Review: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, at first glance, seems just like the type of peripheral-based title designed to draw Hamiltons out of parents’ pockets and refill them with action figures and useless game-based swag. The starter package is about $69.99 MSRP and includes three starter figures, the game, a USB pedestal you’ll hook up to your console (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, DS, or PC), and a host of other niceties. It seems that most pricey peripherals are doomed to fail. Just look at the Power Glove. Judging this book by its cover, it’s easy to adopt an overly negative stance to both the game and the idea in general. But when you look past the gimmickry and the collectible nature of the game, there’s actually a surprisingly entertaining, kid-friendly adventure at the core. It may not be the Spyro you remember from your youth, but it’s a colorful step in the right direction for a revival of the series, and one you’ll find yourself putting more time into than you might have intended.

Skylanders is certainly not your typical Spyro game. For one thing, the toys included with your starter pack are required to play the game. You take your power pedestal, hook it up to the system via USB, and choose one of the included toys as your starting character. The pedestal instantly recognizes when a toy is placed on it, and the game will render said toy in-game so it’s ready for use. Any abilities you gain, experience earned, and even collectible hats are saved on the physical toy rather than your hard drive, making portability and trading figures an interesting innovation. You could have a potential army of characters with different abilities and experience, and trade them with other players for a change of pace. Just knowing this I realized how much potential the game would actually have. In terms of making a lucrative collectible toy game, Skylanders hits all the high notes.

Every character has a different specialty. For example, an earth-type character can only open certain treasure chests and access new areas, or an air-type character can unlock different ones. The three characters included with the starter set (Spyro, Gill Grunt, and Trigger Happy) run the gamut between elements, but the 32 characters in all ensure there’s a character for every element out there to ensure you get the full effect. It’s simple to switch between playable avatars, as well. You need only replace the toy on the pedestal with a new one, and the change is made nearly instantaneously. No messy menu swapping or unplugging the peripheral. It’s an admirably quick process, and one that made exploring my other characters quick and painless.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the ability to take your toy and use it across other consoles. You’ll need a console-specific pedestal to explore this, but if you want to take your Spyro toy from your Xbox 360 to your Wii or even your PlayStation 3, DS, PC, and so forth, you certainly can. This cross-console interaction is certainly something you don’t see often enough, and it works quite well, at least between a friend’s PlayStation 3 pedestal and my Xbox 360 toys. It’s refreshing to see an instance where unity between all consoles is encouraged and I’d certainly like to see more examples of this in the future. When an Xbox 360 plays nice with a PS3 and vice-versa, maybe there’s hope for the world.

As a platformer, Skylanders is a rousing action-adventure with RPG elements (thanks to the collectible toys and stat boosts) that isn’t exactly difficult, but engaging enough that both adults and kids can find something to like. Fetch quests and simple block-pushing puzzles never aggravate, and the pacing actually works quite well. Each world revolves around a specific element with enemies and boss fights derivative from the designated element as well. Playing with the toys also adds another element to gameplay – as long as you’ve got another figure handy, you can swap out for another chance at life when you finally do fall in battle, making an already simple game much simpler, but when you look at the target audience, this works well for children and beginner gamers. Even as a seasoned gamer I enjoyed the lighthearted pace and mechanics.

The writing isn’t the sharpest in some places, but thanks to an interesting cast – Patrick Warburton comes to mind – even the weakest lines shine and often elicit giggles. An orchestral score from Hans Zimmer adds a fanciful lilt to the rather short campaign, and the whole thing has just the right dash of silly and serious to make up for its shortcomings. What you’ll stay for, though, is the feeling that a peripheral has been done correctly. It’s not every day we see new ones anymore that have a real use, and Skylanders’ portal may be short-lived, but it works well within the game and as a connection between other consoles.

This isn’t the return to the world of Spyro I envisioned, but the colorful, zany cast and a hilarious villain who will give you flashbacks to maniacal Irken invader Zim as well as easy to digest gameplay make Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure a worthy play, especially for the younger gamers in your life or anyone looking for a little change of pace from the morose shooters and deadly serious war games populating the game industry these days. The compatibility between the different – and usually antagonistic platforms – is a real treat, and parents can feel comfortable introducing little ones to familiar tropes through Skylanders, and they should even enjoy attempting to break previous records with tighter time limits and other objectives as well. A little sunshine never hurt anyone.

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