This article's a bit different to the usual NZGamer.com fare. For a start, I'm going to write it in first person - see? I just did it there, then again just now. I don't usually, because I like the authority that comes from stating things without predicating them with the personal. But it's important that I do, this time around, as previewing Skylanders: Spryo's Adventure became a deeply personal affair for me this week.
Why? The developer of the Wii version, Toys for Bob, are also the same people behind what I consider to be the best game ever - Star Control II. So? Well, Paul Reiche III, the guy that invented the Star Control universe itself, demonstrated Skylanders to me. We discussed both Skylanders and Star Control at length - so I figure I better tell you, in case you think that what follows next is colored by the fact that I hold these guys in awe. I don't think it is, but I'm an honest guy so I wanted to make sure you had all the information so that you could judge for yourself.
Still here? Good stuff. On with the show...
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is, as we discussed back in June, is an interesting title. It's interesting for a number of reasons, the most significant of which is the obvious way in which it interacts with real things; in this case, little plastic toys. You see, while on the surface it's an action-based platforming game, thanks to the previously mentioned real world interface, it's also a collectable miniatures game. You get three of the little toys with the game itself, and the portal device that lets you put the toys in the title, with the other figures only available via additional external purchase. Not a huge leap from what we've already seen with some Pokemon games, perhaps, but still new and unique.
The little figures aren't just for show, either; everything you achieve while playing the virtual version of the toy is stored in the figurine itself; all their gold, gear, and experience is literally saved into the thing. As you level it up, it improves - lift it off the portal device and it instantly disappears from the game. Place it down on another portal, on any other version of the title, and bam! There it is again, exactly as you left it.
This even extends to the 3DS version of the game, which has its own miniature portal - although the mechanics have been tweaked to make it more portable. There, developer Vicarious Visions have implemented a method by which you can store a couple of characters temporarily in "crystals" on the bottom screen of the handheld, ensuring you can actually play with it on the bus.
We got to play both the Wii and 3DS versions of the game, and can report back that - as expected perhaps - they both play a pretty similar game. It's a platformer - again, no great shock - in which the various abilities of the characters in question impact the way in which a level is approached. It's all basically the same, however each of the characters plays quite differently and playing them to their strengths will definitely improve both the competence of the play-through and the enjoyment gleaned by doing so.
For example, a rock-based dude by the name of Bash was all about tail-swiping and rolling himself into a ball at things, while a little blue chap by the name of Gil Grunt preferred to stand at the back and make things wet remotely.
This elemental-based character separation goes further than just theming the characters, too. Each level (of which there are many) has areas that are only accessible by certain schools of elements - i.e. one of the doors we came across could only be opened by a life-based character, such as this tree-looking dude that liked to punch things. Here's the catch: there are no life-based characters in the box when you buy the game. The door, along with one-per-character skill tokens to be found throughout the game, are essentially in-game advertisements for the purchased-separately figurines.
Paul was quick to point out that you could play through to the end of the game without buying anything on top of the initial bundle, but the inference was clear - the best experience is obtained by acquiring additional figures and by playing with friends that have some which you don't.
There's also some player-vs-player (PvP) action, in the form of articulated arenas - just the ticket for finding out who really is the baddest ass in the room when your mates rock around with their toys. Each arena has a different layout, with various teleporters and interactive elements - like the spike trap, triggered by standing on a nearby switch - and power ups that keep things interesting.
So is it any good? We'd never make a definitive statement about such a thing in a preview, let alone one based on such a short experience. But the signs are positive; it was definitely engaging initially, with fun platform-y stuff, some light-weight puzzles, and a lot of variety thanks to the bevy of characters available for our experimentation. It's definitely aimed at the younger set but, like a good quality cartoon, there are signs that gamers mature enough to see past the lack of hardcore violence may find themselves entertained as well - or at least not sickened to their core, should they pick up a controller in assistance of someone younger.
We remain cautiously optimistic about this one - be sure to keep an eye out for our review, which should be out around the same time as the game itself.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii and 3DS sometime between October and Christmas. Precise details, including an exact date and pricing information, have yet to be released for our territory.
The Good: Toys for Bob are involved.
The Bad: No details for NZ release yet.
The Ugly: Realising the lack of violence means some people won't give it a go.