Pros: Fun gameplay, visually striking, clever peripheral.
Cons: Lame story, tedious boss battles, pricey accessories.
There is no word that so aptly describes the action adventure game Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures as canny, not because it’s a good game, which it certainly is, but because it has been so ingeniously designed to suck large sums of money from parents a little bit at a time. Skylanders is designed to be the gift that keeps on giving ... to its publishers.
Developed by: Toys For Bob
Published by: Activision
For ages: Activision says this is suitable for ages 6+, although the ESRB rates this for 10+
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2011
The Gimmick: Hardware Lets Toys Enter the Game World
Skylanders’ big gimmick is the “Portal of Power,” a game peripheral used to select your avatar. The Portal is a cereal-bowl-sized, battery-powered device that looks like a tiny ice skating rink and communicates with the Wii via a USB dongle. Put a plastic figurine on the Portal and the corresponding creature is transported into the game world.
The Skylanders Starter Pack comes with a Portal of Power, three figurines and the game itself. Put in some batteries and turn it on and the Portal will glow with a shifting array of colors. Put one of the game’s figurines on it and that character will leap into the game with a war cry.
The game’s conceit is that you are a magical “portal master” able to send creatures known as skylanders to Skyland from your home planet, Earth. This is the planet to which the skylanders were banished after being shrunk to little figurines by the game’s bad guy.
As the game begins, Skyland is having issues with the evil villain Kaos and with something called “The Darkness.” To save the world, the player must send skylanders out to search for various magical objects that can push back the Darkness.
Gameplay: Fun, Easy Action and Adventure
Underneath the hardware and premise, Skylanders is an action adventure game in which you must lead a creature of your choice through a colorful world populated by a huge variety of monsters (the game introduces new ones constantly, ranging from vicious little goblins to mages that can imbue other creatures with extra powers to the occasional giants or tanks. Skylanders have two main attacks, triggered with the A and B button, and these vary from one creature to the next. Spyro can shoot fireballs or charge into enemies. Gill Grunt can shoot a water canon or a spear gun.
As you progress through the game you can use gold found throughout the worlds to purchase upgrades; one lets Spyro shoot three fireballs at once, another sends Gill Grunt’s spear through multiple objects and monsters. Past the halfway point you get to choose an upgrade path in which you focus entirely on improving one of the two attacks; this makes sense because I found I would usually have a favorite attack anyway.
The game also offers a variety of simple puzzles. Some involve pushing giant turtles together to make bridges while others involve using crystals to redirect a light beam. There are also fun combination lock puzzles that involve dropping a creature in various directions.
Skylanders is successful in almost every area. Gameplay is fairly easy but endlessly entertaining. The game offers a wealth of hidden areas and collectible items to search for. The upgrade system keeps battles fresh. The game is one of the best-looking games ever made for the Wii, colorful and imaginative, with a variety of attractive locales.
Co-op Play: Easy for Even Non-Gamers
The game is so appealing, in fact, that it even enchanted my non-gamer girlfriend Laurel, who was so intrigued by the Portal of Power that she sat down and played the game with me in co-op mode. Two figurines can fit on the Portal of Power, and Laurel easily dropped into the game. She found learning the controls much easier than the last time she had joined me in a video game (Endless Ocean: Blue World). She really enjoyed the game, comparing it favorably with her frustrating youthful experiences with arcade games. The controls are, in fact, extremely simple; for the most part all you use are two buttons and the analog stick, although occasionally you will be asked to shake or shove the Wii remote.
In co-op, skylanders are tethered together so that they can’t get beyond a certain distance from each other. It creates occasional difficulties, but it also forces players to work together, which I found interesting.
Flaws: Not Many
Flaws in the game are minor. The story sequences are generally tedious and are unlikely to amuse anyone over the age of 8. There are some nice touches, such as a sea creature commenting that “life’s a carp shoot,” but most of the humor is forced and the voice acting, with the exception of the always reliable Patrick Warburton as a balloonist, is sub-par. Halfway through the game I began to simply skip all the story sequences (via the handy “C” button).
I also could have done without the endless boss battles. Perhaps they should really be called boss-ish battles, since instead of facing off against one powerful creature, you fight a series of fairly powerful creature alternating with other forms of attack. These sequences go on too long, and are more annoying than fun.