Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure certainly has an impressive list of people on the credits - especially for, what's essentially, a "childrens game". With music by Hans Zimmer, and a story penned by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, the brains behind Toy Story, it's obvious that the game's publishers, Activision, have high hopes for Spyro, their little purple dragon, who's come dangerously close to obscurity in recent years. But Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is actually even more ambitious than it first looks. Far from being "just" a game, Skylanders revolves around one key idea. What if, you could buy toys from a shop, just little, plastic figures, and then play as them in your game? This, is Activision's special idea - and for the ten year old inside of us, we're having to try hard to not reach into our pocket and slam some money down on the invisible counter.
There's even a clever story tying things together. For many generations, the land of Skyland and its magical core were protected by an army of creatures known as the Skylanders. One day, an evil Portal Master known as Kaos appeared and banished Spyro and his friends from the land, sending them into our world, where they were turned into inanimate toys. The story goes that if you want to help Spyro and friends reclaim Skyland, you'll have to get the toys, and put them on your Portal of Power, which transports the characters into the game for great justice.
Each version of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure comes bundled with a Portal of Power, and three figures Spyro, Gill Grunt and Trigger Happy, with an extra 32 figures available in stores. The Portal of Power is a round plastic thing, which once a figure is put on it will transport that figure into your game through the power of magic, complete with any accumulated coins, experience points and hats you may have earnt during previous games. That's right - in a fit of genious, the figures actually work like little memory cards, and store your progress in the figures themselves. The best part is that this means the figures can be taken between different versions of the games, on different platforms, and you'll still have your changes intact so you can take your figure you've levelled up on your 3DS round to your friend Bob's house and play co-op on his Xbox 360, with your own customised character. And there are plenty of ways to customise them. The coins you accumulate in the levels can be spent on upgrades for your characters, making them more powerful, or simply cooler looking. From hats to stats, you can upgrade everything, and in a strange tongue twister, hats actually boost your stats too for example, a Fez will give you a +5 on your elemental power.
However, there's more difference between each figure than those which are purely cosmetic. Each figure also has their own special abilities and attacks - for example, Gill Grunt is a water-type, who has a long-range water pistol/harpoon gun, Trigger Happy comes dual-wielding guns and shoots like a maniac (and with his goofy tongue sticking out, he looks like one too) and Stump Smash is a tree that has two massive wooden hammers for squashing any enemies that come too close. You can swap between the characters at any point in the game simply take the one off and plonk another one on the Portal of Power, and they'll jump right in. In fact, you'll sometimes find you'll need different characters to get past certain obstacles and take certain paths through levels, LEGO-style, meaning mixing and matching your characters is essential.
While this may start some people worrying about how much it's going to cost to actually be able to finish the adventure, luckily, we've been assured that it's entirely possible to finish your game using just the three original figures. There are plans to release about thirty different figures for you to collect, as well as some playsets like the Pirate Seas Adventure Pack, which comes with a new character, a couple of special 'Magical Power' figures and even a new pirate-themed level.
The entire game can be played in two player co-op, by placing two models on the Portal of Power. And if you fancy a spot of competitive multiplayer, to prove once and for all that you have the toughest toys, there are a few Battle Arenas, too, which pit you and your friend against each other in a battle to zero health, with traps, power-ups, health-restoring food, teleporters and bouncy pads littering the floor to make things more interesting, and the winner gaining the spoils of experience points and gold.
We got to have a go on two of the versions of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure that'll be available first on the Wii (which should play fairly similarly to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions), and then the 3DS one, which is a bit different. The Wii version has you and a friend working together through the levels in a traditional co-op fare, bashing enemies, collecting treasure and solving simple puzzles. One of the puzzles we did simply saw us pushing two blocks down into a hole to make a bridge, then (after stepping on a teleporter that teleports you to a higher up platform) locating a third to finish it off and get across to the other side. Later on in the game there's beam refracting puzzles, shooting galleries and even card games with pirates to name but a few. There are also a few bonus areas littered around, which are signposted by an archway with a picture of an element on it by changing to a character that matches that element, the door will open, and you'll be able to go through. For example, to get through an archway with a Life elemental symbol, on it you could change into Stealth Elf or Stump Smash.
On the 3DS version though, things are a little bit different, as a few changes have had to be made to take into account the fact that the 3DS is a portable console. For starters, the Portal of Power for the 3DS version has been scaled down, to try and make it more portable and because it doesn't do co-op like the other versions, it only really needs to fit one figure anyway. This doesn't mean that you're stuck playing as one character the whole time though, as you can encapsulate two different monsters at a time in 'crystals' shown on the Touch Screen and make your own tag-team, that you can then chop and change between at any point in the level by touching the one you want. Set in a different realm of the Skylands known as the Radiant Isles, where the world is under threat from the evil Hecktore and his minions, the game is much more of a platformer-type game your character can jump and double jump to get between platforms high in the clouds, collecting little bottles of Essence in place of the coins in the Wii version.
Each level has five or so different objectives which reward you with crystals a bit like the multiple stars per level in Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 64. The objectives range from finding so many of an object to defeating a number of enemies in a fixed time, or finding a key to free one of your friends who's been imprisoned in a cage. There are also some secret challenges scattered around the levels, which can only be accessed through portals with a specific elemental type shown on them, like Magic that Spyro or Voodood can go through.
Everything we've seen of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure so far has us excited. We can see the potential that oozes from the game, and we can tell that kids are going to love it. Were we a few years (OK, more than a few years) younger, we could see ourselves rigorously collecting every single figure that came out. It's such a great idea, mixing collectible toys with a game where they actually effect the way you play - and everyone's bound to have their very own favourite.
In fact, the only real concern we have about it is the pricing, as the games seem a little bit on the expensive side. The starter pack, which contains the three figures, a Portal of Power, and the game will set you back around £59.99. Level sets like the pirate-themed one we mentioned earlier go for about £15 to £20, while extra figures for about £6.99 which means you could end up racking up quite a big bill...
While we're simultaneously a little bit sad to see Spyro taking something of a back seat, there's no denying the potential of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Not just a cool idea, the game was actually a whole lot of fun, too, and was probably one of the highlights of our recent trip to German gaming convention, Gamescom. The game's due out in October, but if you want to know a little bit more about the game, here's a cool little trailer to whet your appetites:
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, 3DS and PC. We previewed the game on both the Wii and the 3DS.