When I has a kid rockin’ my shiny new Playstation, I played the ever-loving crap out of Spyro The Dragon. I’d sit in my room, blasting Red Hot Chili Pepper’s latest album Calafornication, talking on my corded phone, and playing Spyro instead of doing my homework. I have since lost touch with the purple dragon of my youth, not playing any spyro game that came after. And so when I saw two years ago that Spyro was making a return in a game that was doing something new and seemingly innovative I was intrigued. Now that I’ve finally gotten to play the game, it may not be everything I hoped for.
For those who are unfamiliar, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is an action-adventure game that takes place in the world of Skylands. Spyro the Dragon, along with his numerous friends are tasked with saving this world from the evil villain Kaos. Aside from the standard gameplay, each copy of the game comes with a “Portal of Power” and three action figures. The Portal the connected to your system of choice via USB (or wirelessly if you’re playing the 3DS version of the game) and then one or two of the figures, depending on how many players there are, are placed on the portal, and then “transported into the game”. This bit of technological magic is achieved using an RF chip in the base of all the figures. Now, no to the game itself.
Let’s start with the good shall we? Skylanders is a game that is most certainly geared towards children. The game itself is simple, using many of the standard action game tropes from Spyro’s original days to introduce kids to basic beat ’em up combat mechanics and loot based exploration. And then of course you have the plethora of action figures that accompany the game. You get three with the Starter Pack — Spyro, a magic type; Trigger Happy, a tech type; and Gill Grunt, a water type. There are plenty more to purchase after this, but we will get to that in just a moment. Back to the game itself. If we’re still giving the game the benefit of the doubt based on its kid-centric design, you can also call the story serviceable. Kaos, the main villain, is determined to destroy Skylands once and for all, and does it in a comical, if not annoyingly redundant way. He uses a combination of pattern based attacks and evil versions of many of the Skylanders in the numerous boss battles, eight in all. One last positive note, the game is fairly lengthy, as long as you don’t measure it in terms of time played versus money spent of course. It took me about twelve hours for my review play through, and I only did some exploration in the first half of the game.
While all of the above is nice, let’s get to the issue I have with both this game and the Skylanders franchise as a whole — the cost. To break it down for you, the Starter Pack will run you between $40.00 and $50.00 at the time of this writing. You then have thirty-nine additional characters you can purchase, including three gold variants, three silver variants, and four legendary variants. Then there is the dark variant of Spyro that you must purchase the game on 3DS specifically to get your hands on, as well as four expansions for the game, called Adventure Packs. The end result is a game that, in order to own in its entirety, would literally cost you hundreds of dollars.
So is getting every single figure and its variant needed to play the game? Not at all. Can you see all the game has to offer without additional investment? Not even close. Can you play the game to completion with only the Starter Pack? Technically yes. Is that any fun at all? No, no it’s not. And here lies the ultimate issue with Skylanders, it uses business tactics the likes of which many corporations such as McDonalds are villainized for to sell its mediocre action figures direct to children. The game targets needy, spoiled rugrats and their helpless parents, many of which are not well versed in gaming culture and therefore do not have the proper defenses in these situations, in order to sell as many figures as it can. And it doesn’t just do this with commercials or brightly colored store displays, but instead markets within the game itself.
Within each level of the game one of the eight different “types” of Skylanders will be stronger in a particular section. And this doesn’t just happen once per level, but sometime eight to ten times per level, often prompting for Skylander types that require an additional purchase. There are also doors within each level that require a particulate Skylander type to unlock. Behind these doors are power ups and collectibles that you will never see unless you spend an additional $50 total! I personally find this offensive and just plain gross, for lack of a more eloquent term. Keep in mind these aren’t expansions or DLC, but items needed in order to reach 100% completion within the original game. No other game could get away with this.
The last way in which Skylanders entices kids, and adults a like in this case, to purchase additional figures is via its boss fights. As an example I’ll take the final boss fight in the game. I began that battle with a fully leveled up (level 10) Spyro. He died after taking only four hits. Once a skylander runs out of health, it becomes “tired” and cannot be used again until a checkpoint is reached. I then but a level 8 Gill Grunt o the Portal and was again dead after only taking four hits. The end result was a battle that lasted almost a full hour and took me through twenty-one skylanders. Now you may be wondering if I am just very inept at this particular game, and that’s fair, but all the additional seven boss battle also took more than three skylanders to finish; and so even it I was, for the sake of argument, twice as bad at playing this game as the average player, that would still be ten figures needed to beat the final boss, an additional $70. I am honestly not sure what would have happened if I had not had these extra characters, as my three starter characters were almost at max level, meaning additional grinding for experience or gear would have made minimal difference.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a mediocre game at best, built for children not because it wants to give a child the joy of gaming, but so that it can both blatantly and more mischievously pedal its plastic wares to kids, and by extension, their unsuspecting and often helpless parents. The cost to see what the game has to offer, or to complete it in full, is high by the most generous of standards, and while I might be able to recommend a $60.00 game with Skylander’s quality, I simply cannot do the same here. I can not think of a single reason to justify purchasing this game. Not one.