I was interested in Skylanders as soon as I heard about it. I love toys and the whole concept just seemed cool to me. With that said I was still surprised by the marketing assault I found at our local Toys “R” Us or TRU as those of us who used to work there called it. I took Gabe down there who is seven now and smack dab in the middle of what I imagine their target demographic to be. When he saw the wall of Skylanders toys and accessories he actually started drooling. I took what might be the worst photo ever. Nice job auto focus.
The display has one of the “magic” Skylander portals set up with a television. You can take any of the figures off the rack and place it on the portal to get a preview of what they are like in game. It’s hard to stand in front of that display and not get excited. We ended up grabbing the game along with the Pirate Seas adventure pack and four of the single figure packs. Each of the figures was eight bucks while the Pirate Seas adventure pack was thirteen but includes a whole new level, a special power up and a new character. The prices seemed reasonable to me but that’s coming from someone who has already accepted the idea of paying for this content and trust me I understand that is a stretch.
It’s very easy to look at Skylanders and compare it to Pokemon. If you are making that comparison then the idea of paying to collect all the different Skylanders seems ridiculous. If you want a Magicarp you just play until you find him, you don’t go down to the store and pay eight bucks. I was trying to figure out why this wasn’t bothering me and it was actually Scott Kurtz who nailed it. I was showing him the game last night and he said “this is League of Legends for kids”. I thought about it for a minute and fuck all if he isn’t exactly right. I think LOL is a much better comparison here. You buy the game and it comes with three Skylanders and the portal. You could theoretically play it with just these figures and probably not have a terrible experience. In LOL there is nothing saying you can’t just play with the free heroes each week. You don’t have to buy all the other heroes.
I think Skylanders is much more mercenary in its manipulation though. LOL shows you all the cool skins and heroes you can buy but they aren’t twisting your arm. Not only does Skylanders twist your arm, it punches you in the stomach and takes your lunch money. Every level is comprised of zones that cater to certain types of Skylanders. You are always hearing the message that Skylanders of a given elemental type are stronger in this zone. There are also hidden zones that can only be accessed by a Skylander of a certain type. Don’t have the right one? Time to go to the store. You will also find “Soul Gems” in the levels that will grant special powers to specific Skylanders. So you are always finding cool powers for dudes you don’t even own. When Skylanders die they have to “rest” which means you can’t play with them. I hope you have more Skylanders to play with. I don’t mind being manipulated but this honestly feels like too much. I like your toys, I want to buy more of them them. You don’t have to be such assholes about it.
The game itself is actually pretty fun. It is a solid action platformer that is obviously aimed at kids. For all the polish that the concept has I am a little surprised to see so many bugs in the game. I’ve had it lock up twice requiring a restart of my box and there are lots of little issues as well. Treasure and other collectibles will often get stuck on geometry in places where you can’t get to it. Sometimes during co-op when the second player tries to leave it won’t let you. I’ve seen my character disappear from the screen but I could still fight and move around. This is all pretty frustrating stuff to experience after I just shelled out over a hundred bucks. Even with all the problems my son is still loving it. He is blown away by the portal mechanic and is having a great time with the game as well. Skylanders has a surprising amount of content. The main adventure is fun but beyond that there are multiple cool battle modes, fun mini games and a series of challenge levels that are honestly hard even for an adult.
TLDR: Skylanders is a fun concept and a surprisingly good game. It’s a blast to play with your kids but be prepared to drop some serious money if you want to collect them all.