Toys for Bob
October 12, 2011 (AU)
October 13, 2011 (AU)
October 14, 2011 (EU)
October 16, 2011 (NA)
MSRP: $69.99 (or better)
Do not let the cute nature and the toys fool you! Skylanders is an innovative title boasting some strong RPG qualities that can only be truly appreciated by a seasoned gamer. While the cost may be enough to keep away some, there is no doubt in my mind that Skylanders has the potential to be something great, or at the very least, inspire more games to move in this direction of creativity and innovation.
In Skylanders, the mighty Portal Master, Eon, has been reduced to nothing more than a spiritual voice to guide the player through the world of Skyland. Given the Portal of Power and a few of the heroes (referred to as Skylanders), it is up to the player to restore the land to it’s former beauty by squandering the bite sized menace, Kaos. As the Portal Master, the player is given the right to command over thirty tiny heroes in a grand adventure fit for any style of gamer. There are many worlds filled with exotic enemies and friends alike that will surely bring great enjoyment to anyone willing to make the investment.
I say an investment because the biggest issue that restricts a player from having the full experience is the cost. The game’s starter pack starts at $69.99, which comes with the game, a portal, and three beginning characters. Be mindful that each portal only works for their respective system, however the characters can be brought along to play from any portal. Each expansion pack (new character, new world, and extra items) or character pack (three additional Skylanders) are $19.99, and any additional single character packs are $7.99. Factor in that there are currently 15 available characters at the time of writing, three legendaries, and two exclusives, and it is easy to see how this hobby can turn into an investment rather quickly. I have, however, devised a guide below that should help you in determining whether or not this game is for you. But before I get to that, allow me to explain further the game as it stands.
The game itself is both deep and lighthearted. It is pretty easy to get lost in simple button mashing to get through most of the stages, and if the player chooses a character with long range attacks, it is even easier to do so without dying. If we look beyond that however, we see an RPG based system that is actually pretty solid for what the game looks like on the surface. Characters earn experience to level up their Skylanders up to a maximum level of ten. During that time, they earn coins to develop their skills, which eventually branch off into two separate paths. If a character decides to go down one path, then the other becomes locked out. There are also ‘heroic challenges’ that can be used to further develop each character, however the challenges are just that: extremely challenging at times.
Changing characters within the game is extremely simple: just pull the character from the portal of power and place another one on. By some higher force (or maybe magic), the game recognizes each character and within a few seconds the game resumes with the new character replacing the old one. To add a second player, simply turn on the second controller, press a button, and add their Skylander. It truly is that simple. If there are any more than two Skylanders, however, the game will stop and inform you of such, and ask you to remove any excess. This can also happen if your Skylanders are laying on their side and are too close to the portal. I didn’t notice any kind of problems with this system, but the faster the characters are changed, the more laggy each load will be. I can see this being a problem for kids anxious to try all of the characters they have every two minutes.
A lot of the game’s content can be enjoyed with the original three characters, but there is no doubt that without more characters, about half of the game will be missing. New characters unlock more heroic challenges, as well as elemental pathways within each stage, allowing players to acquire stat boosting hats and treasure chests. Each character also is attached to one of eight elements that are strong in certain aries of the game. All of the trophies and achievements can be earned (that I have seen) without any more characters, however the in-game achievement system (accolades) will be locked without every character. So in essence, it is a simple platformer game that has tied in a small scale action-RPG system within it.
Skylanders’ sound effects and music are perfect for the ambiance within the worlds. Dark, eerie levels are accented with deep undertones, while beach stages are light and poppy. I personally haven’t found any tunes that truly stand out, and yet I am also not turning down my volume in place of something more worthy. At times, the characters can be a little annoying as they typically talk/make noise when they attack, and that becomes amplified when they attack extremely fast (i.e. Trigger Happy has two guns that he giggles maniacally, and they can be shot as fast as the button can be pressed). The voice acting wasn’t bad either, but I did notice the game had issues ‘catching up’ if the player speeds through the dialog. Outside of that, I truly had no complaints with what I was listening to.
Another place that Skylanders doesn’t truly stand out, but doesn’t falter in either is the graphics. During the cutscenes, the graphics are late PS2 worthy, being smooth and refined, but not something that should be expected of a seventh generation game. During gameplay, the graphics change only slightly, but not by much. Where I would say this game shines graphically is actually in the figurines. When I first pulled them out, I didn’t pay much attention, but upon closer inspection one can notice a great amount of detail put into each figure to ensure that they are all painted well. Each character sits on a platform made up of it’s element, which is convenient for a quick glance survey of who may be needed next in a level.
One of the things that pains me about this game, and maybe I am a victim of my generation, is the lack of any real multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, this game supports 1-2 players, but it is local only. I am not greedy, but I feel that having only two players local is a little dated for my tastes. At the very least, I would ask for either four player local, or making the two player available online as well. I understand that in this day and age to get four people into a room to play a game is tough, but when I pick up and play Skylanders I immediately see the potential of having four players, and this game simply lacks that feature. If you consider the audience this game was geared towards, it becomes a little more understandable, but if you are going to go through the effort to make a separate web based experience, at least add the ability to play with two more friends. Again, that could simply be me being a victim of my age, growing up around the N64, Dreamcast and Gamecube.
