Review: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (PS3)

Title:Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: October 16, 2011
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys For Bob
Original MSRP: $69.99
ESRB Rating:E
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is also available on Xbox 360, Wii, PC and Mac OS X.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

The task of reviewing Skylanders is a challenging one.  On one hand, my experience as a long-time gamer tells me that this is another form of Pokemon, except for the fact that I have to literally purchase my monsters instead of capturing them within a one-time purchased game.  That’s my logical side talking.  But therein lies the problem, we’re gamers.  We buy Madden sequels with nary a graphical change, and spend sixty bucks on something that cheaper DLC could have easily added to our existing copy.  We pay for maps that are already included in discs.  We do pretty stupid things.  And it’s with that level of voluntary ignorance that I looked upon Skylanders.

The reality is that you can look at the game in two different ways.  But first, let me explain what Skylanders is for those of you who may have heard of it, but perhaps not delved deep into its details.  Skylanders tells the tale of a land (or collection of floating lands) in turmoil.  An evil wizard is threatening the the world of these innocent furry creatures and it’s up to the Skylanders to save the day.  The Skylanders are the Jedi of this world: legendary creatures who once protected the land from evil, and return to do so once again.

But amidst an epic battle, a spell is cast on these creatures turning them into small statues (or toys) and casts them away to another world (Earth), and this is where you come in.  You find these toys and are able to summon the power of each warrior to help them out in their moment of turmoil.  How’s that for meta-gaming?  Unlike the fictional human in the opening cinematic, you do not find these characters in your room, or in your back yard.  Instead, you buy them at your local game store.  Individual characters will set you back $7.99, with a three pack running you about twenty bucks.  So why would you choose to only buy one?   Well, for starters, the packs are element-based.  You see, these characters are divided into different elemental Classes (you know, Earth, Wind, Fire), so if you want three Fire characters, you could go and spend twenty bucks on them, but then you neglect the Tech characters.  There are even Adventure packs that come with small location-based models (a Pirate Ship for example) and open up new areas in the game.

On one hand, you can complete the entire game with the characters available.  You can also buy one character for each element and unlock everything (since the gates are element-based).  You get cool looking figures to display and show off to your buddies, but this is where things get interesting.  This is also where my “gamer” side takes over and kicks my ass with the “Gee, that’s an awesome element to this game”.

You see, these little figures that you buy not only serve as a physical representation of your character.  When placed upon the cylindrical Portal (that comes packaged with the game), your character is immediately teleported into the action.  You can switch characters on the fly, and you can even play co-op with a friend by having his/her character placed on the Portal next to yours, but it gets better.  So, let’s say that you leveled your Tech Dragon and your friend leveled her Stealth Elf.  She’s ready to head home, because it’s late and she has to work the next day.  So where do the levels and items, that she acquired during your session, go?  Why, they go with her little action figure. 

Skylanders stores all of your character info inside of the actual figurine.  And these figurines are compatible with all version of the game.  Yes, you can level your character on PS3 and join your buddy on his 360 and continue your progress.  That save system is pretty amazing.  Of course, if you have similar characters, you might want to get the ol’ sharpie and mark your territory, because it would suck to level your character to 10 and accidentally bring home your buddy’s Level 5 dragon.

Each character has their own attack style.  For instance I like playing as my Elf Ranger, and my fiancee loves playing as the Stealth Dark Elf.  I have to admit, her character is pretty incredible, as she slices and dices through the enemy ranks.

Now that I have explained how Skylanders works, I have to bring it back to reality again.  You probably would not play the game if this gimmick weren’t a part of the fun.  It’s a decent game, and it plays like Diablo-light.  It’s a hack-n-slasher with some light role-playing elements.  Your characters do level, and their abilities do improve, but we’re not talking multi-tiered skill trees here.  Your variety comes from the different characters you own, as they all have different abilities and attack styles.

I wanted to provide a fair judgement of this game.  While I enjoyed playing it co-op, I don’t believe that I am the target audience for this game.  So I brought my son into the mix.  I took him to Gamestop and let him choose a figure.  I didn’t tell him what it was for.  I simply told him to pick the one he liked best.  He chose a Water Dragon and his eyes lit up when he put two and two together and saw his figure come to life.  Naturally he began asking when we could buy more (Damn you Activision), but there is no denying that he was really enjoying this cool little gimmick.

Let’s take a look at the individual elements of the game.

Again, Skylanders is Diablo for kids.  You fight through ranks and ranks of enemies and solve some basic puzzles.  Don’t expect full character customization, though you do see your hats appear upon your on-screen character.  Fighting is pretty decent and your enjoyment of it depends on which character you’re using.  I found my Elf’s fire arrows to be a quite entertaining method of disposing of creatures of opposing political views, and my son ended up dumping his Water Dragon for a trigger-happy duel-wielding Demon (that comes with the game).

You traverse floating environments defeating enemies and you are told when a certain enemy is weak against a different element, prompting you to switch your figurine for a better-suited one.  There are a few mini-games in the mix, but nothing that will make you long for them after you complete them.

This is a Wii game that was ported to the PlayStation 3.  The visuals aren’t going to win any awards, and there are PS2 games that look better.  But the style is sturdy and maintained through the entire game, The models are done well, as is their animation (which is a plus, since you’ll be fighting with them for hours).  While the Skylanders themselves are geared towards kids, don’t expect them to all be happy-faced fuzzballs.  Some of these characters look wickedly-cool (and yes, I used that term to describe them).

I have to say that the music for the game is pretty amazing.  Also, while Skylanders is a lighthearted affair, it actually reads well, with some decent voice acting and great sound effects during the heavy battles.  But again, the musical score really wins out here.

Without multiplayer, Skylanders would be a pretty drab experience.  It’s the fact that two players can place their characters on the portal and work together to defeat the bad guys that makes the game good.  There is also an arena mode that supports multiplayer.  But the meat of the game is in the campaign, and that’s where playing with a buddy really shines.  Dropping in and out is as easy as placing or removing your figurine from the portal, so there’s never an issue with starting a campaign solo and having someone join you.

It’s a tough call, like I said before.  If someone handed me the game disc without the gimmick, and all of the characters were unlocked inside, I might play it for a few hours, and then move on to a stronger co-op title, like Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One.  But this isn’t really about me. 

If I was still in school and all my friends were bringing their characters to class, placing them on their desk, and boasting about how they leveled their Stealth Elf to 10…. If discussion around the schoolyard was “hey, you should bring your Water Dragon to my house this weekend and we can tackle a dungeon together”… then I would have to admit that the entire package is a pretty amazing affair.   Hell, you might do this with your buddies in the office.  There a better games coming out this Fall.  But if you enjoy collecting, and the nifty little gimmick of saving your character’s status to your figurine, then you will probably eat this thing up.


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