Money: How Many Skylanders Do You Need? How Many Can You Afford?
Changing avatars is as simple as replacing one with another on the Portal (I generally would pick one up off my couch and use it to knock the current skylander off the portal before replacing it). There are occasional gameplay reasons to swap characters; one’s grenade launcher allows you to bombard enemies over a low wall, one’s fire attack is especially useful against some monsters, and when one skylander loses all its health you have no choice but to swap it out. But the game has other ways of encouraging players to switch. Each of your skylanders is associated with a certain element (fire, earth, magic) and at times the game will tell you that creatures with one of these elements in stronger in certain areas. The other, more persuasive reason to switch is to access element-keyed gates locking bonus areas of the game.
This means that while you can play the game from beginning to end with only the three starter kit skylanders, you won’t be able to reach certain power ups, collectibles and challenges with just that trio.
The game continually reminds players that they need more skylander figurines. Whenever you near a gate you’re told what elemental you need. A pillar in the game’s hub world can be destroyed to gain treasure, but you need to have the right elementals to do so. You will often discover power ups for skylanders you don’t own, and the game offers a scene showing you what those creatures can do with their new power ups.
This is why I call the game canny. The figurines cost $8 each, and with 8 elements, you need to buy a minimum of five more skylanders to access all the game’s areas. Well, almost all, because there are short quests for each individual character, so if you want to play everything the game has to offer, you need all 32 skylanders (I only played one quest and found it less interesting than the rest of the game). Kotaku estimates that while the game itself sells for $70, experiencing every last little bit of it would cost over $300.
The Portal: Pro and Con Arguments
This makes the Portal of Power a potential goldmine for publisher Activision, but its benefit for gamer are less clear. For kids it might well be more fun to play with little toys, dropping them on a glowing Portal, than simply calling up an onscreen menu of available skylanders, but honestly I would prefer the latter. The Portal is an extra item to keep track of, if I lost my skylanders in my messy apartment I wouldn’t be able to play the game at all, and I had to change the batteries once (contained in one of those annoying battery compartments held closed with a screw).
On the other hand, kids do wind up with toys to play with, and they can bring their skylanders to a friend’s house. Impressively, the toy itself keeps track of its power ups no matter whose console you are using it on. That offers the best argument for figurines over console-homed virtual creatures.
Verdict: A Great Game, Portal or No
While you can argue about whether the Porthole of Power adds much to the game, there is no denying that the game itself is one of the best action adventure games ever made for the Wii, a fun, easygoing, beautifully crafted game that is, as the saying goes, fun for kids of all ages. It’s a game children are likely to love, but as they keep asking for just one more skylander to call their own, parents may begin to think of the Portal of Power as the Sinkhole of Money.