Calling All Earthlings! The Skylanders Need Your Help! (Skylanders:Spyro’s Adventure Review)
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
The beloved purple dragon is back, and this time, he’s accompanied by his fellow Skylanders. Spyro and his friends are caught on Earth, banished from their luscious Skylands home, having been turned into frozen statues by an evil fiend, Kaos (that’s spelled “K-A-O-S!”, we’re informed by the megalomaniac).
Skylands, a once beautiful and magical utopia (where every tree, rock, and animal had magic flowing through them), is now filled with darkness, chaos, and fear. The Core of Light, which had held the darkness at bay since before ‘once upon a time’, was destroyed in an epic battle between Eon, the last portal master, and Kaos, the leader of the Darkness hell-bent on ruling Skylands. In the Core’s explosion, the Skylanders were blasted far away to a place called Earth, forever frozen as tiny versions of their original selves. There, they wait for young portal masters to call upon them and send them back to Skylands to defeat Kaos. It’s up to you, fellow Earthlings, to help the Skylanders as they embark on their greatest adventure yet: to find pieces of and rebuild the Core of Light to restore their world to its previous glory.
Activision’s newest instalment of the Spyro franchise is also a foray into the toy market, amalgamating figurines with videogames. For $10 more than the typical $60 for a game, the Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure Starter Pack comes with a Portal of Power (with USB plug) and three character toys (of over 30 to choose from). For the bigger consoles, Spyro, Gill Grunt, and Trigger Happy are included with the Starter Pack, whereas for the 3DS, you’ll get Dark Spyro, Ignitor, and Stealth Elf. Placing the toys on the Portal will transport the characters into the game, allowing the Skylanders to roam their home world once more.
There are a couple fascinating aspects to these simple Skylander toys. First, the Portal can be used across consoles, giving people the ability to jump from an Xbox to the PS3 to a Wii, if they so desire. Each character represents a specific element and has a special power to match (8 elements in all to choose from), and the Portal’s light will change colours to reflect the element of the current toy being used. Also, the toy figures also have their own memories, storing your character’s story progress, stats, and unique attributes (like customized hats). Thus, for the very first time, we have a true cross-platform game, where players can cart their characters to their friends’ houses without the need of starting from scratch.
Using any of the Skylanders, you can explore this story-driven, 3D action platformer. Discover new landscapes, uncover hidden treasures by bashing crates and barrels, and attack any of the monsters who dare stand in your way! If you’ve played other Spyro games before, you’ll see familiar game features, such as monsters disintegrating into coloured orbs that you collect to level up, and various food items floating around to restore your health. One new feature with the different Skylander toys is that you can switch the characters mid-chapter, if you feel like it – and this definitely comes in handy when a character runs out of energy/life. Instead of having to restart the chapter over when a character dies, you can just place a new character on the Portal.
While you can play this game solo, a friend and/or family member can jump in at any time – only two players can play together at any given time. All they have to do is connect their controllers, put their Skylander toy on the Portal, and voila, instant co-op mode! One major difference in co-op mode is that there is a green tether tying the players together, making it impossible for one player to run away from the others. This also means that co-op is very much a cooperative effort, as you have to move around as a team. However, this restrictive function can get frustrating when a player stubbor
The initial chapter is a bit of a tutorial round, giving you all the skills needed to play the game. Here, you’re introduced to treasure chests, presents, locks, all of which require the Right Stick to unlock and open. Also, you’ll come across elemental gates, which lead to extra goodies, and can only be opened by the respective elemental characters. While these special areas aren’t mandatory for moving on to the next round, it does count towards your level completion at the end of the chapter.
Each chapter comes with a set of objectives, such as collecting a specific part to rebuild the Core of Life and rescuing hapless characters. Sometimes, you’ll even come across mini-games, like shooters or puzzles (e.g. a lock tumbler that you have to navigate in order to unlock a gate), that can yield extra loot. At the end of the level, your progress is tallied up in three categories: Chapter, Completion, and Collections, which are shown as three stars. You’ll always get at least one out of three stars (as you can’t get to the end of the chapter without completing your objectives). However, the Completion and Collections categories require that you don’t die during the level, find all of the areas/treasures/hats (including the ones guarded by elemental gates), and complete the chapter within a specific time frame. Needless to say, these will probably drive the completionists nuts – as you’ll need to have at least one character from each element – and keep them busy for a good, long while.
The game controls are easy and straightforward. Technically, all you need to know is that the left stick/D-pad is used for movement, and the two attack buttons. For the rest of the mechanics, the game always provides onscreen instructions, such as a yellow Y hovering over items to be used, or the RS circle flashing onscreen when you need to open a lock or shake enemies off.
