Skylanders Spyro's Adventure Review
First things first - Skylanders Spyro's Adventures is not really a Spyro game, at least in the sense that it's not a direct descendent of the Spyro games that had their heyday on the last generation of consoles. Think of it as more of the first Skylanders game, and a game in which Spyro happens to appear as a playable character. If you're looking to rekindle fond memories of the time that you spent with Spyro at the turn of the millennium, you're going to be disappointed on that count. And, well, second things second, you should also be aware that Skylanders Spyro's Adventures is a game designed for kids. It's got a collectible creature Pokemon sort of vibe going for it that will appeal to adults who secretly (or not so much so) enjoy catching them all, but this isn't a game that's going to challenge any gamers over twelve. Young gamers will also be more forgiving of the game's clunky graphics, which make the game look more like something you'd find on the Wii than on the PS3. And, lastly, they're going to love the game's portal peripheral and the little character figures that are placed on top of it as only kids can.
The game can't be played with just the game disc, and as such is only available as part of a starter kit (yes, there's definitely a lot more that you can buy later). The kit includes the game, the portal, and three figures, including Spyro. In light of the fact that he's the only Skylander in the collection that anyone's heard of before the game, it's nice that he's a part of the basic set. The portal runs on AA batteries (thankfully included) and connects to the PS3 wireless via a small USB stick that could more accurately be called a USB nub. The nub is pre-synched with the portal, so it's conveniently plug and play out of the box. The nub can be safely tucked away inside the portal's battery compartment for ease of transport, but for some reason the battery compartment requires a screwdriver to open so if a kid wants to take the game to a friend's house he or she either has to play with a screwdriver or toss the nub in a pocket and risk losing it. If the friend already has the game there's no need to lug portals around because the figures themselves hold all of their own data and the portals can let two players play the game without the need for a second portal. So yes, you can get by with one starter kit if you've got a multi-kid household.
The game's premise is that the Skylanders were defenders of a magical realm, but were cast out by an evil wizard. They were shrunk and frozen and came to land on Earth ... and are now in the hands of kids whose parents bought them in stores. The portal is a magical device that restores Skylanders, returning them to their home world to help restore it to the happy place that it once was. The player, aka the portal master, takes one of the Skylander figures and places it on the portal and that Skylander will appear in the game. The physical portal itself reacts to the Skylander figures when they're placed on it - the portal changes colors in a swirling, pulsating kind of way, and when a Skylander is added it recognizes the element that the Skylander is aligned with (more on that later) and shines brightly in the corresponding color. The glowing colors are kind of cool for an adult to watch, but kids will really love them, as they will seeing the figure that they just placed on the portal come to life on the screen.
The game's levels are pretty linear, ensuring that kids always know where they need to go. You can't even jump on your own in this game; jump pads are placed at the specific places that jumping is allowed and required. There are some secret areas in the levels, but they're not all that difficult to find if you're looking out for them. Some obstacles can only be crossed by a Skylander of a certain alignment, such as water which can only be crossed by a water Skylander, and some bonus areas can only be accessed by a Skylander of a specific alignment. Some areas are accessible by all Skylander types, but provide bonuses only to a certain alignment. Yes, you're sensing a trend here. While it's entirely possible to reach the end of the game with the three Skylanders that come with the game, to see all of it you're going to have to lay out the cash to pick up at least one Skylander from each alignment (they sell individually for about $8 or in three-packs that will save you about $5). On the one hand you're getting your kid a game that he or she will probably love and that you can play together with him or her, but on the other you're guaranteeing that you're going to be pestered incessantly to pick up one Skylander after another. There are eight elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Life, Undead, Magic, and Tech) so with some careful purchasing you can get away with putting together a set that will keep you covered as far as the game's concerned for $40 over the game's original cost, but there are also level packs to contend with that go for another $20 such as the pirate ship that unlocks the pirate levels. You've been warned.
One of the good features of the figures is that they store their own character data. If you level your character up and find a bonus-bestowing hat for the character that you particularly like, you can take that character's figure to a friend's house, drop it on his or her portal, and play the game with your own character from your game at home. Another nice feature is that the figures are compatible with the game on every system, so if you have a PS3 and your friend a Wii, you can still play on his or her console.
For multiplayer, the whole game can be played in co-op mode and, as previously mentioned, with a single portal. In co-op mode the players need to stick together, and if they start to get a little too far from each other a rope appears that ties them to each other and prevents them from getting any father apart. The main reason for this is probably that the game is too linear to support two players running around on different parts of a level, but there is a side benefit in that it does require the players to cooperate at least as far as keeping on the same page goes. This along with the light puzzle solving and the need to determine the right Skylander to use for the situation seems like it would at least somewhat be of a benefit to kids, but I'm not a developmental psychologist so you can take that for what it's worth.
The game also includes competitive multiplayer in its arena mode. There are three game types in this mode, the first of which is a bit on the violent side. In this mode players battle it out with their Skylanders' weapons until one is left standing (don't worry, this is bloodless battle and is only violent in a cartoon-like way). The next mode has players scrambling for a football that can be tossed trough a goalpost to score a point. The final mode is a scramble to collect crystals that periodically appear in the arena, with the player collecting the most when the timer expires winning the match. Players can mix and match games between the three modes and have the game track who's won the most games overall. The arenas are fun little areas filled with ramps, jump pads, and traps for players to try to spring on their opponent. The arena mode is fun for what it is, and in the long run kids will probably get more mileage out of it than the game's main mode.
Skylanders Spyro's Adventures is a difficult game to rate. If you take the portal and and figures out of the equation, then you've got a fairly small, simple, and pedestrian platformer, at least by today's standards. However, the collectible figures and glowing portal add a dimension to the game that bring it into the real world, at least through the eyes of a child. If you have an eight year old, it's hard to imagine him or her not getting excited about the whole thing, and it's a game that you can share with your child or that siblings can enjoy together (you'll probably need to make sure that the total number of Skylander figures on hand is evenly divisible by the number of children in your household, though). There will undoubtedly be more Skylanders games in the future, and now that the technology has been ironed out hopefully the next game will be worthy of it.
Final Rating: 75%. Skylanders Spyro's Adventures is a simple game with a gimmick attached, but it's a pretty good gimmick. All things taken into consideration the whole package scores a 75%, but add 15% to that if you're eight.