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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

by Neal Ronaghan - October 13, 2011, 10:00 am EDT
Total comments: 31


Depth, breadth, and excellence are the name of the game in this Spyro reboot.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, a new Lego Star Wars-esque game from Activision, has all the makings of an animated cartoon show that kids today will watch and wax nostalgic about when they’re older, only to realize that the story was goofy and there were a few Pixar-esque humor-for-adults moments that sailed over their heads. That makes sense, because the Toy Story writers are behind the story and world of Toys For Bob’s magnum opus, which has fun gameplay and the production values of a quality animated TV show.

Skylanders is a unique game that features a cast of over 30 characters that can be upgraded, gain levels, and wear status-boosting (and usually adorable) hats. These characters are brought into the game world seamlessly by being placed on the included portal, which magically brings Skylanders action figures into the game. The bundled version of the game includes the game, the portal, and three characters (Spyro, Trigger Happy, and Gill Grunt). Other characters are sold separately for around $8. For the purposes of this review, I had access to more than half of the launch line-up of characters spread out across the eight different elements.

The story revolves around the world being torn asunder with only the Skylanders to save the day. Some humorous and mildly memorable characters are introduced, and the game has a pretty great voice cast (Patrick Warburton is probably the most recognizable name/voice). The levels, of which there are 26 in total, are primarily linear, though there are tons of extra areas to explore. Players are rewarded for exploring, as nearly every alternate path has a treasure chest, new ability, or new hat to find. In addition to the chapters, which are very replayable, there are Heroic Challenges that are unlocked every time you bring in a new character. Usually a little harder in difficulty, these challenge levels are fast-paced and fun.

The gameplay offers a nice mix of variety. Primarily, you’re just exploring the environment while fighting enemies and unlocking doors. On occasion, you’ll engage in a fun distraction, such as a pointer-based shooting mini-games or a tilt-based puzzle. Motion controls are used sparingly for things such as shaking to open chests or thrusting forward to insert a key into a door. Your character can’t jump, but the stages are built around that and it never seems restrictive. The controls are smooth, and while each character offers up different moves, the same basic moves work across the board, much like a fighting game.

The game features drop-in/drop-out two-player co-op that is both easy to do and fun. You can even engage in Four Swords-esque antics of competing for gold. Where the multiplayer shines, though, are the excellent competitive modes. The battle mode features a lot of stage variety with traps and power-ups, highly reminiscent of Everything or Nothing, Power Stone, or Toys for Bob’s The Unholy War. A crystal collection mode is also similar to those games, and just as fun as the other mode. The spectacular jaw-on-the-floor multiplayer mode is the football one. Basically, you compete with your opponent for control of a crystal football and try to carry it to or kick it through the uprights. It’s fast-paced, amazing, and very original. The only downfall of these multiplayer modes is that they are only for two players.

Each character is visually interesting and generally fun to use. Some of them have similar attacks and abilities at the outset, but as you progress through the game, you gain improved abilities and upgrades. You'll likely soon pick favorites and ride those characters to the level maximum (10). Upgrades are bought by collecting loot, and each character has many upgrades. The game doesn't require you to change characters, but completionists will want at least one from each of the eight elements, as certain areas can only be reached by certain elements. Additionally, some characters are stronger in certain surroundings.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is an extremely well-designed game that is perfect for kids. Unfortunately for parents, this game is wonderful and addictive, meaning that most kids who get their hands on this will crave more characters to collect them all. More experienced and older gamers might not get the same unadulterated joy, but it’s still worthwhile, especially if you have younger kids or relatives. Skylanders kind of nails that Nintendo-esque feeling of a game that can be enjoyed by all ages. In that respect, it’s unfortunate that the figure-collecting might turn off an audience, but then again, it’s a defining feature that makes this one of the freshest and most ambitious gaming concepts in recent memory.


  • Action figures
  • Awesome co-op/competitive multiplayer
  • Fun gameplay
  • Great production values
  • Perfect for younger gamers
  • Character collection might not appeal to everyone
  • Multiplayer only supports two players


Over 30, huh? I thought they sent you a bunch, but I guess it's not the full set. I'm interested in what tech they're using for figure recognition. RFID?

I think it's RFID. Not 100% sure, though.

They sent me 12 individual ones, and then 3 each in the two game bundles. One of the individual ones was a duplicate with one of the bundled ones.

Fatty The HuttOctober 13, 2011

The game definitely seems like a good family-fun choice but these folks are out of their minds with the pricing. Its $70 for the 3-figure starter pack on Amazon (regardless of system) and, according to the review, $8 per character after that. Full reatil price for game and all figures is $286.

I assume this will be bargain bin material real soon.

Damn, even the 3DS version is $70?

