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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Family


Graphics & Sound:

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a new spin-off series for everyone's favorite young purple dragon. For this game though, the developers at Toys for Bob have decided to go big and take Spyro in a new and interesting direction. Skylanders is not just a fun and family-friendly RPG, but it relies heavily on a series of accessories that come in the form of character figures and toys. More on that later, though.

While I wouldn't be surprised if the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Spyro's Adventure come through with brighter colors, smoother lines and all around better graphics, the Wii version doesn't look bad at all. Not only are the character models excellent looking, especially when you compare them to their toys, but the various floating islands that make up the Skylands world looks great as well. There is nothing attempting to be photorealistic in this game, but quite frankly, if the game tried for that, it just wouldn't fit with the cartoony and kid-friendly nature of this game.

The game's audio is pretty good. Not only does it have Hans Zimmer taking care of the background music, but the vocals are decent as well. While there aren't a lot of big names, there are quite a few characters whose vocal styling were obviously patterned after iconic voices like Patrick Warburton. Basically, both the look and the sound of Skylanders hits the nail on the head.


Gameplay:

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure takes place in a world of floating islands. In this land, there are eight elements ranging from air, fire, earth and water to life, undead, magic and tech and protecting this world is a collection of heroes referred to as Skylanders. They are guided by Portal Masters who can summon the heroes and help guide them in battle.

One day, a former Portal Master named Kaos not only sends out a horde of evil minions and destroys a ancient machine designed to keep the Darkness away, but he casts a spell that freezes, shrinks and sends all 30+ Skylanders to Earth. It is your job to collect the Skylanders figures, place them on the Portal of Power that comes with the game and guide your heroes into battle. Your mission is to stop the Darkness and Kaos from taking over and to do that, you must rebuild the ancient machinery that he destroyed. It is powered by the eight eternal sources, one for each element, and they have been scattered all around Skylands.

That's the basic idea anyway. What it boils down to is a game that comes with the Portal of Power and three figures. When you pop in the disc and start playing, you need to put one of the toys on the Portal and it reads in that particular figure's data so that you can control him or her in the game. The really interesting thing is, as you level up your character and customize its abilities, those details are associated with that specific figure. Not only does this mean you can have two different Spyro figures, each with different stats, but you can also take your figure to a friend's house and bring it into their game. To sweeten the pot a little more, the figures themselves are cross-platform, so if you have a Wii and your friend has a 360, you can still bring your character into his or her game.

While Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure has a really strong single-player RPG-heavy story that can take a good 20 to 30 hours to go through, the game also has a heavy multiplayer aspect as well. Not only are there various Battle Arenas where you and a friend can go head-to-head in a variety of games, but the main story supports drop-in/drop-out co-op play as well. Just turn on a second controller, put another figure on the Portal, and boom, two players. That added with the fact that you can hot-swap your characters with any of the other figures in your possession really adds an interesting twist to the game.

Skylanders has many RPG elements to it. Not only is there a leveling system that caps out at 10 ranks, but you can also purchase attack upgrades to better your fighting ability. To further allow customization, you will eventually have to decide how you want your characters' abilities to be specialized. Each fighter starts off with two attacks, and you eventually gain a third one. After upgrading them for a bit, you will get to choose which of the attacks you want to develop more, and the available upgrades from that point on are more focused on that particular ability.

The other bit of customizability comes in the form of Heroic Quests. Each character comes with its own challenge. Once you place it on the Portal of Power, this challenge is unlocked. These range from collecting a certain number of items, to destroying a certain number of enemies. They are all under a time limit, and the reward for completing them is an increase in some stat. This means that maxing out a character's abilities not only requires you to collect enough money to buy the upgrades and getting them to level 10, but also completing all of the Heroic Quests, which admittedly, also means getting your hands on each of the heroes the game offers.


Difficulty:

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure has a bit of a sliding scale when it comes to difficulty. On one hand, each level definitely feels longer and tougher than the previous, but as you level up your characters, you will be able to last longer in fights. That being said, given the ability to swap out characters at any time gives you a big advantage. If you have a hero who is low on health, you can swap it for one that hasn't seen battle in the level yet, and they can keep on fighting. This is especially helpful in boss battles because while the majority of the levels can be gone through without much trouble, the boss fights almost always leave me struggling and going through a few heroes.

As a result, the more heroes you have, the better you will do, but then again, that's more characters you will have to try and keep leveled up and ready to fight. Thankfully, all health is reset when you complete a mission, so if you can make it through those bigger fights with just one character left, then you won't have to worry about refueling before your next mission.


Game Mechanics:

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure has some interesting tricks up its sleeves. There is an obvious hidden cost to this game since it only comes with three figures: a Water type named Gill Grunt, a Tech type named Trigger Happy and Spyro, a Magic type. While you don't need any specific elements in order to actually complete each level, there are gates in the levels that only certain types can use. As a result, in order to fully explore the land, the player needs access to at least one hero of each type.

Now, this doesn't mean that you have to go buy one of each type. Skylanders is very much designed with co-op in mind, and more specifically, local co-op. Without any online-modes, the developers obviously designed the game so that you and a friend would get together and help each other out. So yes, you can expect to go out and buy a few more figures for the adventure, but it isn't necessary, and while I'm sure Activision and Toys For Bob would love for you to buy one of each character, it isn't necessary. This hidden cost aspect to the game seems to have been one of the biggest sticking points from a lot of Spyro fans over the past few months, and while it can generate a bit of collector-frenzy, especially for completists like myself, it simply isn't absolutely necessary to enjoy or even beat the game.

Since the game was originally designed to be played on the Wii, and then later expanded for the other systems, it isn't a wonder that the Wii version feels really solid. Most of the time, when a multiplatform release of a game hits the shelves, its the Nintendo console that suffers, but that isn't the case here. While the other versions might be a little flashier, the Wii one is a solid game and I highly recommend it. It is geared towards a younger audience, but Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure really is enjoyable for all ages.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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