Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures - PAX 2011 Hands-On

By James Hawkins in PAX 2011
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm
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PAX Prime 2011 is well over a week old, and yet, we've still got a teensy bit of coverage that has yet to flood into the mainstream. At Activision's PAX preview session -- where steak and potatoes were graciously and generously served -- I got a chance to handle the upcoming kids title, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures with a producer of the game. Yep, it's a spin-off of that venerable Spyro franchise. And yep, I had to set my beer down for it.

It was definitely the tongue-twistingest title of the whole batch, and its cartoonish aesthetic stood out in stark contrast to the grimy violence of the Spider-Man: Edge of Time demo that stood beside it. But a number of cool and what I believe to be truly innovative features and unique peripherals that accompany the game made me walk away more than a little impressed. I'll fill you in after the jump.

I've never really played games geared for kids, except the most obvious ones -- the stock Nintendo franchises, Harvest Moon, etc -- and those are really just simple, harmless games marketed towards everyone at any age. So, my impressions are biased by lack of first-hand previous exposure, but nonetheless I'm going to extol them. Be warned.

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The premise of the game is relatively simple. Players become a "Portal Master" of their world, and control dozens of characters in a fight against an evil "Portal Master" named Kaos. Portals send these characters to other worlds, and in those other worlds, the evil minions of Kaos operate. You control a little avatar across ancient lands (a style reminiscent of the Gauntlet series, only for kids), picking up upgrades, power-ups, and growing your simple skill sets by completing objectives and knocking out unwitting enemies. You also unlock more characters as you go. I'd delve deeper into the story, but no story was conveyed to me during the demo, only the features.

The game is set up to support a paltry two player cooperative experience -- I say paltry, because it is loaded with over two dozen unique, individual characters that can easily drop in and drop out at any time. It seems that four or more players would make for one hell of a good time. But two is compelling enough to get the job done, and the characters are varied enough that finding good teams should be a fun and interesting task in itself. 

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The drop in drop out aspect is fascinating -- a peripheral, a "portal" if you will, is used to physically withdraw and enter players into the game. The peripheral looks like a rugged plateau, and players can set different characters onto the portal, and they automatically drop into the game. This is where I placed my beer down and jumped in.

It played fairly smoothly, with a lot of chaos and bubbles spraying across the screen. It was hampered by a few technical bugs, but for the most part, it seemed to be a well put together, charming little game. We played on the Wii, and swapped to the PlayStation 3, picking up right where we left off. I'll explain.

The peripheral comes with the game (which, all included, will be $70), and additional toys can be bought for less than $10 each. The portal is a neat feature, but made even neater by the total cross-platform compatibility. You can go from Wii to Xbox 360 to PlayStation simply by picking up your toy and placing it on another portal -- say at a friend's house. The power-ups and player abilities save directly into the toys, so the transition is seamless. You certainly can't do that in any other games I've heard of, so Activision is quietly leading the way as a pioneer in that respect.

The game is innovative, that's for sure. Toys For Bob, the dev team behind the title, has keyed in on the whimsical nature of children, and are making a game that can stay with a kid even when he or she is away from the console. They're urging kids to play with their friends in actuality, and then take it to the console during those precious moments of video game time scheduled by particularly draconian parents. As a brand-building campaign, it's fascinating; they're truly fostering within kids a specific loyalty to the product. And it'll surely keep those little tykes occupied for hours on end when it releaases on October 16, 2011. Expect a lot of DLC.


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