The price for the starter pack doesn't bother me. I look at it like this $40/50 for game, and then you get the portal and three figures ($8 each). That's good value. The $8 figures don't really strike me as absurd. Look at Rock Band DLC, look at Pokemon cards/toys. If you break it down like that, then yes, $286 is a lot. You could do that for every collectible series of things.

I just checked; the 3DS version is $60. It's standard retail plus $20 for the portal and figures.

The comparison to Rock Band is a good one in the sense that the stuff you pay extra for isn't necessary and only enhances the base game. No one would argue that Rock Band costs the thousands of dollars it would take to buy every piece of DLC, and no one should argue that this game costs how much it would take to buy every figure.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterOctober 13, 2011

I was about to bring the Guitar Hero/Rock Band comment. Those games are easily worth above 200 bucks, and even then they manage to sell like crazy, especially during the Holiday season. I would have been just as doubtful, but the numbers tell me otherwise. The thing is that if the product is good, people will demand it and will buy it regardless of value.

We have 500 plus iPads and iPhones. Even with a weak economy like ours, if there is a hot item people will buy it.

I have the feeling that Skylanders will be a solid hit for Activision. The game world is very unique from everything else in the market and has a high presentation that should hook players in.

Fatty The HuttOctober 13, 2011

insanolord is right about the 3DS price on Amazon.com, but not for Amazon.ca. I was quoting the Canadian version. Sorry for the confusion.

The Rock Band/Guitar Hero analogy is interesting. Not quite apples to apples but interesting all the same.

I supppose if you were just interested in unlocking all the game areas you would just need 8 figures. So, you get three and you'd have to buy 5 more. Still works out to $110 for the "full" game. At least with Rock Band you can play every song (just not with every instrument).

Fatty The HuttOctober 13, 2011

On a brighter note, the character "Stealth-Elf" is awesome. I'd consider buying him, game or no game, just for that name.

OneOfSwordsOctober 13, 2011

Fatty, two things: One, you get the game, the portal, and three figures for $70 -- and you can play through the entire game with those three characters. Everything else is an option. It's like saying if you go to a movie, you can't enjoy it unless you buy every single thing at the snack bar. Seems unlikely and illogical to me. Maybe some people do it, but I know it's not required. Games are the same way. It's your choice. It always is.

Second, I agree, Stealth Elf is a cool character. She is also female.

CericOctober 13, 2011

What I like to really know is 2 things.

1) How are the 3DS and Wii versions different?
2) Can you transfer your character leveled up and all to other versions of the game with just the figure?

My cousin is getting a 3DS for Christmas and while I have a 3DS I thought this might be fun to play with my son so I get it for Wii but I like to be able to show my character on the other one.

1. The 3DS and Wii versions are extremely different. The Wii game is somewhat similar to the LEGO games, while the 3DS game is an old-school 3D platformer (Super Mario 64-ish, or more accurately, like the old Spyro games).

2. Yes. The electronic components in the figures store all the upgrades and customizations you make to the character and allow you to transfer all of that between games.

Stealth Elf looks like she has bananas in her hands. I know their spikes or something, but at first glance I was wondering why she was holding bananas.

Highest praise I can give both games: I'm wrestling with wanting to play Skylanders 3DS over the new Layton in my 3DS. I'm wrestling with wanting to play Skylanders Wii over the new Kirby on my Wii.

Quote from: NWR_Neal

Stealth Elf looks like she has bananas in her hands. I know their spikes or something, but at first glance I was wondering why she was holding bananas.

Highest praise I can give both games: I'm wrestling with wanting to play Skylanders 3DS over the new Layton in my 3DS. I'm wrestling with wanting to play Skylanders Wii over the new Kirby on my Wii.

For the record, it was this post that pushed me completely over the line, and I just bought the 3DS game on Amazon.

Quote from: NWR_insanolord

2. Yes. The electronic components in the figures store all the upgrades and customizations you make to the character and allow you to transfer all of that between games.

Oh, so it's more than simple RFID. That's pretty cool, and $8 seems reasonable (not that I would shell out that, but it's in line with figurine prices).

If I find myself in a Toys R Us picking up a character I didn't get yet, then I know the Skylanders have won.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)October 14, 2011

I maintain that this game could have easily existed without the damn portal and figurines. Something as simple as a character wheel or some other menu interface would have done the trick. Whether the game itself is well-made or not, this whole product has that layer of Activision filth, the layer that says "how can we fleece people for more money?".

At least with the music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I understand, because the design of those games doesn't really make sense with a regular controller - you're playing songs, so it makes sense to have an instrument, right? But the gimmick here is that you can switch between multiple characters. I can think of plenty of games where you swap characters on the fly, and none of them needed a $20 reader and $8 per character to function. Aargh, the more I read about Skylanders... ugh, it just makes me angry.