Now comes the innovations, which I believe was the saving grace for this game, and why it shines in my opinion. The reason each character sits on a base is not purely for aesthetics, or because it’s easy to see their element, but in fact all of the character data is stored within that base. Remember above where I said each figure is compatible with any portal, no matter what console? That is the reason why. The player is now allowed to take their customized Spyro, for example, and bring it to a friend’s house and play along with their Spyro. Add in the fact that each character can wear a hat and have a nickname, and it is easy to see why this could be a great time for kids. “Rusty” (my Drobot) is easily one of my favorite characters, and I can now share him with anyone who has a Portal of Power. It gives a sense of ownership and some form of randomization that it would be highly unlikely (but certainly not impossible) that two Skylanders would be identical.
There is also a web application that is available that a lot of people seem to overlook. While it is only in it’s Beta stages, I feel it is a very integral part of the game as well. If you register on the website http://www.skylandersgame.com, you can download the drivers to allow the Portal of Power to connect to your PC, and it allows players to register their Skylanders to their username and play within the browser. Inside this ‘Web Skyland’ players are able to connect with each other in a virtual world via chatting using their Skylander of choice as an avatar. Within the world, players are also able to level up (I haven’t reached the max yet, so I am unsure of what that may be), and play various mini-games both shown in the console game, and original ones designed just for the web. The coins earned within those games are used to customize the players’ “lair” with various caves, trees, and bridge. They may also travel to other player’s worlds to eat flowers, destroy barrels and haystacks, and so forth. The web side of the game is far from perfect, but it sets up a strong foundation of what’s to come.
Overall, this game is really a wonderful, innovative piece of technology that shows that toys and games do not have to be separate, and that owning a physical product doesn’t hurt us either instead of making everything DLC. That last bit could be because I’m still old school, however. As I mentioned above, I wanted to provide scenarios to those who are unsure about the costs and features available to them, and if you are teetering on either side of the fence, let this be the information you need to help you make the decision. I’ve come up with ultimately three scenarios that you may find yourself in, should you choose to play the game, and average costs:
- Scenario 1) This is going to be for those players who simply want to purchase the game to have it. Maybe at one time you were a fan of Spyro, or are intrigued by the toys mixed with electronics. Either way, you now have a copy of the game, and you’re worried about what to expect. Worry not! You will be able to enjoy the full story of the game, as no additional characters are required to complete the game from start to finish. You will know how the ending wraps up, and will be happy to know that you’ve supported a game style that is very new to the industry. You can also achieve every single trophy and achievement that the game offers. You cannot, however, get all of the in-game accolades as well as explore all of the alternative paths that may net you more hats, gold and experience. Your average cost will be $69.99 plus applicable tax.
- Scenario 2) This is for the players who want to experience a little more than just the story straightforward. With this method, I recommend owning at least one character of each element to allow access through all of the elemental doors and areas through the game. With this method, the player will be able to get all of the trophies/achievements, in-game accolades, as well as experience the world via many different options. There will also be more heroic challenges available to further develop the player’s characters as they begin to max out each one’s levels. Your average cost will be around $110 plus applicable tax, depending on if you purchase individual characters only, or if you buy character packs.
- Scenario 3) This is for the hardcore players who are completionists and want everything. You will be able to do everything mentioned above, plus have bragging rights and a diverse selection of characters (and two new worlds to play in, to boot). Outside of those expansion pack characters that offer new worlds, and getting the last of the accolades (one of which is to own all 32 characters), there hasn’t been any benefit that I could see to owning all of the characters. Fans of Pokemon and the like will be more inclined to attempt this feat. As of now, all of the characters are not available, however if my math and memory still serve me well, I would estimate your average cost to be around $175, give or take $15, plus applicable tax.
- For reference, I fall somewhere between Scenario 2 and 3. I really wanted to have all of the elements, but the more characters I get, the more fun I am having developing them and leveling them up. For me, at the very least, I will probably own the first batch, but I’m not sure at the cost I would invest in more than 32 as it stands right now. I would have to see some significant improvements in some of the things that matter to me (such as the multiplayer aspect). Needless to say, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed owning the game, and if you work together with some friends, you can collectively all own the entire set without causing your bank account to be too depressed. Skylanders definitely redefines a new way to play games, and even despite the cost, is a refreshing take on the monotony.
NOTE: This review, unfortunately, only covers the console versions. I have read around that the 3DS version differs slightly, but I don’t have the resources required to try it for that console as well. If anyone has input or experience, I would ask that you send me an email to peter.thomas(at)thegamingeffect dot com and I will use your mini-review as a guest supplement to mine. Many thanks in advance!
+Simplified RPG system
+Several characters to choose from
+Vibrant world with lovable personalities
-No online/4-player local (2-player only)
-Sound effects can be overbearing at times
-Can’t find reason to own more than eight Skylanders
~Portal of Power brings figures ‘to life’
~Figures retain all of the character data inside of them
~Adventure can be played either on the console or on the web