Sunday, January 1, 2012

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure - This Game Literally Sells Itself

Spyro, a well-known cute purple dragon, began life in an acclaimed trilogy of games created by Insomniac for the PS1, before the developer left the character to create Ratchet & Clank. Since then, Spyro was relaunched by the hands of Vivendi Universal Games, who made several games for the character with mixed results. Now under the control of Activision, the dragon has been revitalized in a new relaunch title, made to appeal to a younger audience, which this review shall cover. Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure proves to be a rather interesting title with a unique concept, but you'd better make sure you don't burn a hole in your wallet too quickly.

The story, written by Toy Story veterans Joel Cohen and Alek Sokolow, begins in the mystical realm of Skylands, inhabited by the protective Skylanders as peace reigns under the Core of Light, created by Portal Master Eon. However an evil Portal Master under the name Kaos destroys the Core of Light through the power of darkness, ejecting the Skylanders along with it. When a Skylander reappears later, it is up to you, a new Portal Master, to use the Skylanders in order to rebuild the Core of Light and defeat Kaos. Though simple, this is effective and coherent enough to to string together the game's events.

The graphics of this game are bright and colorful, which actually works really well in the game's favor. Aside from being good visual appeal to its target audience, everything stands out perfectly well and makes things very easy to spot. The soundtrack is a delight to listen to, including some instances of very catchy and equally epic battle music during boss fights. The voice acting is done rather well for a children's game, including the voice of the villain Kaos, performed by Richard Steven Horvitz, perhaps well-known for his role as the titular character of Invader Zim. His performance is in fact very similar to Zim's, which I found made him a more entertaining bad guy to say the least.

What makes this game unique, however, is the main gimmick: Your Skylanders are represented by physical toys, which you can transport into the game through the Portal of Power. This new peripheral is a light-up base that wirelessly connects to your console, giving you the role of Portal Master within the actual game. The fascinating thing about these toys is that everything that happens to their avatars in the game (money, levels, upgrades, and experiences) is saved onto the toy itself, so you never have to worry about losing that precious data from your console. However, this is also part of an ingenious way for developer Toys for Bob and publisher Activision to continuously print money.

For starters, there are, as advertised, over 30 Skylanders figures to collect, reducing the titular Spyro to a bit player despite his name being in the title, which is appealing to someone like me who is easily attracted to gimmicks. The game itself comes with three of these toys (Spyro, Gill Grunt, and Trigger Happy); I managed to complete the game and whatever I could access using only these three toys, though I had to bring my brother in for the drop-in drop-out co-op in order to win the final boss fight. You actually need several Skylanders, at least one from each of the eight different Elements, in order to access everything the game has to offer since some sections only allow access to specific types. To put into perspective my earlier comment about burning holes in wallets: A single Skylander costs $8; a pack of three Skylanders costs $20; and an Adventure Pack, containing an extra setpiece, a Skylander, and two item figures, also costs $20 (I have nothing to say about the Adventure Packs because I don't have them at this point). This means that in addition to paying $70 for the base package, you need to spend at least $40 extra at retail in order to get the best experience, which can sound ridiculous to any older player.

On top of this, as I've stated in the title, this game takes many an opportunity to advertise these toys. For starters, part of the actual story, explained by Eon, dictates that once the Skylanders were scattered from Skylands, they shrunk in size and landed on Earth for you to find (read: spend your money on) them. To add to this, an off-hand comment made by a fairy (who unfortunately looks slightly like Chucky from Child's Play) refers to the current Skylander leaving their world and turning back into a statue (read: removing the toy from the Portal of Power to replace with another). There are even advertisements in the actual game, although these are more subtle. At points when you collect Soul Gems, which represent powers for another character, you are given the option of previewing the character its associated with (including Spyro), which is only missing a voice-over and some children to become a more blatant commercial. Adding to my previous statements on spending money, this means you have to buy the advertised character in order to actually use that power.

While spending money this way can be problematic for some people, this is actually not among my major complaints with this game. For example, although this isn't a platforming title, it seems like the type of game that would have a jump button, which it doesn't have. This often leaves some items nigh impossible to reach in higher places unless, in some cases, you give your Skylander the ability to fly. Even worse is the fact that the Portal peripheral is a tad temperamental at times. At least a few times I've had it where I was asked to place a Skylander on the Portal of Power, only for it to immediately follow up with the summoning animation, all while a figure was still placed on the Portal of Power (I've even once seen the animation flash through the symbol for every Element before coming to the correct one). These I learned to deal with as I went forward, as I eventually accepted the lack of jumping as normal.

This is more of an observation, but while I played the PS3 version of this game, it appears to have been designed with the Wii in mind. Menus are laid out as if one would have to point with the Wiimote, some commands are replacements for shaking the controller (in fact one tip against a particular enemy is "shake to escape"), and quite possibly the aforementioned lack of a jump button. Again, this isn't a complaint so much as mere observation.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a unique approach to the Spyro franchise and to gaming in general. Save for the Portal of Power at some points, everything is solidly constructed and gives a worthwhile experience to its demographic in addition to existing fans of the series. This game is a perfect gift for any child since they will quite easily have the most fun with this title. Although paying for the physical DLC can be a problem for some, I actually enjoy the unique aspect of this gimmick and I plan to invest in more figures in the future so I may complete my experience.

I apologize for this review being late, as I received it as a Christmas present.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written. Depending on your speaking voice, you might want to try video reviews. You might reach a larger audience that way.