Spyro the Dragon has fallen on hard times as of late. Once a popular and best-selling video game mascot, the young purple dragon’s recent releases weren’t greeted incredibly well by the gaming community at large. It’s a shame, considering how beloved the character was quite a few years ago. Thinking along the same lines, the folks at Toys For Bob, XPEC Entertainment and Activision Publishing have decided to reintroduce the fire-breathing hero in a new light. Taking into account the character’s appeal to younger audiences, the companies have partnered together in order to release Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure; an action-adventure game with a physical toy element. It’s a release which happens to have some exciting new technology accompanying its colourful action.
The result of this technological adventure and revitalization attempt is an action-adventure game which has more than a hint of role-playing game mechanics within its design. In many ways, it reminds me of what a Gauntlet game would be like if it was made for kids. Exploring the world with the use of a third-person overhead camera, players must guide their varied avatars through grid-like worlds. Tons of enemies must be dispatched along the way, with secret area exploration and the odd puzzle included for variety sake. Through progress, each in-game character levels up individually, with the opportunity to purchase attack upgrades or dress-up using discovered hats with stat-boosting abilities. It’s a light and kid-friendly approach to character building, though the action takes the forefront as it should.
Sure, the gaming community has seen a lot of action-adventure titles over the years. Even some with role-playing elements. However, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is different. This diversion ties into the toy aspect mentioned above. In order to use a character in the game, a physical figure with its likeness must be placed on what is referred to as the portal of power. This high-tech device (which your kids may mistake for magic) can read memory which is installed within the figures, allowing it to drop that individual hero into the game world.
When the player is done using a specific character, they have the ability to change to another one on the fly. This is done by removing the placed figure from the portal’s level face and putting another one on instead. It’s that simple, which is one of the reasons why kids will be able to pick up and play Skylanders without lengthy tutorials or a lot of video game experience. Sure, they might prefer to slam the figures together like they would with an action figure, but that’s okay. The nice thing is that they’re sturdy creations, which can take being played with. An obvious goal was to have the in-game characters become real-world toys. Mission accomplished on that front.
There are close to thirty different Skylanders characters available right now. Though, only three come with the game’s starter set. The others are available for individual purchase, though they’re not required to complete the game. If you choose to only purchase the inaugural set, then that’s fine. Almost the entire game will be available for play right out of the box, with additional characters required for secret areas found within the title’s twenty-two chapters. Gamers who would like to complete the game to its fullest will need to purchase several extra figures at the very least, for approximately eight dollars each. Group packs are available as well.
Think of Skylanders as being like Pokemon. The cards act as the best comparison. In order to have the best experience, you must flesh out your deck with unique cards and characters. Although Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure has nothing to do with cardboard rectangles, it does borrow from this formula. The full experience requires the player to have at least one character from each of the lore’s eight different types (elements.) There are the traditional water, fire and magic types, along with science and wind characters, just to name some. Purchasing the console game and its beginner set will grant you the use of three different types: magic (Spyro,) tech (Trigger Happy) and water (Gill Grunt). Not all versions of the game are the same and starter set pieces also differ between the consoles and 3DS, for example.
Glowing all sorts of different colours as it does so, the portal of power reads and stores memory on your figure collection. With each one levelling up individually, it’s nice to have those stats stored internally. Equipped hats and located power gems (extra moves and upgrade options) accompany the skill data. It’s all very neat and interesting. Though, that’s not where the cool tech stops. Every single one of the toys features insanely impressive cross-console connectivity, meaning that your 360 figures will work on your 3DS, PS3, PC, etc. Neat, huh? Barcodes can also be entered into the game’s website to unlock social interaction features and other online modes.
Players take on the role of an apprentice portal master – someone who has been blessed with the ability to control portals found in the aptly-named Skylands region. This beautiful world and its incredibly varied locations, climates and elements, are in danger of being taken over by darkness and its leader, Kaos. Skylands’ last portal master, Eon, has been effectively taken out of commission. He’s only able to communicate through floating head form (an apparition for those who’d like to get technical). This wizard of sorts acts as your tutor although many colourful friends will come to your assistance throughout the adventure.
The game’s opening cutscene paints a grim picture of what is in store for the picturesque world. Not only has it lost its magic elder, but his two main tools in the war against evil were also disbanded. The Skylanders were turned into miniature versions of themselves, which were displaced around the world. A very similar fate has befallen the circle of light; a machination which is able to block shadow attacks with its created energy. Without both, Kaos and his legion of doom will surely remodel the land into something heinous. Good thing the new portal master has come along. Welcome to an exciting first day on the job, rookie.
