Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Afternoon Delight

Skylanders takes flight on the PS3. Was it able to sell us on its charms?
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 27, 2011
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As the only resident staff member with children, it generally falls to me to handle the review of the "kids" games that come into the office. Heck, I've used my daughter Mara so many times that she should practically have her own byline. So when a huge truck backed up to the TPS loading dock and offloaded the giant box containing Skylanders, I just knew who was getting that review. Yes, it was me!

Skylanders is a spinoff from the venerable Spyro series of games that were always a bit kiddie anyway, so it made some sense to transition the franchise into a Saturday morning cartoon knockoff thanks to Activision and developer Toys For Bob. Videogame historians might recognize the name Toys For Bob as the folks behind the early 90's classic game Star Control 2 (still playable today!) and another game I mention quite a lot, The Horde. Seeing their name attached to Skylanders gave me a bit of hope that this would be a "quality" young adult game that would break the mold of being a vehicle to sell more merchandise. Oh, how the times have changed.

When you open Skyanders, you'll find that in addition to the game proper, you've also got yourself a "Portal of Power" and a trio of figurines (Spyro himself, a tasmanian devil looking guy named Trigger Happy, and a water troll by the name of Gill Grunt) along with an extra disc for your PC or Mac so you can go online and download more powers for your guys. The portal has a nice rugged look and has a soft glow when you pair it with the PS3, plus it gave my young son Dashiell a good way to interact with the game. In addition to the 3 Skylanders that are included with the game (these are all you need to complete the game and even get a platinum trophy if that is your thing), there are TWENTY-NINE other Skylanders that can be purchased and used within the game! Hello, merchandising hook!

That's getting a bit ahead of ourselves, though. Let's take a look at just what Skylanders is. Essentially a super simplified platformer in the vein of Ratchet and Clank, your crew of Skylanders shows up in a world being threatened by an evil fellow named Kaos. This maleficent man has stolen the eight elemental powers from the core of the world or some such thing and is conspiring to end everything, which I've always found to be a counterproductive and misanthropic plan. Enter the Skylanders, a ragtag group of heroes who just coincidentally happen to represent those same eight elements!

Each Skylander has a normal (shooting) attack and an alternate attack that fits into their personality. Spyro charges forward ramming enemies and can eventually learn to fly (a bit), Trigger Happy throws safes and unlocks a gatling gun, and Gill Grunt sprays a water hose and tosses exploding starfish. Gameplay consists of shooting your way to the end of each of the 24 levels, with a light little bit of puzzle solving tossed in for good measure. These puzzles almost uniformly consist of shoving blocks into the right locations to create a path for you to continue to the end of the level. Levels are quite linear, although each one will have a few hidden collectibles that require you to look for side paths. The collectible are the same in every level, and include 3 treasure chests, an ancient treasure and a scroll. Treasure chests are nice in that they give you a lot of loot (which also shows up when you kill bad guys or smash environmental objects) which you can use to upgrade your Skylanders' powers.

The real star of Skylanders is the Portal of Power, which is a pretty neat idea. Whatever Skylander you put on the portal will be the one you control in the game, and you can freely swap them out at any time (which pauses the game for a brief animation sequence, a distraction that can get a little frustrating when your two kids keep swapping them back and forth while screaming at each other that they want THEIRS on the portal) and bring new forces to bear on the situation. Each Skylander has one of the eight elemental powers, and most areas of the game tell you that Skylanders of certain elements will be stronger in that area, meaning their attacks will do more damage. In addition, each level will have two or three areas that are blocked off except to Skylanders of specific elements. Obviously none of these areas are crucial to completing the game, but you WILL find bonus loot behind those locked areas, as well as a hat which can be used to alter the stats of whomever is wearing it.
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