• Review: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (3DS)

    Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

    Developer: Vicarious Visions
    Publisher: Activision
    Platform: Nintendo 3DS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PC, Mac
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Rating: Everyone
    Release Date: October 16th, 2011

    What do Seekers, Dark Mirrors, and Shattering Sigils have to do with Spyro? Only one of the most unique ventures Activision has undertaken in recent history. Enter Skylanders, not quite a Spyro sequel, but a game involving over 30 figures that become characters in the game. Conceptualized by Toys For Bob, Skylanders has proved to be a hit in the retail market, but that doesn’t always mean good this day and age.

    When a great evil plots to take control of the Skylands his first act of aggression is to banish all the guardians to another plane. Luckily for them and us, that plane just happened to be our own! Using the portal of power, we can send the guardians of Skylands (Spyro included) back to set the five sages free and confront the evil Hektore and his armies. All the while picking up powerful upgrades and new powers (and hats)!

    Skylanders in undoubtedly a game that was designed for an early adolescent demographic. Because of this the game has a very bright, cartoony design aesthetic to each level. The worlds themselves are diverse in expected ways, with no world feeling too threatening. So if you’re looking for something dark and ominous don’t expect too much. Even the “undead” level, Galecrack Ruins, features wonky looking skeletons and Snow White-esque evil trees. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly serves as a reminder exactly who this game is marketed towards.

    Spyro and his fellow Skylanders are wonderfully animated and textured even if the rest of the game has been paid less attention. Idling in the sanctuary will zoom in the camera and display a few extra animations that show you what they could have possibly achieved with the rest of the game, if not for time, space, or other possible constraints. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many enemies have very rigid and simple animations and textures. Level textures are a bit better but still fall behind other, more impressive titles already on the 3DS.

    Of course being on the 3DS, the auto stereoscopic 3D is another feature included in this game. The 3D graphics are good, I noticed little to no “ghosting”, and the game is navigable as easily in 3D as it is without. Considering this is a platforming title, the fact the 3D doesn’t cause you to overshoot a jump is a very good thing.

    Interestingly enough Hans Zimmer, of Hollywood fame, is credited as one of the two composers to work on this game. Listening to the music is very easy as for once as the score is very prominent and there are a few different tracks to listen to per world, each adding a new feel to the game.

    The sound effects are on the same level as the graphics in this game. Many times one can hear “wonks”, “zaps”, and “pops”. As the sound effects certainly aren’t unwarranted, they did tend to get on my nerves after awhile.

    Because Skylanders is a game on multiple platforms, many people's first question will be how does the handheld version stand up to the console iterations. There are several changes in this regard, but they allow for a different experience that makes the handheld version an entirely new adventure.

    Of course the main component in this game is the Portal of Power and the many toys you can collect to play this game. Standard with the 3DS starter kit comes Dark Spyro, Stealth Elf, and Ignitor. In truth you only need two characters to complete the game's story, but many of the extras or full game completion can only be obtained by having at least one character of each element. More importantly, to those wondering about the portability of the game due to the number of figures and the Portal of Power peripheral need not worry. Communicating with the Portal uses the 3DS’s infrared sensor, and your game will save two Skylanders at a time, two power-up items, and all adventure packs on the card itself, eliminating the need to carry your collection around with you. You only need the Power of Portal to change characters or items out, so Skylandering on the go does not require carrying a suitcase full of toys.

    While fighting foes, or at the end of a stage the character you are using will be able to gain experience to level up. Leveling up will unlock a new ability, a health bonus, or a damage bonus for that character. The max level for any character (at least in the 3DS version) is 10. Many of the figures have unique element affiliations and abilities allowing for many different play experiences based on the characters you have or decide to play as. The best part is, the levels, stats, abilities, and unique upgrades you unlock can be saved directly to the figure itself, allowing you to take all the work you've done with you to play the same character on different versions of the game, including co-op with a friend of the console version of Skylanders.

    A game like Skylanders is a perfect fit for the 3DS. Because the full experience of the console's open world platformer couldn't be fully 'ported due to space limitations, Vicarious Visions decided to transform the game to a linear platformer and rework the game around that. Now don't let the word linear in that previous sentence fool you. The levels in Skylanders have plenty of forks in the path, and hidden areas to explore. This allows an impressive amount of exploration become a requirement for those attempting to complete all challenges. At first the fixed camera in these levels bugged me because I wanted to go back the way I came, but after awhile I got over it with the realization the game wants to you run the same level multiple times to get the full experience.

    Unlike consoles, the 3DS version of Skylanders takes place in a separate area called the Radiant Isles. The Radiant Isles area of the Skylands is organized into six main areas, each having up to five levels of their own. These levels have one of two different types. There are the normal platforming levels as well as the occasional "arena" stage in which you are contained in an area and are forced to survive against waves of opponents. Regardless of type, each level also contains five challenges, each netting you a crystal when you complete it. Your total crystal count helps you open up new areas, to continue your quest and finally face (Ha!) Hektore once and for all. Even when the game is all said and done Adventure Packs can be purchased in addition to single figures, and figure packs. Adventure Packs will unlock one of four areas at the southern-most point of the Sky Sanctuary that features two new playable areas, along with certain rewards exclusive to these bonus missions.

