- Players: 1-2
- Game figures keep all stats/progress
- Interchangeable figures are cross platform capable (Wii, Xbox, PS3 3DS, PC)
- HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
A few weeks back, I had a chance to check out Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure for the Xbox 360 and Wii. The game was close to the final build and was not perfect by any means; however, I was impressed with what I experienced. Everything from the wonderfully detailed toy figures to the innovative cross platform technology, Skylanders certainly appeared to have everything going for it. Also, it was clear Activision was “all in” when it came to promoting and funding the game. Well over the past couple of days I had a chance to sit down with the final Xbox 360 build of the game. After some extended playtime with the game, not only am I highly impressed, but I have no doubt that Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure has all the right ingredients to make it the must-own video game for kids between the ages 7-12 years old this holiday season.
Before I get into Skylanders’ storyline and gameplay elements, I will explain a little how the title works as this game is not your typical ‘throw the game disc into the console and play’ title. Skylanders retails for $69.99, which is a bit more than most games, but this price includes the game, three toy figurines and the “Portal of Power” which plugs into your Xbox 360 console. The Xbox 360 Portal attaches to your console via a wire but the Wii and PS3 version are wireless. I was disappointed the Xbox 360 version was wired but I do not fault Activision for this. It is widely known the Microsoft folks will not give up their wireless technology to 3rd party developers that easily. So Microsoft, you get a thumbs down on this front. The wired Portal does include a cord that stretches approximately 12 feet. I would have preferred a bit longer of a cord but the 12-foot cord should be sufficient for most gaming set ups.
Skylanders features a total of 32 toy figures which are all playable characters in the game. Each character in the game is locked; that is until you place a character on the Portal. So in order to play with all the characters in the game and take advantage of their unique character skill set, you need to acquire those characters in toy form. Once you place a toy figure on the Portal, the screen starts to illuminate and instantly your character appears on screen. You are then free to control your player in the game just as you would any other character in any other ‘run-of-the-mill’ kid game. If you get sick of playing with that character, simply take the toy off the portal and replace him with one of your other characters. I was amazed with how easy and seamless this process was. There was no hitting the pause menu and accessing a separate screen. Just pull your existing toy off and place another one on the Portal. It is really that simple and works like a charm. For those like myself who do not like to remove the toy figures from the packaging, the Portal can still read your toy figure even when it remains in the packaging. This is certainly a nice added bonus for those figure collector hounds like me.
What makes Skylanders a truly one of a kind experience, and something I have yet to see in a game, is the cross platform abilities of the characters. For instance, while playing the Xbox 360 version I managed to level up my character to a level 5 and found a funny looking tin pot hat for my character. After I equipped the hat, I immediately pulled my character off the Xbox 360 Portal and placed my character on the Wii Portal. Just like magic, my character showed up in the Wii game as a level 5 character and there he was equipped with the hat. It was incredible and worked like a charm. The technology is remarkable as each figurine stores its own stats, equipment, and other assortments. These stats then carry over as you take the figurine over to a friend’s and put it on their Portal for some cooperative fun. The figures are also reasonably priced, as each one is 8 bucks and they look good and are very durable.
Each character, including Spyro, falls under a specific element class such as tech, life, fire, un-dead, etc. As you progress along in the game you will stumble across certain areas where it would be advantageous to play with a character from a certain class. In some cases you will need a character with a certain element in order to access an area. Should you require a character with a specific element it is as simple as taking your initial character off the Portal and putting the new character on the Portal who possess the needed element. Once you do so the new character immediately shows up in game where you left off. You then use the new character with the necessary element to continue on your adventure. Fortunately you can get through the game with the characters that are included in the $69.99 bundle, but you will not be able to access all areas of the game. So if you plan on investing a serious amount of playtime with the game you will want to acquire characters that represent all element classes.
As for the game itself, Skylanders plays out like many other kid-focused games. It is a somewhat linear experience but there is a ton of exploration. In order to boost your characters stats, you will need to collect coins, rings, and other items that surface when you break items and destroy enemies. Travelling along from level to level and smashing everything in site, including enemies, is enjoyable but it does become repetitive after awhile. Yet switching off characters when the game does become a little stale certainly spices things up a bit and keeps the game interesting. The game also rewards you for using different characters as items become unlocked the more characters you use.
Collecting, destroying enemies, and smashing objects take up the bulk of the approximately 15-hour single player affair. Yet there are some puzzle solving sequences and other sequences where you have to interact with the characters and locate items. So there is a good amount of variety in the game.
If you get sick of the single player experience there are some additional modes available. Battle mode, for instance, is where you can pick a character and battle one-on-one against another character in a virtual arena that comes alive. There are ports that launch you into the air, rockets you can fire at your opponent, and deadly spikes that rise from the ground. These are just a few examples of the obstacles you face when battling your buddy in Battle mode. I was also surprised to find out that the stats your character (toy figure) accumulates in this mode and count towards your overall player stats as they are saved in that tiny chip in your toy figure.
