Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a work of genius. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a work of artistic genius or even games design smarts as an incredible piece of product design and marketing. By combining the worlds of the collectible toys and the video game, Activision has created a game that urges you to buy more toys so you can have more fun in-game, which then makes you want to buy more toys so you can have more fun in-game. For the publisher, it’s a virtuous circle of cash-generation, though I’m not sure that all of us who are parents will see it in quite the same way.
Here’s the genius idea in full. In Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure you are a portal master, charged with bringing heroes into the game world so that they can reunite the pieces of the broken Core of Light and defeat the wicked Kaos and the mysterious forces of The Darkness. The heroes take the form of little plastic figures, which you place on a rather cool glowing portal that plugs into your console via a USB socket. Doing so sucks them out of the physical world (though not literally) and into the game.
Each hero differs in movement speed, resistance to damage and primary/secondary attacks. Also, each is affiliated with a different element, which controls how powerful they are in specific areas of the game world, and whether they can use certain gateways to access new areas in the current level. This last bit is particularly clever, as while the characters themselves will be hideously appealing to the 6 to 12 year-old crowd that loves Transformers and Ben 10, there’s simply no way to see every area in a level or complete all the special challenge missions wihout ponying up for extra figures.
Three are provided in the box, including the game’s (only nominal) star, Spyro the Dragon. However, there’s already a healthy range of additional heroes, available separately or in themed packs for between £4.50 and £20. You might start with just the starter pack, but before you know it you’ll be shelling out for Stump Smash, Prism Break and Wrecking Ball, or hitting the credit card to grab the Pirate Adventure Pack and all its goodies. The game even has its own form of in-game advertising, through collectible power-ups that come with a video preview of the character they’d normally attach to. Can you live without Zap having seen his electrical dragon-breath in action? No? We can’t either.
It’s a brilliant concept, and we can’t deny that there’s a thrill in grabbing a new hero from the package and sticking them on the portal, then seeing them for the first time in-game. The different gates and areas even encourage you to swap heroes as each level plays out, pulling one off the portal and rapidly switching in another. With two controllers connected you can even place two heroes on the portal and play the game in a co-op style, with a kind of force-band that ties the two players together to avoid any split-screen issues. From our own experiences, kids love it.