Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a creative new game with its own USB periphreal called the Portal of Power. It's actually pretty damn cool...
The first thing I thought of when I looked over Skylanders was The Eye of Judgment, that older PS3 game which used the PS Eye camera to read specially crafted playing cards to life on the screen. Skylander's concept is similar, but not nearly as finicky, and even more fun.
Make no mistake, this is a kid's game, but like a good Pixar movie, it's fun for adults, too. Before getting into the details of the game let's take a look at what you get for your $70:
-Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure videogame in retail packaging
-Portal of Power USB periphreal
-Three physical characters -- not quite action figures but like mini tabletop Warhammer figures. They're very well made and nicely detailed. You get Spyro, Gill Grunt, and Trigger Happy out of the box, with twenty-seven other characters to buy separately if you want the full Skylander experience.
-Character poster, trading cards, sticker sheet, and a web code for each character to be able to upload their stats and track them in the online portal known as Spyro's Universe.
Two fold out instruction papers are included that cover a multitude of languages, but using the Portal of Power couldn't be easier -- simply turn on your 360, plug in the Portal into a free USB port, and watch it glow. The Xbox 360 didn't need to reboot, install an update, or anything like that. As far as the system was concerned, the Portal wasn't even there.
The Portal has a six foot USB cord that is factory-attached to the unit. It looks and feels well made, as though it could take a few drops off of the top of a table by accident, but of course you should take measures to keep the youngsters from doing so. The figures look 'professional' -- they have a good weight to them, are very sturdy, and their paint details are quite impressive. They do not articulate at all, but that's what the Portal of Power is for -- to bring the little guys to life on screen.
The Portal can read up to three items, or toys, at one time. That doesn't mean three actual figures though, it can only support two. But, you can buy Location and Magic pieces separately (in addition to figures) such that you can have two figures and one Location or one Magic item all on the Portal at the same time. Game modes include head-to-head (offline) play and also a story, or Adventure mode that supports drop in/out co-op.
Skylander's story is basic, but more than enough to satisfy the younger gamers and as an adult, let's just say I've played through less interesting stories (and characters for that matter). You are a Portal Master, and it's largely up to you to save the Skylands from KAOS, an evil goon with an inadvertent sense of humor, not unlike a villain out of a Pixar movie. Gameplay, in addition to the obvious changes the Portal of Power brings, is a 3D platformer, with plenty of enemies to melee and range attack, and lots of jump pads and simple environmental puzzles to solve. It's basic enough for a very young player to get and enjoy, but still engaging enough to keep most adult players going, at least in spurts, too.
Characters level up through battle experience and can reach up to level 10. There are also coins to be collected from fallen enemies or that are found in the game world. The coins are used to purchase upgrades. Each character stores their level and abilities onto the actual physical figure (amongst a few other things), so that you can take it to a friends house for co-op or versus mode action. From within the Manage area, players can take Ownership of visiting Skylanders to bolster their collection. Character names and hats (yes, hats) are changeable (after being unlocked), and you can view your Web Code that can be used on a computer to update your character in Skylanders: Spyro's Universe. You can also Reset your character if you decide you want to upgrade it differently or for whatever reason. It's also cool that you can take a figure from any platform -- PS3, Wii, what have you -- and instantly use that figure on any other platform.
The Adventure mode is the heart of the game, but there are also competitive, one versus one modes in Battle Mode. All of these modes are ready to play out of the box, and a handful of arenas (or maps) are included. Arena Rumble is a straight-forward PVP battle, with environmental devices to help getting around the arena quicker and also make it more deadly for your opponent. SkyGoals is a take on American football; the goal is to grab the ball and either kick it through the uprights or take it straight to the uprights for a touchdown. Players can use environmentally triggered traps and jump pads similar to the Arena Rumble. Finally, SkyGem Master has players rushing to collect five gems first.
Skylanders has a reasonable amount of content in the Starter pack, but players can add more by purchasing more figures and Location and Magic items. They aren't necessarily cheap, but they instantly add some fresh excitement to the game by allowing you to experiement with other characters and also the other elements that those characters can be in, such as Air, Life, Undead, Earth, Fire, Water, Magic, and Tech. Indeed, certain areas of the game, starting right off in the first level, are locked until you place a figure with the appropriate element affiliation onto the Portal.
As for the presentation, Activision did a great job. The visuals are really bright, colorful and whimsical, for the most part, perfect for a game with children in mind. Framerates stay at a high level and the effects are cool and again, age-appropriate. Voiceover work is great, especially with some of the NPCs. I forget the character's name, but he is voiced by Patrick Warburton of The Tick and Seinfeld fame. Finally, the music and effects are fitting and compliment the atmosphere and gameplay very nicely.
With that, lets get to the summary...