Skylanders: Competent yet Evil

My young brother received a game called Skylanders for his birthday which I was surprised I never heard of since it came with a figurine of Spyro, a character very close to my childhood. So after watching him fail for a while, I took it up myself just to see how it worked. The game is centered around plowing through linear levels killing increasingly difficult bad guys, changing different element-based characters to match certain scenarios. The default 3 the game gives you are Spyro, a magic type (Odd that he isn't a fire type, what with him being a dragon), Trigger Happy, a gun-toting midget of the tech element with the health and damage output of an anemic fly, and Gill Grunt a murloc.

The adventuring is smooth and simple. The controls handle well, the upgrades are gradual and intuitive enough to give the player new abilities without overwhelming them. The levels are paced well with just enough nitpicky bonus material to adequately reward looking for it while not demanding unnecessary exploration. This is a kid game so the difficulty is on the side of laughable to begin with, though the challenge is considerably ramped up towards the end. Boss-wise the same idea of "dodge increasingly convoluted patterns of attacks before having a random punch-up with 3 minions" is copy-pasted some 9 times, but the price of failure is surprisingly unforgiving later in the game.

Skylanders is everything a kid game should be. It's colorful, engaging, and paced well. The voice acting is like a classic Saturday morning cartoon with your best friend being Patrick Warburton and the bad guy being Invader Zim. The story is a bit cut-and-dry with the majority of the game just finding parts to fix a giant lightbulb. One interesting thing is that with each part you get the giant lightbulb machine evolves and has more fancy stuff on it, which may not sound like much but visibly watching your progress through the game is exciting to say the least. It doesn't feel very reminiscent of a Spyro game, despite the subtitle being "Spyro's Adventure." There are no block puzzles or annoying flight controls, and no tie-in or mention of anything in any other Spyro game. The only part of this that's Spyro-y is Spyro, who is one of the characters. His inclusion is essentially just for marketing.

And now we're getting to it. Alright I talked the game up a bit back there but let's not forget the absolute crux of the game. Skylanders is evil. To use a character, you place a little figurine on this wireless portal thing. The thing is, the game comes with only 3 characters representing 3 of the 8 elements, each element having 4 characters. The difficulty doesn't scale depending on how many Skylanders you have, so the only way to get more is to buy them. Sometimes for up to 7 bucks a piece. Most of the Skylanders you buy are generally more powerful than the three you start with, not to mention some of them are needed to solve certain puzzles, unlock certain doors, and beat certain enemies. Sure, you can get to the end credits with just the default 3, but if you aren't a seasoned gamer, the sheer lack of bodies at the end of the game will have you on a one-way ticket to Game Over-land.

So to make the game fair to the point of being able to beat it, most kids will have to buy at least two extra, (14 dollars if you're keeping track). Unfortunately, with there now not being enough xp to go around, you're going to be redoing a lot levels so they can all stand up to the last couple bosses. To be able to access every area and truly see all the content, you're going to need one of each element, so that's 5 more in total (35 dollars). But since Trigger Happy and Gill Grunt are fairly weak characters, you may want to end up replacing them with someone better for their element. In fact if you managed to get a crappy character in any element then getting another may be a valid option. With 4 characters per element, a true completionist will spend up to 140 dollars on characters alone just to experience all the content. But, like I said the game doesn't scale for the amount you have so having over 8 will just make the game unbearably easy.

This is a transparent and disgusting exploitation of the children of those with disposable income (this is Activision we're talking about). The promotions encourage collection of as many different Skylanders as possible, a certain in-game collectible gives you previews of other Skylanders, and all of the boss fights include brawls with other Skylanders, showcasing their abilities. Skylanders is nothing more than a marketing ploy, which is a shame because balance issues aside, it's not a bad game at all. It's the kind of wacky dopey fun I remember with games like Chameleon Twist and indeed Spyro games. A chance to make a classic was missed here because of simple greed. I still buy the damn figurines for my brother every now and then so he can prove himself superior to his friends, so I guess you could say the system beat me. It's mainly because I remember a time when I did something like that with a game called Pokemon, only back then, all you had to do was buy two versions of the same game.

Two things surprised me when I worked in retail.

#1. Skylanders were ridiculously expensive.
#2. Skylanders were ridiculously popular.

Good review - I was wondering how the game actually played, outside of its obvious and quite frankly obnoxious exploitation.

Thyunda:
Two things surprised me when I worked in retail.

#1. Skylanders were ridiculously expensive.
#2. Skylanders were ridiculously popular.

When I tried to get one for my brother the next day, I had to go to three stores because they were all sold out and I got the very last one, which was only one and not one of those nifty 3 packs. 7 bucks. Man I coulda spent that on... I dunno, gravy or something.

Hear, hear. I was one of those toys for twenty bucks at Wal-mart yesterday. I cannot believe people are buying into this, but hey, it's for the kids!

And it has an odd charm to it. Wouldn't know too much, though. Never played it. But Spyro was a huge part of my childhood, so I generally take notice when he's brought up.

Consider this a preview of things to come when you are a parent.

There WILL be something like this that your kids like that they'll want ALL the figures for to play it properly and you'll have to go through herculean trials to get them all because you'll be fighting countless other parents in the same situation along the way.

Yes, we know Skylanders are crappy plastic ripoffs but the kids love them which adds up to a big pile of money for Activision.

I just finished working in a game store over Christmas and at least a dozen times EVERY DAY I had to tell people that we had no Skylanders in. We sold out almost instantly, extra figures and all and people still kept wanting them. This was each and every day.

Say whatever else you want about Activision, they know how to market their products (except Tony Hawk).

 

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