Additionally, throughout the game you’ll have the omniscient Eon instructing you – and if that isn’t enough, you’re also given visual cues (such as the camera panning to the nearby, padlocked gate once you’ve found a floating golden key) to your next objective. It’s clear that Activision had the little ones in mind during development, as parents can take a backseat and guide their children only when it’s completely necessary.
In addition to many creative and unique gameplay elements, Skylanders boasts a brilliant narrative that is told through cutscenes interspersed within the game, creating the perfect balance. For the younger children who aren’t old enough to grasp gameplay mechanics, they can just sit back and enjoy the cutesy rendered cartoons, much like watching an animated movie.
The visuals in the Skylanders backdrops are simply beautiful, creating an amazing world for players to immerse themselves in. Even the dark and ominous dystopian Skylands is gorgeous in its own way – like a lightning storm – filled with a horrible and dangerous magnificence. Each chapter of the game introduces a new landscape, such as the Tree of Life (located high up in the air, reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk), the Dark Water Cove that is the pirates’ tiki-themed stronghold, or Leviathan Lagoon with crystal-clear blue waters providing a view of the multi-coloured oceanic fauna and flora deep below. The most beautiful landscape is that of the Ruins (the Home stage that you always go back to); as you progress through the game, collecting parts of the Core of Life, the Ruins slowly goes through an awe-inspiring transformation. Words definitely can’t do justice to the sheer loveliness of these settings.
The characters within Skylanders, from the main heroes to the little birds fluttering about and the lambs frolicking in the background, are exquisitely detailed. Every creature in the game plays its role well, and some more than others are fun to interact with. The birds congregate or scatter when your character starts randomly attacking things nearby, and the lambs are basically balls of fluff that bounce about. In fact, the lambs provide entertainment all on their own, as they react differently with various attacks: punting them will result in their rolling around, while Spyro’s fireballs will burn the fluff down to a crisp, until the lambs look like shaven poodles scurrying away. Of course, the lambs always bounce back to their original shape – giving you that wonderful encore. I won’t lie – I spent a good 5 minutes chasing the prancing sheep, giggling like a maniac.
The script and in-game dialogue are another important piece to this amazing Skylanders puzzle, moving the story along well, while also providing laughs for kids and adults alike. The dialogue is exceptionally well-written, giving each character their own personality. The script is intelligent to keep the adults interested, yet basic enough for the children to understand. Also, there are plenty of allusions and tongue-in-cheek moments (like Kaos’ Oz-like projection in the sky) that will make the adults chuckle, while simple things like Trigger Happy’s cackling and exclamations of “Mine-mine-mine!!” will have the kids giggling at the sheer silliness of it all.
Finally, adding to the realism of this magical package are the music, sound effects, and voice acting. With a happy tune always playing in the background, players are further drawn into the Skylanders world by the environmental sounds, like birds chirping, water lapping at the shores, or lambs bleating in the distance. The characters themselves have their own sound effects, like Gill Grunt’s webbed feet squelching as he walks, the soft sound of his harpoons chinking when they’re shot out, or the foomph of Spyro’s fireballs. Even the minute audio details, like an oil can being squirted, or the ticking of a bomb, were given careful attention to. All of these effects seem like minor things, but add to the big picture that is Skylanders.
The voice-acting in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures is top notch, never bland or falling flat. Again, the actors that lend their voices to the characters add to the feeling that you’re watching a movie, rather than playing a game, as it’s entertaining to listen to. The Skylanders each have their own catchphrases and mannerisms, making it more believable that these characters do exist somewhere out there. If you ever find that the characters voices get annoying (e.g. Trigger Happy constantly saying “Mine!”), you can turn down the voice volume in the Options Menu, thus allowing you to listen to just the environmental sounds and music.
Overall, Activision’s done an exquisite job of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures. They’ve created a colourful world that is beautiful and fun to explore, filled with characters and animals that are amazingly realistic, thanks to the superb sound effects and graphics. The game’s cutscenes and script are nicely packaged, making players feel like they’re watching and playing within a movie. Not only do players get an amazing game with magical settings, a great story, and loveable characters, they also get collectable toys to play with. Although the main game has tons of aspects that make it a gem to replay, you also have the option of buying new character toys (either single or in 3-packs, $8 and $20 respectively). Alternatively, you can purchase Adventure Packs (costing approximately $20) that come with new toys, giving you a new character, while unlocking goodies and new worlds to explore. Despite a couple of gameplay glitches and a restrictive tether in co-op mode, Skylanders is definitely a treat for the entire family!
Wanderson75.net gives Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures a 4.5/5.0
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