Why I Like: Skylanders

We all know Activision is well-known for milking a cash cow until they die (see the history of the Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk franchises), and that might be the fate of the extremely popular toy and video game crossover title, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, but can’t we enjoy it while its new and still good? Something as innovative and well put together as this deserves some positive attention, and it’s just not fair how many people are immediately writing it off as just another attempt to cash in on needy children and the parents willing to spend anything to make them happy. In reality, it’s a good game with a great premise that happens to suffer from being under Activision’s greedy control.

Yeah, even Spyro’s confused as to why his name’s in the title…

Being the ‘latest big thing’, and admittedly having a deviously brilliant marketing premise, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a multi-platform action RPG where you… um… Okay, the plot’s only there to drive you through similarly designed, elemental themed levels and to buy as many of these little figures as you can. What possible excuse can I have for actually defending such a blatant attempt to extort children for their parent’s hard earned money? For starters: It’s well-made, has charm and is just plain fun to be honest, and it’s not really as much of a rip off as originally perceived…

Upon hearing that my brother was bringing my 4-year-old nephew to meet his new uncle for the first time for the new year, and knowing full-well he’s gotten the child hyped up by telling him things like “your uncle’s really big into video games. He has so many and it’s going to be so much fun visiting him;” I promptly grabbed a starter pack for Skylanders and multiple single figures, which prompted one of my managers (who trusts my taste in games) to do the same. Neither of us were disappointed.

Try and tell me you didn’t want a toy this cool as a kid…

Upon opening the box, I was pretty surprised at how well made the figures and portal were, knowing that Activision could have easily thrown it all together and still raked in a fortune off this. But little touches and attention to detail shine throughout the make of the physical portions of the product. The figures were cool, and even if they didn’t have chips in them to let them work in the game, they would be something one would find in a toy aisle for about $8 a piece if they had articulated joints. Since this is what they sell for with the added feature of essentially being pieces of DLC for the game that you don’t have to download and can put on a shelf, I judged them to be of a fairly good value.

As for the game itself, the story and controls are obviously simplified for younger players as they are the intended audience. When playing alone I still found myself enjoying the game as I started grinding away to increase the characters’ levels to a point where I’d feel safe that even a 4-year-old would have difficulty dying, regardless of if he or she fought back or not.

While Spyro by no means plays a major role in the title, in spite of being the title character, he is the only character included in every system’s starter packs and the universe does have some of the original title’s charm, right down to everyone’s overt hatred of sheep. The characters are well voiced (well, the ones with voices), and the shallow plot does just enough work to keep the game afloat. The game has a decent length, is surprisingly deep, well thought out, and  designed to be accessible to youth yet still enjoyable to the parents and older siblings that are bound to be forced into playing with the children the game caters to.

My only real gripe about the game itself falls upon the soul gems- stat bonuses which must be found while playing the game and also unlock each characters’ most special abilities. The gems are unique to each character, and the easiest to find gems are those of the characters only able to be purchased separately (usually most commonly found in a three pack for $20, instead of the single packs). Upon finding one of these gems for a yet unobtained character, it will pause the game and prompt you to watch what is essentially a commercial showing off just how awesome this character is and that you NEED to buy him as soon as you can.

So is the marketing evil? Yes. Does the game have shameless commercialism coming from its every pore? Most definitely. Is it worth it? I think so. I believe that the experience is worthwhile if it means having a product a hardcore gamer like myself can enjoy while playing alongside a child who just got his first system a week prior, the both of us having fun and most importantly, having fun together.

The design is innovative and blurs the line between a physical and digital offering, quality obviously was a high priority in the game’s creation, as opposed to the common practice of making it as fast and for as cheap as possible to maximize profits. The game itself is fun, and most importantly it has the potential to bring families closer together. The drop in-drop out co-op is great and requires little more than connecting a controller and dropping on a second figure onto the portal, still allowing both players to swap character on the fly without any confusion as to who is playing who. Between my personal experience of co-op between a 22-year-old hardcore gamer and his 4-year-old nephew, and the stories I’ve heard from my similarly aged manager and his twin brother, both hardcore gamers, we’ve all enjoyed it thoroughly as it reaches for broad appeal and succeeds tremendously.

