A lot of grown-ups like collectables. But when you're a kid, you love collectables. To this day I remember with great fondness the Hot Wheels, purple-haired trolls and other items that found a comfortable home on my comic book-laden bedroom shelves. So I guess it only makes sense that a video game incorporating cute collectable toys might be kid-irresistible. Or at least that's what the gang at Activision is hoping for.
With their new Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure starter pack you get a video game, a special "portal" platform that plugs into your console, and three action figures. When putting one of those toys on the portal, its character instantly comes to life in the game on your TV screen. It's actually a pretty cool mechanic.
A Plug-and-Play Land of Fantasy Magic and Epic Battles
The game itself is a fairly simple kids' action-adventure-fantasy title. Players are plopped down in Skyland, a colorful world of magic and gravity-defying island communities. This is a normally peaceful place, kept so by a white-bearded magician-like portal master named Eon and his Skylander charges—a group of animal and creature heroes, each endowed with its own unique elemental power.
All the peace and tranquility of that land, however, has been recently sent scurrying for cover. An evil but slightly goofy bad guy named Kaos has destroyed the land's "core of light," shrunk the Skylanders to the size of handheld toys and sent them flying out into space. Where have the heroes landed? Why, in the homes of Earth children, of course.
As a budding portal master, young gamers must collect the Skylanders and send them back to Skyland to save the day. There they will battle lots and lots of Kaos minions with their fire, magic, blade and gun-blazing attacks. They'll also solve puzzles, rescue citizens, uncover treasures and eventually find key power sources that can return everything to its proper order. And that's where the game's portal mechanic comes into play. Not only does the launchpad bring your selected hero to life back in Skyland, it also loads up its toy representation with important information. These toys learn as they go.
As players gain experience upgrades, purchase better attacks or find special hats that boost their health, attack or speed stats, the little Skylander toys remember all they've gained. So if you take your plastic hero over to a friend's house to play in their game, your character shows up sporting every hat and attack blast that it gained back home. Not only that, but it can even work across different systems. An Xbox 360 dragon will still feel at home on a neighbor's Wii.
Quagmires, Quibbles and Carps
On the content side of things, fallen figures disappear in a shower of colored essence orbs. So that's good news. But considering the very young age of the gamers targeted here, it's worth mentioning that we hear exclamations of "gosh," "heck," "holy carp!" and "mole-butt!" Some of the Cyclopes and troll-like minions might feel a bit roaringly aggressive.
But it's several of the Skylander heroes themselves that are most apt to rub Mom and Dad the wrong way. The eight different elemental classes of Skylanders are represented by everything from dinosaurs and elves to dynamite-tossing trolls and an anthropomorphized tree with wooden hammers for hands. And then there's the undead class. For instance, the Ghost Roaster is a cackling skeleton with a spiked ball and chain for a tail. Hex is a gothic witch, with a skull in her hand, who calls out quasi-incantations when she hits foes with her spell attacks.
You don't have to buy any characters you don't feel comfortable with. You can play through the main quest with only the dragon, fish and Tasmanian devil-like characters that come in the starter pack. But the game strongly encourages players to buy the whole crew by offering areas and quests that can only be unlocked by certain classes. There are also bonuses if you possess all of the heroes in a certain class. And the more Skylanders you own, the more team substitutions you'll have when the battles get tough.
And what kid won't want to fight his battles with a full contingent—never mind how sharp-toothed or spiritually dubious some of its members might be?