In addition to the Battle Mode, there is also mode that acts like a football game. Much like Battle Mode, it is a one-on-one game. Just as the game starts, a virtual football launches into the map. You and your opponent chase the ball and try to score a touchdown or a field goal in the designated area, which contains a goal post. Bashing, smashing, or firing at your opponent can result is a fumble. It is hectic and crazy mode but a blast to play.
Skylanders is a game designed for kids to play with their buddies, or members of their family, together in the same room. Playing the game alongside a someone in the same room, or on the same couch, is where the game truly shines as the co-op experience is a hoot. To add a second player all you have to do is put their character figurine on your Portal and just like magic their character appears on screen. Both of you are now free to roam the world and tackle the many levels. All the while, both characters accumulate their own stats and carry over to any console.
The most impressive aspect of Skylander Spyro’s Adventure is clearly those toy figures. They are small, but one thing is for certain, a heck of a lot of detail went into the toy figure designs. Being an avid collector of NHL hockey McFarlane figures, I can appreciate toy figures that look life-life and feature a lot of detail and colour. Skylanders’ toys figures do just that. I was simply blown away with how great those toy figures look. With 32 toy characters in all, collectors and fans of the game will, without question, want to collect as many as possible.
This does however bring me to one of my concerns with the game and the entire Skylanders experience. The game, portal, and three characters are bundled up together for a cost of around $69.99, as I mentioned above. Typical new release games cost around 10 bucks less, so when you consider what you get for 10 bucks more, Skylanders is good bang for the buck. So what’s the problem you ask? Well if you want more characters, it is going to cost you. Additional single figures will cost you 8 bucks or you can buy them in 3-packs. With a total of 32 characters to be had, you do the math. It will add up if you are like me and have to have complete collections. Yet nobody is forcing you to pick up all the characters and if one or more of your friends own the game then trading figures could become a popular school yard activity.
Visually, Skylanders is a good looking game. Granted, it does not push the limits of the Xbox 360′s hardware by any stretch of the imagination but the overall look and style of the game will not only appease Spyro fans, but it should also satisfy the games target audience. For starters, the games cute and crazy characters look fantastic. They look very lifelike (for cartoon characters) and all have a style and personality of their own. Each virtual character looks nearly identical to their toy figurine counterpart. It is actually quite stunning, and a treat to watch, as your toy magically appears on screen after you slap it down on the Portal. The development team clearly put of lot of time and effort into the development of each character and it shows. Even the games cutscenes and other character introduction scenes will have you rooting for your character, and in a charming way you end up feeling more connected to the characters.
Much like the games characters, the environments in Skylanders’ are equally appealing. The world of Spyro is bright and the vibrant colours really shine making for a game that is fun to play and explore. Little things such as sheep you can pound into the ground that pop back up and the giant turtles you have to position in order to cross certain areas are just a couple of examples that make the game charming and visually appealing. Additionally, the games menus are nicely presented and easy to navigate.
Hardcore gamers will most likely pick apart some of the visuals as the game does not measure up to some of the bigger titles this holiday season. You do see some occasional clipping issues, and I did notice the odd slow down when things became a little too chaotic on the screen, but some of these imperfections are to be expected; and let’s face it, Skylanders is not Gears of War or Modern Warfare. Skylanders target audience is drastically different. Bottomline, Skylanders accomplishes what it sets out to do by delivering a visually appealing game that is a treat to play.
Much like the games visuals, I was equally, if not more, impressed with the game’s overall sound package. For starters, Hans Zimmer, who could be crowned as the Heavyweight Champion of Hollywood movie soundtracks, composes the musical score. Skylanders is a great sounding experience and much of the credit goes to the musical score which features whimsical acoustic sounds that should only be played in 5.1 surround sound. The music never becomes overbearing and is perfectly suited for the game. Sure it repeats itself now and then, but not enough to distract or annoy you.
The voice acting is also top notch as some notable voice actors lend their voice. Patrick Warburton is easily the most recognizable actor who lends his voice to the game and is easily the funniest. Other voice actors in the game do a wonderful job, and as it stands I have no complaints with the game’s voice work other than some of the dialogue can drag on a little too long during some of the cut-scenes. As for the games sound effects, all manage to effectively do the job and only enhance the gameplay experience. All in all, I was impressed with Skylanders sound package.
Activision took some giant risks when they decided to back Skylander Spyro’s Adventure as the technology behind the toy figures, the portal, and its cross-platforming abilities could not have come cheap. Not to mention, the games voice talent, the musical score composed by Hans Zimmer, and the marketing would have also run up a hefty tab. Yet with great risks comes great rewards and Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a prime example of that. Sure the toy figures and the illuminating Portal are neat; but the gameplay is highly enjoyable as well. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure offers up a richer than expected experience as well as plenty of replay value to keep its younger target audience coming back for more. Needless to say, I am impressed and left with the opinion that parents can should pick the bundle up for their kids this holiday season as it should prove to be a popular purchase for all.