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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (Xbox 360) artwork

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (Xbox 360) review

"Levels feature lots of loot and they all contain special areas that are locked behind gates. To enter gates, you must have a character with the matching affinity. As long as you have such a character and he hasnít been disabled for that stage, you can simply pull the current character off the pedestal and replace it with a new one. The whole process takes mere seconds and it lets you feel like youíre actively involved in the adventure."

Skylanders: Spyroís Adventure is a competent adventure game for kids made remarkable by its gimmick: collectable figurines that let you play in new ways.

As you can deduce from the title, Skylanders is the latest entry in the Spyro franchise that began on the PlayStation and expanded to other platforms. Some of the recent installments, while interesting, failed to really captivate the public. The games tended to be rather complex and frequently they played awkwardly, plus a lot of them were part of a trilogy. That made it difficult for someone to get involved partway through the story. When it came time for the latest adventure, Activision wisely went back to the drawing board with a fresh developer and a unique idea.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure asset

Skylanders tells the story of a chain of islands that float above a sea of clouds. There, a wise old man named Eos serves as the portal master. He has powerful magic that allows him to control mythical beasts. With their strength, he is able to keep evil at bay. Yet as the game begins, Eos is growing frail. Thatís bad news for the islands, particularly when a nasty fellow named Kaos invades and then destroys the Energy Core from which Eos derives his power. Now darkness is spreading over the islands and only you--a fresh portal master--can save the day.

Spyro is one of more than 30 different creatures who will assist you in your efforts to defend the chain of islands collectively known as Skylands. If youíve grown to appreciate Spyro because of his past adventures, you can enjoy a reunion with him now and meet new friends along the way. If youíve never been a fan of the purple dragon, or if youíve never played any of his games, thereís no law saying you have to use him here. You can instead save the day with a variety of unique monsters (including a few other dragons) with one of eight elemental affinities: magic, tech, life, undead, fire, earth, air and lightning. Just know that youíll have to pay for the privilege.

Skylanders ships with a plastic portal accessory and three figurines. The sturdily-constructed portal is about 8 inches in diameter and it attaches to the front of your Xbox 360 using the USB cable. No batteries are required. The cord is long enough to reach most places in your living room, for the most part. As for the figurines, theyíre all quite small and you canít pose them, but theyíre intricately modeled so that they truly have a collectible quality even if you donít give a hoot about the actual game. Youíll start with the Spyro, Gill Grunt and Trigger Happy figurines.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure asset

Itís not possible to play the game without the figurines. You set your figurine of choice on the glowing pedestal and the corresponding character appears on-screen. As you play the game, youíll gain experience points that increase your characterís levels (up to a maximum of 10) and youíll find currency that you can spend on useful upgrades. Every character collects both experience points and currency separately, and each character also has distinct moves that you can unlock. Furthermore, you must eventually choose one of two paths for your character to follow. All of that information is then stored within the figure so that if you take it over to a friendís house, you can play there with your stats in place. Gaming platform is irrelevant as long as thereís a portal base, so you might build up your character on Xbox 360 and then play with a friend who has the game for Wii.

As you play through a given level, your characterís health is vitally important. There are health pickups along the way that restore your life when you take damage. If your characterís health meter drains completely, though, heís out of action until you exit the stage. Should you happen to run out of characters, youíll have no choice but to restart a level, which can be frustrating near the gameís end when some areas take around 10 or 15 minutes to clear.

Levels feature lots of loot and they all contain special areas that are locked behind gates. To pass through gates, you must have a character with the matching affinity. As long as you have such a character and he hasnít been disabled for that stage, you can simply pull the current character off the pedestal and replace it with a new one. The whole process takes mere seconds and it lets you feel like youíre actively involved in the adventure.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure asset

Kids should love the entire concept, and the game capitalizes on that. While every stage can be conquered using only the three characters that ship with the game, most stages feature areas that you canít access unless you have additional figurines. Given the MSRP of each figurine (around $7 or $8), youíll have to spend around $40 to gain access to a character of each element. Every stage also contains discs that you can collect to gain additional special moves, even for skylander creatures you donít currently possess. Unless you indicate that youíd rather not watch, youíll see video showing off how much that character kicks butt with its new move. The likely result: kids will constantly be begging their parents for additional figures until they have all of them, which could easily wind up costing a couple of hundred dollars on top of the cost of the game. Another potential issue is that stores currently are having a hard time keeping the figurines in stock. You may head to the nearby Wal-Mart with big plans to expand your fleet of monsters, only to find bare shelves and an apologetic sales associate.

Assuming that you do buy some more figures, at least thereís some genuine value in each purchase. The special areas that you access will typically allow you to gain new hats for your beasts that grant new stats and can make them look pleasingly silly as you summon them. Besides that, you can visit familiar regions as often as you like after completing them, in search of new loot or experience points or perhaps just for the heck of it. You can also bring a friend and tear up an environment together. Not only that, but there also are battle arenas where you can play one of three mini-games. In one, you brawl and grab special abilities as you try to decimate your opponentís life meter. In another, you fight for a ball and try to kick it through a goalpost before your opponent does. Finally, the third challenge is to collect randomly-generating crystals ahead of your rival.

Skylanders: Spyroís Adventure is an enjoyable but largely unremarkable game when you only factor in the core experience. Despite giving you a lot of ground to cover and a number of puzzles involving switches and crates that should challenge and delight younger gamers, the adventure can start to feel repetitive and the camera is annoying at times. Let yourself get caught up in the spirit of things, though, and youíll be surprised by how addictive it all becomes. Skylanders may rely on a gimmick, but that gimmick works beautifully.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 08, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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