Depth, breadth, and excellence are the name of the game in this Spyro reboot.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, a new Lego Star Wars-esque game from Activision, has all the makings of an animated cartoon show that kids today will watch and wax nostalgic about when they’re older, only to realize that the story was goofy and there were a few Pixar-esque humor-for-adults moments that sailed over their heads. That makes sense, because the Toy Story writers are behind the story and world of Toys For Bob’s magnum opus, which has fun gameplay and the production values of a quality animated TV show.
Skylanders is a unique game that features a cast of over 30 characters that can be upgraded, gain levels, and wear status-boosting (and usually adorable) hats. These characters are brought into the game world seamlessly by being placed on the included portal, which magically brings Skylanders action figures into the game. The bundled version of the game includes the game, the portal, and three characters (Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt). Other characters are sold separately for around $8. For the purposes of this review, I had access to more than half of the launch line-up of characters spread out across the eight different elements.
The story revolves around the world being torn asunder with only the Skylanders to save the day. Some humorous and mildly memorable characters are introduced, and the game has a pretty great voice cast (Patrick Warburton is probably the most recognizable name/voice). The levels, of which there are 26 in total, are primarily linear, though there are tons of extra areas to explore. Players are rewarded for exploring, as nearly every alternate path has a treasure chest, new ability, or new hat to find. In addition to the chapters, which are very replayable, there are Heroic Challenges that are unlocked every time you bring in a new character. Usually a little harder in difficulty, these challenge levels are fast-paced and fun.
The gameplay offers a nice mix of variety. Primarily, you’re just exploring the environment while fighting enemies and unlocking doors. On occasion, you’ll engage in a fun distraction, such as a pointer-based shooting mini-games or a tilt-based puzzle. Motion controls are used sparingly for things such as shaking to open chests or thrusting forward to insert a key into a door. Your character can’t jump, but the stages are built around that and it never seems restrictive. The controls are smooth, and while each character offers up different moves, the same basic moves work across the board, much like a fighting game.
The game features drop-in/drop-out two-player co-op that is both easy to do and fun. You can even engage in Four Swords-esque antics of competing for gold. Where the multiplayer shines, though, are the excellent competitive modes. The battle mode features a lot of stage variety with traps and power-ups, highly reminiscent of Everything or Nothing, Power Stone, or Toys for Bob’s The Unholy War. A crystal collection mode is also similar to those games, and just as fun as the other mode. The spectacular jaw-on-the-floor multiplayer mode is the football one. Basically, you compete with your opponent for control of a crystal football and try to carry it to or kick it through the uprights. It’s fast-paced, amazing, and very original. The only downfall of these multiplayer modes is that they are only for two players.
Each character is visually interesting and generally fun to use. Some of them have similar attacks and abilities at the outset, but as you progress through the game, you gain improved abilities and upgrades. You'll likely soon pick favorites and ride those characters to the level maximum (10). Upgrades are bought by collecting loot, and each character has many upgrades. The game doesn't require you to change characters, but completionists will want at least one from each of the eight elements, as certain areas can only be reached by certain elements. Additionally, some characters are stronger in certain surroundings.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is an extremely well-designed game that is perfect for kids. Unfortunately for parents, this game is wonderful and addictive, meaning that most kids who get their hands on this will crave more characters to collect them all. More experienced and older gamers might not get the same unadulterated joy, but it’s still worthwhile, especially if you have younger kids or relatives. Skylanders kind of nails that Nintendo-esque feeling of a game that can be enjoyed by all ages. In that respect, it’s unfortunate that the figure-collecting might turn off an audience, but then again, it’s a defining feature that makes this one of the freshest and most ambitious gaming concepts in recent memory.