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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Score: 97%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ RPG


Graphics & Sound:

The PC version of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is playable on Windows (XP, Vista and Win7) and also on the MacIntosh, but feels much like a console game; instead of the typical large array of graphics settings, Skylanders has just three graphics settings: Shadows, Detail and Screen Resolution.

The background music in Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure doesn't seem to get old and is quite pleasant, to the point that Psibabe would actually request that I not switch to my headphones when she started to work at her desk (next to mine), so she could listen to the music while she worked. (Typically, I use my headphones when we're both in the office and I'm playing a game.) Since she's a fan of Hans Zimmer, this should come as no surprise since he is at the helm of the soundtrack.

The graphics are colorful and bright, depicting a fantasy world made up of floating islands and populated with talking animals and wooden flying ships. The models and the environment are all 3D, but have about as much of a cartoon feel as is possible without using a cel-shading filter.

Each character has their own personality, with unique appearances, attacks and voices. Mind you, some characters can talk intelligibly (such as Spyro), while others say only a couple of words (though recognizable) or speak only in unintelligible grunts.


Gameplay:

To say that Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is all about the characters might be a bit of an overstatement. Maybe. (A little.) But, the characters do a lot to unlock the game, from providing access to Challenge levels, to allowing entry to certain areas (based on the Element they belong to... more on that later), to offering variety in abilities and attack types and styles. For that matter, additional characters can serve as cannon-fodder to let you make it further in a level than any one character could hope to last.

The PC version of the Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Starter Pack comes with three characters to get you started: Trigger Happy (Tech Element), Spyro (Magic Element) and Gill Grunt (Water Element). This gives you a nice starting point, but there are a total of eight different Elements - and without a character of a given Element, you can't access certain special areas in levels.

The gameplay consists of levels to adventure through, shooting bad guys, destroying pottery and other environment pieces to release goodies trapped inside, finding keys to unlock gates to proceed to the next part of the level and solving a puzzle or two along the way.

In each level, there are secret areas that you don't have to go through to get to the end of the level. However, visiting every area in a level will earn you a star (similar to an achievement) for that level. Also, you will find treasure chests, Legendary treasures and Hats in these areas, so they're worth seeking out. There is also a star to be had for finishing a level under some specified time limit. If you're attempting a "speed run" to get this star, however, you will need to avoid these secret areas and not go out of your way to gather treasures. For that matter, you will need to avoid any unnecessary fighting; these time limits don't leave much room for error.


Difficulty:

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure doesn't have any difficulty settings to fiddle with, but it's pretty accessible to gamers 10 and up (which is the age indicated by the ESRB rating for this game). When you're playing through a level, you will find food in crates or get food after defeating enemies. Eating food will replenish your health bar. If you take too much damage, your character becomes too tired to keep playing (until you finish or restart the level). You can, however, switch to a different character and continue the fight... as long as you have another character with some health remaining. Since the Starter Pack comes with three characters, you, essentially, have three lives to get through a level. For most players, this should be enough, at least for a good way through the game. If you upgrade your characters along the way, then by the time you get to the higher levels, you characters are more powerful and will be able to last through the harder levels.

Upgrading characters makes them more powerful and resilient, so collect coins and cash them in to upgrade your characters as you play. If you find that you need some extra help in a given level, you may consider having a friend bring his characters over to help out (visiting characters can be used) or you may want to buy some additional characters to boost your fighting ability and per-level endurance. As of this time, I have nine characters, a health potion and a time-warping accessory and I haven't been able to make it past the last level... which brings us to the topic of learning curve or difficulty ramping.

The difficulty increases at a forgiving rate. For that matter, I would describe most of the aspects of the game as, "Forgiving." If you die in a level, you can simply restart the level. You don't have to (actually, you can't) get all of the star objectives in a single pass through a level, as you will need to play the level a few times to get all of the stars. As you play, your characters level up, so by the time you get to more difficult levels, you have more powerful characters. It's all very forgiving. Until you get to the last level of the game. I have played - but not completed - the last level of the game, and my characters all played out until they were completely exhausted. I will need to level them all up some more and run them all through the various Challenges to raise their stats... and possibly have J.R. Nip loan me some of his characters to actually finish that level. It's that difficult. You essentially go from a gentle difficulty incline to a brick wall.

Mind you, if you are the kind of player who upgrades everything as much as possible, collects everything there is to collect and plays levels over and over again, by the time you get to the last level, you may be more prepared for it than I was. Your mileage will, of course, vary. The point is, the game can be enjoyed without finishing the last level, so you can go back and play through the various Challenges and earlier Levels to help get your characters ready for that final level. I will say that it would take some mighty mad skills to finish the last level with only the characters included in the Starter Pack.