Fatty The HuttOctober 14, 2011

Quote from: OneOfSwords

It's like saying if you go to a movie, you can't enjoy it unless you buy every single thing at the snack bar.

This would be a bad analogy except that I do buy everything at the snack bar. Doesn't everyone? Really pisses off the people behind me in line when there's nothing left.


Second, I agree, Stealth Elf is a cool character. She is also female.

To paraphrase the immortal words of the great Billy Ocean: Get out of my dreams, Stealth Elf, and in to my car.

CericOctober 14, 2011

The Max level is 11.  The real trick here is if they can keep the game interesting in the expansion.  That's what you buy with the figurines.  My little guy I can bond with its mine and it can travel with me to each game and I know it like a companion.  So if the Wii game and the 3DS game is different I know its still my little guy and hopefully all of them have abilities I can get that are exclusive to that one.  Heck I'll bet the PS3 Version is different then the Wii version. (Though I can't find anybody comparing those.)

So do we view Nintendo the same way with Pokémon? Or do we have a special case of Activision trying to rape our wallets? Just, you know, realize Activision isn't Satan. Skylanders is a pretty sizable risk. Not many companies take risks like that.

A character wheel would greatly diminish the charm of this game, in all honesty. It would probably still be a good game, but having the figures are part of the fun. I legitimately have my bag packed for New York Comic Con and I threw in my 3DS portal and some figures. I'm jazzed.

neil305October 15, 2011

Is the portal the same for the 3DS and Wii versions.  If I buy the 3DS version, could I later just buy the game for Wii, or would I have to buy another portal too?

Harrysmom05October 17, 2011

I live in Pennsylvania in the United States, and this game was just released yesterday, but I got it for my 6 1/2 year old son for Christmas.  I read a lot of reviews and this game really has VERY few legitimate complaints from users.  The first, which is irrelevant to me, is the fact that the co-op play is not available online.  We don't play many games online with other people, so this doesn't really matter.  The other BIG issue people are bringing up is the cost.  But as some of you stated, a standard new release for any console runs around $60.  For $10 more you're getting the portal and 3 characters that will obviously get you somewhere in the game.  So far I have ordered the starter set, two of the 3-character packs, and 2 adventure sets.  I got 3 of the sets for the price of 2 at Toys R Us on sale, and one of the adventure sets for $7.99 that was a misprint on Target.com that they had to honor, so altogether I've spent about $120 on everything.  In my opinion, this is not a bad price at all, and I compare the cost of this to what I frequently spend on lego sets for my son.  I have spent upwards of $100 on a single Lego set, but the price doesn't bother me because he loves them, he plays with them, and I know without a doubt that I'm buying a quality product.  I was worried at first about buying this game because it uses 2 totally new forms of technology and where I preordered my starter set from said that they hadn't sold a single pre-order before mine.  But after reading the online reviews, I know I made a good choice and that my son will be very pleased on Christmas morning!!!  ;D

CericOctober 17, 2011


I read the first paragraph and had to check the top to see if Neal had written this.  It doesn't make a mention of the Wii version.

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not the only person that likes things.

CericOctober 17, 2011

Must... Not... Poke...

Mop it upOctober 18, 2011

If this is marketed properly (and if there's one thing Activision knows, it's marketing), I can see this being a huge hit this holiday season.

They mentioned at the event I was out there for that this game is getting the same marketing budget as Call of Duty.

CericOctober 19, 2011

I know when I go into a store its pretty big setup.  Though I haven't seen much in the way of TV marketing.  Though they have to put it on Hulu or NFL games on Fox for me to see it.

Maybe Qubo.

greybrickNathan Mustafa, Staff AlumnusOctober 20, 2011

I am so disgusted with this game's premise that I'm actually commenting on the site. That being said,  my six year old self wants this with Star Wars figurines.

CericOctober 20, 2011

The Star Wars license would have made this an instant no buy for me.

Quote from: greybrick

I am so disgusted with this game's premise that I'm actually commenting on the site. That being said,  my six year old self wants this with Star Wars figurines.

Yeah, looking at it cynically it's hard not to be upset with Activision's tactics. I guess I'm not looking at it cynically enough though, as I've now bought enough of the figures to have one of every element.

CericOctober 24, 2011

Hello all,

It seems that if you purchase any game over $19.99 the Week of October 24th, 2011 at Toys R' Us you get a Free Skylanders Figure and October 29th, 2011 at Toys R' Us, at least in Tennessee, from 12-4cst they havea Come In and Play Skylanders.  Which I'm going to be doing this weekend because, I'm curious if the investment be worth it.

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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Toys for Bob
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Release Oct 16, 2011
RatingEveryone 10+
jpn: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Release Jul 12, 2013
PublisherSquare Enix
RatingAll Ages
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