Skylanders Spyro's Adventure (for Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, Mac, and PC)
It’s almost embarrassing how much I enjoy Skylanders. It fills me with a sort of nostalgic glee. Not way-back nostalgia like you get when you encounter pixely old Atari games like Frogger or Breakout; nostalgia for the dawn of 3D gaming and the colorful classics of the Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation 1. The moment I started playing Skylanders, I realized how much I’d been missing a certain kind of game: Vibrant cartoony graphics, with loads of action and exploration, and whimsical characters adventuring across creatively magical landscapes. Skylanders made me think back to the fun I had playing Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, and even the original Spyro the Dragon (the star of which is revived nicely here).
Of course, Skylanders has a gimmick: You place toy characters on a plastic “portal” (which is connected to your game console by USB port) and watch them magically appear in the game world for you to use. During a gaming session, all experience, powers, and money earned by your character are stored on a chip within the figure and will be at the ready next time you play. The game comes packaged with three Skylanders (including the titular Spyro) and you can swap characters in an out as often as you want. And while there’s nothing stopping you from completing the game with just those three heroes, there are twenty-nine others temptingly available for purchase at your local toy and video game stores.
Each Skylander has a completely unique set of moves and powers, upping the temptation factor. And to make matters worse, each character belongs to one of eight “element” groups (fire, water, air, earth, life, magic, tech, and undead [they sort of lose me on that last one]}, and each level of the game has bonus areas that can only be entered by members of certain element. So while you can reach the conclusion of the game with only three Skylanders, you’ll never be able to see all the secret areas. But that doesn’t mean you’d need to buy all 32 characters — as long as you have one of each element, you’re good. Still, at an average cost of $8 per figure, that means you’re paying an additional $40 over the typical $70 for the game starter pack.
In addition, the story is fun, the writing can be very clever at times, there are a ton of awesome hidden treasures to find, and the co-op capability makes it a nice game for parents and kids to play together. To be honest, there’s no way I could not love a game in which the villain surprises you with a deathtrap called the Deadly Shark Bath of Doomsharks.
Best for: Gamers keen on early-90s nostalgia; avid collectors; parents looking for light-hearted action for their kids; people with the room to store 32 toy figurines