GeekDad has devoted a fair amount of time to exploring Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure in recent weeks, and with good reason; it’s an amazingly competent title that’s perfect for both parents and children. And as the blog’s most outspoken portable gamer, I am inclined to say that the 3DS iteration might just be my favorite.
Given my disappointment with the latest Activision-published X-Men and Spider-Man, games, I was truly blown away by the level of polish apparent in the handheld version of Skylanders. The game marks Vicarious Visions’ first foray into the space of the 3D portable, but they clearly have a better handle on the potential of the handheld than any other 3rd party developer. The controls are perfectly responsive, the art direction dazzling and the 3D effects some of the best I’ve encountered.
Though there are obvious similarities between this and the console version, Skylanders 3DS offers quite a different experience on a number of levels. Rather than battling the sinister machinations of the console big-bad Kaos, for example, you instead seek to break the Radiant Isles from the dark grip of the villain Hektore. Perhaps most importantly, this version of the game is a true action platformer, which means that your Skylanders must skillfully run and jump to make their way through the various multi-path levels. The dynamic vertical builds and occasional high-speed drops provide a sense of scale and motion that’s seldom seen on a handheld title, and it goes a long way in making Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure feel like an extraordinary portable game. The only drawback to all this leaping and dashing is a stationary camera that can make back-tracking a pain.
The game includes a heavy collection mechanic that focuses on gathering power crystals and Radiance orbs. The former are earned by completing various challenges within individual game levels, and upon earning a crystal a countdown timer appears warning that Hektore is on his way to rip it from your grasp. From that point it is a literal race with the devil to find the exit portal before he attacks. The Radiance orbs, however, are easily collected throughout the stages themselves, and they provide the experience needed to level up your Skylanders. Additional wrinkles are added to the mix by things like a rotating daily experience bonus for certain elemental character types, which serves to act as yet another level of quiet (and generally optional) complexity.
Of course the primary hook for any version of Skylanders is the characters themselves, element-themed figurines with their own play styles and power stats that must be physically purchased and imported into the game via the IR-linked Portal of Power. The 3DS starter pack (which includes Ignitor, Stealth Elf and Dark Spyro) provides a nice sampling of character types that genuinely move and fight differently, and the ability to quickly swap between a pair of characters via the touchscreen helps to keep gameplay moving. Unfortunately, to truly take advantage of the title’s wealth of content -– not only the daily bonus, but also exploring the pair of element-specific challenges within each game world –- you’ll probably want at least one of each of the game’s eight types.
The trouble inherent in this sort of figurine-based DLC model coupled with the fact that only two such characters can be active at any given time – meaning that players can potentially spend an exorbitant amount of time in the title’s hub transferring Skylanders in to and out of the game – makes this handheld title a bit less portable than might be expected, but the game has no less enamored both me and my six-year-old. If the release of Super Mario 3D Land weren’t just around the corner, this title alone could likely prove a system-seller for the still struggling 3DS. Still, with its innovative fusion of toys and tech, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is an amazing addition to any portable library.
Though the combat isn’t necessarily deep and the platforming doesn’t exactly redefine the genre, there is a grin-inducing addictiveness that permeates the game. As you swap characters, open up new worlds and learn new abilities, it’s difficult not to be pulled into this exciting yet still very kid-friendly universe. Actively engaging and gorgeous in three dimensions, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure even manages to maintain its sheen when dropped back down to two, making it a treat for gamers young and old.
WIRED: innovative figure-based gameplay, fun platforming action, wireless Portal of Power connectivity, ample challenges and collectibles, solid all-ages gaming
TIRED: potentially expensive, figures and Portal of Power make it less portable, occasionally troublesome camera
Review materials provided by Activision.