Whoever came up with the concept for Skylanders is a marketing genius. The recipe is so pitch perfect it’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to execute: Take the elemental centered and “gotta buy them all” appeal of Pokemon, mix it with the addictive RPG leveling and character progression that almost every game utilizes today, and then pair it up with a plethora of collectable figures that you can transport both between and across consoles. The results are a franchise that has already grossed upwards of 500 million dollars between two releases with zero signs of slowing down. But is the game any good or just a flagrant cash grab aimed specifically at children?
Actually it isn’t half bad. I spent the majority of this past Saturday playing this with my nephew Jacob (he’s 8) and really enjoyed myself. The game is akin to many dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate except it takes place in the uber-colorful and child friendly world of Skylands. The interface is very simple and easy to understand; almost anybody could pick it up and play with little instruction. Character leveling is extremely balanced and it has the familiar “just one more level” appeal as you constantly unlock better powers and upgrades for each of your individual Skylanders. Jacob spent the better part of our lengthy session saving up hard fought treasure for a battle-axe made entirely out of bees for his favorite giant Swarm, and his joy upon finally earning the weapon was completely palpable.
Each Skylander represents one of eight different “elements” like fire, wind, technology, or undead. The levels are divided with multiple gates and hidden areas that can only be accessed by certain elements, meaning in order to fully unlock everything the game has to offer you must own at least one character from every element. If you are defeated, the only way to continue the level is by swapping out figures on the fly, making the game near impossible with only the starter set, but very manageable with a stable of Skylanders figures at your disposal. (Defeated characters can be used again on the next level but not before) The aforementioned starter set only comes with three characters, the game disc, and the necessary Portal of Power; so more characters must be purchased (Hey Mom!) in order to fully experience and enjoy what the game has to offer. Some Skylanders are also much rarer than others (especially some of the newer Giants) making collecting these things highly addictive. Again, sheer marketing brilliance.
Skylanders: Giants is also compatible with all of the toys released for the original game, and the level cap is increased from 10 to 15 for all of your previously purchased characters. There are also new Series 2 versions of the original Skylanders that have more effective powers and different poses than their original counterparts, a very wise move by the developers to keep fans of the original excited about the sequel. I’d be absolutely shocked if a third game wasn’t released this holiday season, right now the game has legs, something that Activision is notorious for exploiting on a yearly basis with all of their other major franchises.
It is also interesting to mention that the first game was titled Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, featuring popular gaming icon Spyro the Dragon who has appeared in almost twenty other titles. Spyro never speaks in either game however, and doesn’t give you any sort of advantage over any of the other characters. It almost seems like the developers were hedging their bets to get the game off the ground with a mascot familiar to the intended demographic.
If you are looking to enjoy some gaming with one of the younger people in your life you could a lot worse than Skylanders: Giants. The title is certainly geared towards children but contains many of the familiar trappings of an addictive video adventure; I certainly didn’t grow bored playing it as I have with many other games. Just plan to shell out a lot more than the initial seventy-dollar investment if you want to see everything in the game or actually get through it successfully at all.