Reviewed: October 19, 2011
Released: October 16, 2011
It is a fact that Spyro the Dragon has had some rocky years since Insomniac handed off the license back in the early 2000’s. Like so many of the other orphaned “mascot” characters of old (Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, etc.) as Spyro was passed from publisher to publisher, each struggled to reinvent the character in one way or another in an attempt to reviving the struggling franchise. |
In the case of the Spyro franchise, the trend seemed to be in moving away from the cute and comedic world of the original titles, to the increasingly dark and sinister settings of the more recent releases to appeal to an edgier audience. Skylanders itself was slated to continue this “maturing” trend by incorporating blood and death, but the folks at developer, Toys for Bob, did not feel comfortable with this direction for the purple dragon and decided to return childlike absurdity that made the Spyro franchise so appealing in the first place.
The result, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, is an epic update to the Spyro franchise that is chock full of sensational storytelling, marvelous gameplay, and some of the coolest technology yet seen in gaming. If the folks at Activision play their cards (or their characters) right, Skylanders could very well be the next holiday sensation.
Skylanders puts the gamer in the direct role of an overseeing Portal Master in the kingdom of Skylands, who must help a stable of small creatures overthrow an evil Portal Master and prevent the evil Kaos from wreaking havoc on their home. These characters – the Skylanders – come in various physical forms ranging from the beloved Spyro and other dragon-like folk, to bow and sword wielding humanoids, to fantastical plantlike characters and more. As with most collecting game, each character has his/her class with which they best align; whether it be the standard RPG elemental classes like water, air, fire, or it be the unique skill-based classes like life (healing), tech (weaponry), and magic (spells). Each character has its own upgradable specialty that comes into play throughout the course of the game.
And a game can take a long time to complete, given the fact that certain mission trees will only unlock once the gamer has collected the necessary Skylander character from the 30-odd available. Here is the hook – the Skylander characters can only be collected by purchasing them in the store as a physical figurine, which can then be used in the game.
How does it work? Through a fantastic device called the “magical” Portal of Power, which is a wireless (via USB dongle) that comes standard in the retail package of the game. The Portal of Power is a glowing platform that can both read from and save to the internal memory of any Skylanders characters or objects that are placed on it. As each character is placed on the portal, immediately appears in the game with any loot and/or modifications in tow from the last time it was used – including health. Each player can have one character on the portal platform at any given time; and the portal will fit a total of two characters (in co-op mode) and one additional object (tokens, etc.).
What’s the big deal? Well, there are a lot of big deals about Skylanders. First and foremost, the characters are cool…incredibly cool. From the lumbering tree man “Stump Smash” to the gun-toting berserker “Trigger Happy” each character in the game has been carefully crafted to be uniquely appealing and the level of detail on each figurine is amazing. Gamers who have fiddled with the Xbox 360’s Kameo will instantly understand the charm of these fantastic creatures.
As mentioned, each creature has different strengths and weaknesses; some are better suited for certain environments or for specific tasks than others, which really drives the collection aspect of the game. I cannot tell you how many times in the last week I have been drawn to the games aisle of my local store to see what characters are available.
At $8 each, and $20 for 3, these characters are definitely not cheap. But as I said, the detail and artistry on the characters is absolutely amazing, and they all include some form of memory device that saves all of their pertinent leveling and loot information – making them mobile saving devices. And yes, players can take them to a friend’s house and play – and since the characters are system independent, it does not matter if the friend has the Wii, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, or the PC versions of the game, the characters will work beautifully.
Skylanders comes standard with the Portal of Power and three playable characters (Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt) that alone supply hours’ worth of gameplay. Knowing how many peripherals we are collecting around the house, size is an issue – thankfully Skylanders’ gadgetry is fairly compact; totally packaged it is about the size of a 9”x13” baking pan, with the largest item being the roughly 5”x3” Portal of Power. The portal and characters are fabricated out of a tough resin, so they take a pretty good beating.
An epic undertaking like Skylanders would not be much without a good storyline and presentation, and Toys for Bob went all out to make sure that they delivered. Expertly scripted by Toy Story writers Alek Sokolow and Joel Cohen, and featuring an ensemble cast of voice acting veterans including Patrick Warburton, Steven Horvitz, and Steve Blum – Skylanders is consistently entertaining and enjoyable throughout with its witty humor and excellent narrative.
If I had one gripe about Skylanders, it would have to be the total price – while the $70 MSRP for the starter package that includes 3 characters and the Portal of Power is by no means a bad deal, the $8 price for additional characters seems a bit steep considering it will cost a solid $300 to round out the set. Granted, we probably spent that in Pokémon cards, Webkinz, and Club Penguin memberships over the years, but those things introduced a lot more variety over a greater span of time than Skylanders will. Still, I appreciate the technology that Toys For Bob has introduced with Skylanders, and I am far from completing the game with the five characters I already own, so why am I even complaining, eh?
In closing, while I enjoyed Spyro’s darker years, I am definitely happy with the direction Toys for Bob and Activision have taken for the purple dragon. Skylanders signifies a new start for the franchise – a step back to Spyro’s roots, yet a step into the future.