While playing Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, your goal is quite simple. After all, evil must be stymied once again. No questions asked. That’s the life of a hero. However, it’s easier said than done considering that all of the parts of the circle of light have been placed in distant areas. One may be in the clutches of goblins or undead forces, while another may have been placed on a seaside beach. There’s a ton of variety to be found within the landscape visuals in this game, allowing for a new environment to be taken advantage of as each chapter progresses on to a new one. You’ll visit everything from a crypt and an underground railroad nestled amongst flowing lava, to a quaint village and a beautiful lagoon. Of course, each one is filled with danger – whether it’s in trap form or detailed in a heinous enemy’s attack method.
The best selling feature found within is Skylanders‘ lengthy single player and two player cooperative campaign mode. Its aforementioned twenty-two chapters refer to individual levels, without counting the final boss fight. This means that it’ll keep your child (or even yourself – this game is good for all audiences) busy for close to ten hours, give or take a bit. Even more if the player is the type who likes to collect all items, level up every character and replay levels. I was quite surprised by just how long this experience actually was. Admittedly, it did get repetitive at times due to a lack of variety within the overall gameplay structure, which could have been addressed with some mini-game segments or varied mission objectives. However, the included campaign is still quite good and full of content, despite that drawback. It’s also better than most kids games on the market, by quite a margin.
It’s neat being able to use the portal as your character selector, with the opportunity to swap at any time if you’re down on health or feel like changing things up. Occasionally, a narrator will announce that one type is more powerful in a certain area. If you have that elemental version, then it’s smart to plop it onto the colour-changing tech sensor. Half of the time, it’ll be mentioned that starter set characters are the more powerful types. The other half of the time, you’ll hear that figures found in stores like Toys ‘R Us and Gamestop, are the more powerful ones in that certain area. It’s a marketing strategy which is understandable yet mildly annoying. That wouldn’t be the case if the narrator was missing in action. He’s fine the first few times, but a visual prompt would have been fine. It gets a bit annoying hearing the same thing over and over again.
Since kids normally like to play video games with friends and family, the development team added in a few decent competitive modes and the aforementioned standard campaign co-op option. Launched through the main menu are a two-player death match scenario, an okay combat football mode and a gem-collecting competition. All three allow for combat, meaning that attacks are as important as scoring. Only one portal is required for these scenarios, which all have four playable maps.
My lengthy amount of time with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure has left me reflective. It’s not often that you see a polished kids title like this hit the market. While it may not be a perfect game, this one certainly stands high above most of its competitors. There are certainly areas to improve on, with a need for variety. The addition of competitive multiplayer is nice but you can’t play it against the artificial intelligence, which is a bit of a bummer. Also, the included challenge maps are pretty much just basic levels with varied objectives, lacking any included variety. This lack of gameplay variety is the only major complaint I can levy. There are other minor issues, such as control imperfections (noticeable when using jumping pads) and a difficulty level which ramps up a bit much for its intended audience. Plus the fact that you can’t skip dialogue sections the second or third time around. Nothing major, however.
When it comes to its visuals, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure gets the job done and looks okay while doing it. This isn’t a game that will win awards based on its pretty aesthetics, but it also isn’t one which will be complained about for looking poor. There’s a lot of colour to be found within the game world, alongside some varied animations for each different character. Considering there are thirty unique playable characters and tons of enemy variety at launch, it’s understandable that the visuals aren’t exactly top-tier stuff. Close inspection will reveal some blurry textures, occasional jagged lines and a lack of definition at times. Though, the game’s target audience certainly won’t care. It also won’t bother them that characters’ mouths continue to flap after the conclusion of sped through dialogue. Granted, the fast-forward speed isn’t much of an upgrade from the basic one.
The term child friendly usually means cheesy voice overs, lame music and poorly written dialogue. Some of Skylanders‘ voice acting is a bit too over-dramatic, but it’s okay. Its score and script writing, on the other hand, are both quite good for a child’s licensed product. The game’s storyline was put to paper by two talented writers: Alek Sokolow and Joel Cohen, who both worked on Toy Story 3. They’ve crafted an interesting plot with colourful characters, although the inclusion of zombies and romantic jokes may not have been in the game’s best interest, when considering its target audience. However, that is nothing to shy away from a purchase over, though it should be noted. The related dialogue is quite mild and isn’t offensive at all, meaning it’ll go over younger kids’ heads. They’ll have fun laughing at the occasional safe joke and enjoying the title’s okay sound effects, oblivious to any of those more mature tones.
Overall, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a quality game and a great technological feat, which is well-above most of its competitors in the kids game market. The teams behind it have done a good job in research, development and play-testing, creating a relatively polished experience with minimal issues. While the idea may not be entirely original, there’s no doubt that clever marketing is afoot. With the holiday season approaching, this is one game you should certainly look into picking up for a younger friend or family member. Heck, you might want to pick it up for yourself if you’re into creative technology and unique gaming experiences. Kids at heart and figure collecting fanatics need apply.
This review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we received for review purposes.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a very neat technological development, which uses a portal peripheral and physical figures for in-game character swapping. It's quite polished too and is overall a quality experience.