision made with this game is that the figures themselves are console agnostic. If you play Skylanders on any platform, your figures will work on any Portal of Power on any system.
Speaking of the figures, Skylanders’ characters and their associated figures are the stars of the show. Each character has its own unique move list, which will take time for you to expand on through leveling up and power-ups that can be found in each level. The game does a great job of not only selling you on new characters, but showing you how awesome each one can be if you put in the time to improve them. If you want to play the game through once with a mix of the three starter characters, you’re still getting a lot of game for your buck. If you want to go deeper, the option to purchase the additional figures is there, which could make the Skylanders experience stretch out for hundreds of hours if you wanted to invest that type of time into it. At the price these characters are sold ($8 each or 3 for $20), I think they’re absolutely worth the investment if you’re into Skylanders enough.
The only time the figurines become sinister (intentional or not) occurs with your in-game lives. If your character dies in a level, you’re forced to switch that figure out for a new one if you want to continue through the level. What that means is, if you run out of toys before the level is over, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of the level. If you have more toys, you technically have more lives available to you. Skylanders isn’t anywhere near the difficulty of a Dark Souls, but you’re going to encounter deaths in this game and it’ll sting to know that if you had more toys, you wouldn’t have to restart.
The other caveat to the Skylanders experience is that it can get repetitive. The things you do in each level can feel samey after a while. I also think this was a conscious design decision. The variety in the Skylanders experience comes from using different characters in these levels. However, your mileage on this front will vary based on the characters you have. My brother and I played through the whole game with the three starting Skylanders and one extra Skylander I got as a gift, and it did start to get repetitive towards the end. The best way to play this is with more figures, but whether you want to spend additional dollars on figures is up to you.
I had concerns going in that Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure that this game would be nothing more than another crappy kids game wrapped within an evil marketing ploy. Coming out of it, I’m surprised to see that the overall package is pretty good. Regardless of age, it’s clear that Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a really good game and a fun experience for almost anyone that is willing to give it a shot. If you’re willing to invest in additional toys, this game can be fun for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. I’ve yet to determine whether or not I’ll be investing in any more figures, but I had a good time with essentially the base package.