I’ve been struggling for a while now to post my Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure review, because I’ve honestly had trouble putting the darn thing down. The overall concept is the most unique technological concept to come out of the game industry in 2011: the family-friendly action RPG uses real-world toys with embedded memory chips to track each character’s upgrades, and players can swap out their on-screen character with a new one at any time simply by placing a new toy on the Portal of Power accessory. Players can even take their toy(s) to play co-op on an entirely different console, all while retaining the toy’s upgrades and attributes. But technology aside, the game’s just flat-out fun, too.
Skylanders takes place in a mythical world comprised of aerial islands that are threatened by an imposing darkness created by the evil Kaos. After destroying Skyland’s magical tower of light, Kaos disbands the last remaining hero while the Skylander “animals,” each with its own character class, scatter to all corners of the galaxy to find another hero. That’s where you — and the toys — come in. Each of the Skylanders shrinks and disguises itself as a toy, and it’s up to the player to use one, three or an army of them to explore Skyland and unearth the parts necessary to rebuild the tower of light.
Technically Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is the next game in the Spyro the Dragon series, hence the name, but the game really is entirely new. So new is the game, in fact, that Spyro is one of the three characters included in the Starter Pack but probably isn’t the one you’ll play with the most. Not if you buy any additional characters, that is, which I highly recommend you do.
Skylanders has eight different character classes: Fire, Earth, Tech, Undead, Life, Air, Water and Magic. Each class has different strengths and weaknesses, and specific parts of each level can only be unlocked by certain classes, giving something for completionists to gnaw on while giving younger gamers a reason to take their toys to friends’ houses and play cooperatively. The attacks vary from class to class as well, and although you can find (and wear) attribute-boosting hats, the RPG-like skill-tree upgrades are really where the power lies, and some classes have cooler upgrades than others. I am personally partial to Sonic Boom, an Air character who can absolutely clean house once he reaches level 10 and has all his powers upgraded.
The levels in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure feel original from one to the next, which is unique for a family-friendly RPG. This is primarily because the décor and enemy variations are diverse from one stage to the next, but also because the game does an admirable job mixing up puzzles, lever-pulling and straight-up action. Some of the later puzzles caused me to think for at least 30 minutes, which was a bit frustrating at the time but now shows just how much Skylanders offers to adults as well as kids.
Combat can get a bit old in the last one-fourth of the game, but that’s where the beauty of the Portal of Power comes into play. If you feel like a character’s upgrades are making things too easy, simply swap it out for an all-new toy, and the challenge increases exponentially. Or, if you want to upgrade multiple characters in preparation for the final boss battle, swap out several toys throughout the game to keep several of them strong and learn the nuances of each one’s attacks. Technically you’re forced to switch characters if one loses all its energy in a given level (there is no “dying,” only “needs to rest”), but that shouldn’t happen too often.
The offline-only multiplayer options are fun in the same way the original Gauntlet was fun: fighting for gold and jewels and taking turns dishing out the pain. The game doesn’t support online play via Xbox Live, but frankly it doesn’t need it, and implementing online co-op would’ve ruined the entire concept of taking your toys to a friend’s house and plopping them on the Portal of Power. Kudos to Activision for being bold enough to tell the online hordes “no.”
And more important, kudos to everyone bold enough to tell Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure “yes” this holiday season. One of the most original concepts to hit the industry in the past two or three years, Skylanders is also just fun to play. Originality is gravy in this case, and that’s not something I normally say. Skylanders makes no bones about being a family friendly game, but even after playing it with my kids, I found myself thinking about playing it. I can’t wait to see what Spyro’s next adventure has in store.
Browse pricing for the Skylanders Starter Pack and/or individual characters from Amazon using this link: Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure at Amazon.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360