Saturday, November 12, 2011

Game Review: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (PS3)

Once upon a time, there was an iconic purple dragon that used to bring a smile to both kids and adults all over the world.  What?  No, I'm NOT talking about "Barney".  Seriously? THAT'S your first thought when I mention "purple dragon"? *Sigh* No, the iconic purple dragon I'm talking about is none other than Spyro, the star of more than a dozen video games spanning more than a decade.  It's been a few years since Spyro last appeared on consoles (2008's The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon, to be exact), but don't think for a second that means the reptilian rogue's flame has be squelched.  Spyro is back ... and he's brought a few friends.  Welcome to the world Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, a unique new interactive gaming experience from Activision and Toys for Bob.

If you've been to a toy/game store or electronics department lately, odds are pretty good that you've already stumbled across at least one of the Skylanders demo kiosks and wondered just what the heck are all these little figurines doing in the video game section?  Well folks, that's what I'm here to explain.  If you noticed in the opening of this piece, I didn't just call Skylanders a video game, but instead called it a "unique new interactive gaming experience".  That's a roundabout, technical way of saying "nifty new toy".

Every Skylanders starter kit comes packed with the game, three Skylanders figures, and a special "portal" device.  It's this portal device and how it interacts with those toys that makes the Skylanders experience different from other video games.  After hooking the portal up to your console of choice (in my case, it's the PS3) and firing up the game, you're prompted to place one of the figures on the portal where, thanks to some sort of mystical voodoo wizardry, the character is magically put into the video game.

Okay okay ... so it's not ACTUALLY magic.  Every Skylanders figure has an RFID chip embedded in it, which the portal has the ability to both read and write to.  It's actually a really cool and creative use of RFID technology.  Players can hot swap characters on the fly by simply picking up whichever figure is on the portal and switching it for another.  This instantly changes out the character in the game and and can open up new areas to explore in the game.  And since a players' character has its progress saved directly on the figures, you can take your favorite figure over to a buddy's house, plop it on his portal, and play as a guest in his game with all of your powers, abilities, and accessories intact.

All this techno-gadgetry is fine and dandy, but let's be honest ... it doesn't mean anything if the actual game itself is no fun.  I mean, if you don't ever feel like playing, then all you're left with is a glorified paperweight.  And it's real easy for the developers to rely solely on a quirky gimmick to cash in. Thankfully for gamers, that's not the case here with Skylanders.  Instead, Toys for Bob and XPEC Entertainment went out of their way to craft an entertaining adventure.

Gameplay is simple to jump right into and the controls feel pretty solid.  There's also a very basic amount of strategy built into the game, as certain types Skylanders are more effective than others in particular areas.  Also, depending on the active Skylander's abilities and type, you can find new paths to travel (such as swimming in the river instead of crossing a bridge) or even open up whole new sections to explore.  Of course the downside of this is that you'll need at one figure of each of the game's eight types to open up the entirety of the Skylanders world.  Even counting the three types included in the starter, that means there's a bare minimum of five more figures to buy to open up everything ... and at $8 a pop, it can add up quick.  Still, part of the fun of Skylanders is collecting the different figures.  Plus, the developers went to great lengths to ensure that each of the game's 32 characters brings something unique to the game.

I'll be the first to admit that, from a visual standpoint, Skylanders isn't the most polished game on the market.  On the Wii and the 3DS, things look fine, but you can tell right away hat the PS3 and 360 versions aren't exactly taxing those consoles' capabilities.  Still, it's a fun cartoon experience with some over the top voice acting and an entertaining story written by Alek Sokolow and Joel Cohen, both of whom have already proven their writing chops by working on the Disney/Pixar classic Toy Story film.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a cute, fun, and surprisingly addictive game.  It's also one of those games where you'll get as much out of it as you're willing to put into it.  For those who choose to stick with the basics in the starter kit, you'll find a fairly interesting and entertaining experience that can't help but feel somewhat incomplete.  Those that dive deep into Skylanders will be rewarded with a more robust and well-rounded adventure ... as well as a much lighter wallet.  For the majority of players, though, the struggle will be finding the right balance to get the most out of the game without breaking the bank.


Game Info:
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob/XPEC Entertainment
Genre: Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, 3DS
Multiplayer: 2 players local

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