Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Nintendo 3DS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PC, Mac
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.
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.