    Players may scoff at the fact all the data for the extra areas, characters, and power-ups are already on the Skylanders game pack, but once scanned by the Portal of Power, they don’t need to be scanned again to play, so it is possible to have the same toys active on both the handheld version and console version at once, eliminating the need to purchase the characters or packs again. The savvy player may even be able to borrow characters or other Skylanders pieces from a friend making the figures and adventure packs unintentionally economical in a world of DLC, DRM, and platform exclusivity.

    Unfortunately as awesome as the action can get at times, Skylanders on 3DS falls prey to frame rate drops when the action gets intense. This is a little disappointing once you realize the game does not have bullet-time animations and it’s just the frame rate dropping like a pair of concrete shoes in the Hudson. This is the only flaw I encountered in my copy of the game though, although reports of communication issues with the Portal of Power peripheral are floating around as well.

    Lasting Appeal
    The game itself can be run though fairly quickly; I estimate a meager 4-5 hours if you do the bare minimum to beat the game. But since Skylanders features over playable 30 toys, two current adventure packs with two more on the way soon, leveling new characters and collecting hats, scrolls and crystals can add quite a bit of playtime to the game. Not to mention many of the characters are so vastly different your play style can change for any given level; Skylanders can give any player over 20 hours of enjoyment easily. Completion may not be the goal for every gamer, but I can almost assure that the lure is strong to experience as many characters as possible, to a point that you may begin resent the popularity of certain figures or price for completing your collection.

    Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure may not have been the Spyro game we wanted, but it’s oddly enough the Spyro game we deserve. The game not only features true innovation in terms of the toy-to-character abilities of the Portal of Power, but the ability for those same toys to carry the all the data of what you’ve unlocked with that character as well. So what at first seemed like a ruthless wallet-lightening scam by Activation became a very good platformer supported by an even better idea. Skylanders is already a huge hit with younger gamers, of that there is no doubt, but honestly I feel like older gamers who are able to get over the fact there aren’t any kill streaks or blood in this game will find a fun and engaging platformer.

  • Review Scale

    Score 10- Flawless Victory: A score not handed out to every game. Games earning this rare score sit at the very pinnacle of excellence. These games act as the examples for which all others should be measured with. They are instant classics from the beginning. These games not only deliver what was expected of it, but also exceed the player’s expectations. The game’s features are innovative and original. No game is without its absolute flaws, but the finished product you bring home surpasses the anticipation the game has formed. A day one buy is a must. The game you hold in your hands with this score is a video game jackpot.

    Score 9 - 9.5- Outstanding: Games earning scores such as these absolutely must be played. Games that achieve this high ranking do so because they define the genres that they are in. Flaws are few and barely noticeable. Features seen in the game have been renovated to provide something new and fresh. The story, gameplay, graphics, and lasting appeal are all fantastic and is reason enough to bring the game home and to enjoy with family and friends. Every penny you spend on the game is so worth it.

    Score 8 - 8.5- Great: Any flaw the game may possess is overshadowed by its fun factor. These games would be great for gamers to play. These great games appeal to gamers more and more outside its normal player base because of what it brings to the table.

    Score 7 - 7.5- Good: Flaws do exist in these games, but the positive features of the game can counterbalance the flaws. Additionally, players who are predisposed to liking a game of a particular series or genre with this score should enjoy the game. These are in no way bad games, and much fun can be had with them. An overall good game is worth taking a look at, whether you are willing to buy the game or rent it first. That or you can also wait for the game to reach a good price.

    Score 6 - 6.5- Decent: Games falling into this category may suffer from numerous flaws (for example, graphics or gameplay), but are still worth playing. Granted, the player should be aware that a game with these scores may not guarantee them full satisfaction.

    Score 5 - 5.5- Average: An average game is one in which a game’s features are neither good nor completely terrible. Instead, the finished product is manageable. Little has been done to hold the player’s interest. If anything, rent this game before you consider buying it so that you can at least get a feel for the game’s overall experience.

    Score 4 - 4.5- Poor: Games falling into this category may only keep gamers entertained for a short while. While the game may seem enjoyable for moments at a time, it can quickly grow old and may never be revisited again. The game’s overall function is lacking in quality and may not hold the player’s attention for long. The game leaves little or nothing else to return back to.

    Score 3 - 3.5- Bad: If any positive qualities about a game in this category exist, it is not enough to redeem the game for its shortcomings. Sure you may find yourself playing it, but for how long? You will wind up not giving the game a second glance.

    Score 2 - 2.5- Horrible: Games such as these may not be totally unplayable, they nearly are. Additionally, they may lack, or greatly suffer in, the fundamental functionality of the software as a whole. The game simply does not come close to meeting industry standards at the time of its release.

    Score 1 - 1.5- Appalling: Gamers should avoid this game at all costs. The game was clearly not ready to make its way to store shelves in its status. Save your money and find something else. See it in the bargain bin? No! Stay away! Keep moving and look for something else.