Game Mechanics:

The novel gimmick in Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is that the collectible figures interact with the portal included in the Starter Pack and store their own level and inventory information in the toy, itself. That, along with the fact that the figures can be used across the various platforms that the game is made for, means that someone who has the game on the Wii can take their upgraded characters with them to visit a friend who has the game on the PS3 and can use the leveled-up character on that system, too - and retain whatever money and experience is gained when he/she returns home. This is a really nice feature, giving tangibility to the in-game objects and a dynamic aspect to the figures.

I played Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure on both Windows XP and Windows 7. I had some initial issues trying to play on Windows 7, but these turned out to be issues related to the fact that my machine was set up as a Media Center and because the initial installation had some corrupted files. (For more information, follow the link below.)

All installation and Media Center-related behavior issues aside, the game looked good and played well under both XP and Windows 7. I like the look of the Spyro Portal and kept it just to the right of my mouse - and even changed my Logitech Gaming Mouse 300's accent color to green to match the ring of light at the bottom of the Portal. Snazzy.

The Spyro Portal that comes with the PC Starter Pack is a wired portal, but (through the trouble-shooting I did for the Windows 7 install) I found that the PC version seems to work fine with the Wii and the PS3 versions of the Spyro Portal, both of which are Bluetooth wireless. (I'm just sayin'.)

Controls can be handled using a keyboard and mouse or a USB Gamepad with an Analog stick. The mouse is used in interesting ways in Skylanders. To unlock a gate once you have the key, you move the mouse forward to pantomime inserting the key into the lock. To shake the locks off of a treasure chest or to raise a flag, you move the mouse left and right rapidly. These actions are the type of actions one would expect of an accelerometer-based controller, but also seem to work just fine with a mouse on a desk surface; who knew?

Keyboard control seemed to lack some finesse in certain areas. You can only move in 8 directions, removing a good deal of nuance and often getting me in a position where I found myself just-a-little-to-the -side of where I wanted to be facing. Luckily, a lot of the characters' weapons have a bit of an auto-aiming aspect to them that helps to mitigate this issue. When you're trying to navigate through a mine field or tight paths lined with bouncy plants, however, not having analog control over your movement can be a drag... and can make a "speed run" in certain levels nearly impossible with the keyboard.

The only gripe I have about Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure's controls would have to be the camera. It's not a completely stationary camera, but the player has no control over it. At certain places, the camera angle will change to give a better view of a given path or area... but this occurs automatically. What's worse, when the camera changes, causing the screen to rotate around your character, your command to "go left" is still saying to go left, although that's now in a different direction. If you were trying to head toward an object, the fact that the screen has rotated means that you would have to change the direction you're trying to go, as well. More often than not, this isn't an issue. If you're fighting in these areas, however, this can mess you up a bit.

I think that Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is an awesome game. The upgradeable character figures are a stroke of genius and, from what I've seen, the demand is hot and heavy for the characters and accessories. If you're a fan of Spyro, no, this isn't your typical Spyro fix, but this game is a fun game, with a novel hardware concept behind it and a collectible aspect that's likely to help make it the "big thing" this Christmas season. If you think you might want it... or you have a relative or friend who will want it for Christmas this year, grab a copy and the characters you want now... supply might not be able to keep up with the demand!


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



For Windows:
Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/Win7, DirectX(R) version: 9.0c (included), Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 at 1.86 GHz or AMD Athlon64 X 2 4200 or greater CPU, 100% DirectX compatible 512MB 3D graphics accelerator* - NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX or ATI Radeon X1800 series or greater, DirectX 9.0c-compliant true 16-bit sound card, 2 GB (XP/Vista/Win 7), 11GB of free Hard Drive space, 6X DVD-ROM drive**, Mouse and keyboard, optional USB Gamepad with Analog stick

NOTICE:
This game contains technology intended to prevent copying that may conflict with some disc and virtual drives.
Microsoft(R) Windows(R) 2000 or earlier operating systems are not supported.


For Mac:
Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7 or greater***, Intel Core i5 or greater CPU, 512MB 3D graphics accelerator - NVIDIA GeForce GT 330 M or ATI Radeon HD 3870 or greater, 4 GB RAM, 11GB of free Hard Drive space, DVD-ROM drive, Mouse and keyboard

*Motherboard integrated video chipsets are not supported.
**Versions Digitally Distributed do not require the DVD-ROM drive.
***This game will not run on PowerPC (G3/G4/G5) based Mac systems or the Intel GMA class of integrated video cards

 

Test System:



AMD Athlon(tm) II X2 220 Processor 2.80 GHz, 4 GB dual-channel DDR3, ASUS Mainboard, CoolerMaster 850watt power supply, Dual boot: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit / Windows XP Home Edition Graphics, ATI Radeon 3000 (on motherboard) / XFX ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB graphics card, Dual Monitors (Gateway HD2201 21" HDMI / Sony SDM-HS73), 1.5 TB Western Digital Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive, 750 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 SATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive, Logitech Gaming Mouse G300, Logitech Z313 2.1-CH PC multimedia speaker system, A30 Gaming Headset, Cable Modem

Related Links:



Microsoft Xbox 360 Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Nintendo 3DS Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated