E3 2011: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Hands-On Preview – Re-enter the Dragon
Written Monday, June 20, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Strictly speaking, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a bit a misnomer. Not only is it not really a Spyro game, but it's not really even Spyro's adventure either. It's an adventure that he shares with a whole array of characters that can be purchased as physical figurines and instantaneously transported into the game's world via the magic of the Skylander's 'Portal of Power' peripheral. And it really does seem like magic too, which coming from a bitter, cynical games journalist like myself is high praise indeed. Skylanders is a weird beast. Ostensibly a children's game aimed at 7-10 year olds, we found ourselves being whisked back to a childhood collecting figures and trading cards, where the only boundaries were imagination.
Skylanders taps into a whole range of childhood pursuits, from collecting figurines and trading cards, to battling friends with their own characters. Skylanders will ship with three figurines and the portal peripheral when it releases, giving players everything they need to get started. Each character is also imbued with abilities based on their specific element, of which there are eight overall. You get three elements out of the box with the figurines, giving you access to the Tech, Magic and Water character types, which is apparently all you need to complete the game. However, we can't imagine kids being satisfied with just owning 3 of the 32 figures currently planned for Skylanders. Additional figures will cost about $8, which seems fairly reasonable when you consider that they remember everything a player has done while playing a game, via the magic of the portal. They'll also come with a trading card and a sticker sheet, with stickers that can be stuck to a big poster that comes with the game. Again, it's something for the kids to collect and complete.
This also allows players to personalise their experience, so it's likely that no two figures will be the same in terms of how they appear in-game. Each of the Skylander figures also has its own unique characteristics too, so when we pop the Prism Break figure onto the Portal of Power, it glows with a colour to notify the player of which element the figure has and then he almost instantly appears in the game as you previously left him. So, if for example you looted a chest for a fez - like we do during our hands-on - and you equip it to your character for an elemental damage boost, if you then take that figure to a friend's house and drop it onto their portal, he'll appear exactly as he does in your game with all of the accompanying stats and upgrades. Therefore it's your figure, unique to you. This is something that will no doubt resonate with the younguns'.
But what if you have a friend with a Wii and you're playing the game on your PS3 or Xbox 360? What happens then? Well, it's clever stuff this Portal of Power malarkey, as it allows for cross-platform play. Take your 360 or PS3 figure around to a Wii-owner's portal and you can still continue playing, meaning there's no boundaries as to what console you can transfer your character to. Yes, yes, we hear you cry. This portal-related cross-platform stuff is all well and good, but what of the game itself? Well, it's most definitely a game aimed at kids, that's for sure. You walk your character around the environments, collecting treasure and other bits and bobs, opening chests by wiggling the analogue stick and pushing blocks to create bridges to other areas. Certain parts of the map require a specific elemental character to gain access, at which point a quick figure swap is all that's needed. There's absolutely no jumping though, so it's just a case of strolling through the levels collecting, fighting and puzzle-solving.
Each character has their own attacks and attributes, so the aforementioned Prism Break can lay crystal prisms and fire lasers that refract and reflect from them, while a figure like Stump Smash can club enemies and break through obstacles or gateways that require the life champion element. Chop Chop is an undead elemental, who has fast sword attacks and a shield for blocking, Eruptor is a fire character who can hurl white-hot boulders, Trigger Happy belongs to the tech element and wields dual pistols that fire coins or he can throw safes at enemies. Trigger Happy comes in the game package as standard with the water elemental Gilgrunt and of course Spyro himself, who is a magic class character with a ramming headbutt and fire attack.
Remarkably, the game also has co-op and player vs. player components, so friends can either team up or duke it out for currency and experience points as they deem fit. There's also around 12-15 hours worth of gameplay promised, which will involve activities like reassembling a huge castle and exploring for Soul Gems that grant upgrades. During our hands-on, we can totally see how a 7-10 year old could get swept up in Skylanders, as we twist pylons around the outer battlements to piece the castle back together and gain access to the inner walls. With these kinds of simplistic puzzles and 2 or 3 elemental gates per level, there'll be more than enough in the game to keep kids occupied. Then you can take the trading cards onto the playground and play the game when you're away from your console. Just don't let teacher have your figures confiscated. Hell, you can even connect the portal to a Mac or PC and check out your characters on your computer, if you like.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is looking like it will delight kids the world over when it launches later this year, but with its simple gameplay that utilises just a few buttons, no jumping, relatively short levels and cutesy characters, there'll be little to no appeal for the hardened gamer. Sure, it's endearing and very smart, and we even found ourselves getting grudgingly addicted to the innate uncomplicated nature of the gameplay, but Skylanders is resolutely one for the sprogs and will no doubt have them pestering parents for new figures, which is a clever marketing ploy, we have to admit. How Spyro fans will feel about it all though, is debatable. It's likely that they'll be deeply upset that the purple dragon has been relegated to the status of sideshow in a game full of colourful characters, where having his name on the box doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to. For Spyro fans, it might even officially signal the death of the franchise as they remember it, but there's still no denying that Skylanders ought to be a clever little kids title.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is out on September 27th, 2011 in North America and Q4 2011 elsewhere.