It might be a money trap and a shameless example of commercialism, but I honestly don’t care. Whenever I think about Skylanders, I recall my nephew exclaiming “That’s so cool!” and us laughing as we play for hours on end and let out a smile, knowing the experience it helped create was worth every penny and more…

You can see why Dagfari hates Skylanders here.

5 thoughts on “Why I Like: Skylanders”

  1. Nice article! Skylanders is definitely all about getting kids to buy a ton of toys, but that’s nothing really new with toys in general. I remember so many “collect them all” sets from when I was a kid. I think this just sticks in some people’s craw because it does it so well and parts of it are deviously designed to get kids to want more. (I didn’t even know about the soul gem thing, that’s brilliant in it’s marketing evil.) It’s so blatant that it’s hard not to recoil from the capitalistic genius of it. I’ve heard the actual game is okay from a number of sources too (including this one!), so there’s that at least.

    Also there’s a dragon robot. Named Drobot. A DRAGON ROBOT NAMED DROBOT. I almost want to get it now just for that.

  2. Now its a great game but i feel like its so overpriced to get the full experience for the game, 8 dollars for one character really? You buy this game for 50+ and its not even a full experience but kids will love it and want to buy even more characters. I feel like this game is a big scam but thats just my perspective.

    1. Eh, I’m not too worried about kids when it comes to things like this, at least not to the extent that you are. Completionists will want to buy everything, yes (and also, for the “full experience”, you only need the three characters in the starter pack, plus one character each from the five other set of elements, as just having one character of each element will give you access to all the areas. Beyond that, it’s just for the characters themselves), but kids, being kids, will typically just flock to whatever figures they find “cool” and will ignore the others.

      Beyond that, remember, you’re not just paying for some piece of DLC to unlock digital version of the characters here–you’re also paying for an actual figure of them, which, considering what you’re paying for, makes it a decent price, as not only do you get that digital version of the character, but you also get a figure version of it that the kids can use separately as a normal toy if they want or just be something which sits on the shelf and looks cool, something which can’t be said for other forms of DLC.

      As for value, I actually just wrote a post about that on a NeoGAF thread on this issue, so I’ll just copy that over:
      “Hmm, is it really a terrible value, though? I mean, compared to most other DLC today that is. It seems to have two significant pluses compared to a lot of DLC:
      1.) These figures will work with any copy of the game. In other words, you can buy a figure and then, in addition to being able to use it with your own system, you can also take it and use it on your friend’s system as well, without them needing to have purchased that figure as well or anything. The figure’s are also cross-platform, so even if you bought it for use on your 3DS or something, and your friend has the 360 version, you can still use it on both. You can’t do that type of thing with most DLC. But much more significantly, this directly leads in another point, which applies to practically no other DLC/unlock keys and such among the big hits today:

      2.) The ability to resale a figure once you’re done with it. Unlike those map packs in Call of Duty that you might eventually tire of and stop playing but still be stuck with regardless, once you’ve had your fill of a figure, you can sell it on eBay or whatever and make money back on it. That right there seems to be add a great value proposition, at least as far as DLC and such goes. That being the case, I can’t really call this a terrible value proposition compared to other DLC and such these days, as unlike most, it’s not stuck associated to you gamertag or whatever after you buy it for the rest of time, and you can actually make money back on it, so, at least when thinking about it like that, this could actually be considered a more consumer/value friendly of DLC (again though, as far as that type of thing goes, but still).”

      1. To my understanding, all the content is already on the disc though. You’re just buying characters to unlock stuff already on the disc.

        Sure, it’s basically the same as DLC, but a lot of people don’t take too kindly to that. Not that most kids would care.

        That being said, I agree that toy marketing in general seems to follow this route. All the other toys in a series are plastered all over the box for a reason. From a toy perspective, it’s perfectly normal. From a game perspective, there are some problems.

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