Earlier today, Nintendojo was invited to participate in a phone round table with developer Vicarious Visions about its upcoming project, the 3DS version of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. As the latest attempt to reboot the wayward Spyro franchise, the game has been the subject of much fan ire, not the least because it forgoes all of the trappings traditionally associated with the series. While the title does indeed represent a significant shift from the Spyro norm, it introduces some unique and creative concepts that should help it stand on its own merits.
Right off the bat, Skylanders seems like a Spyro game of a different breed. Players assume the role of a Portal Master, an almost metaphysical character charged with protecting the Radiant Isles from the wrath of the maleficent Hektore. To do this, they must summon a variety of elemental creatures (the eponymous Skylanders) by collecting the appropriate toys and uploading them into the adventure, utilizing their idiosyncratic abilities to do battle with the invading forces of darkness. Each version of the game comes prepackaged with three of these little figurines, but Activision promises there will be over twenty-nine additional ones, all with their own skills and play styles, available for individual purchase after the title is released.
The 3DS iteration of Skylanders differs from its console siblings in that it places a greater emphasis on platforming than it does on action-role-playing (though the latter is still a prominent part of its design). This is largely to tailor the product to the handheld’s strengths– stereoscopic effects work particularly well within the platforming genre, and the team at Vicarious Visions drew upon its past experience with such titles to optimize the game for 3DS’s capabilities. Couple this with its distinctive setting and storyline, and you have a self-contained and unique adventure that can easily stand alongside the home console versions without being overshadowed by their technical advantages.
The most innovative aspect of Skylanders is the ability to buy compatible figurines and transfer them (via the system’s IR port and an included peripheral dubbed the Portal of Power) into the game world. Each plastic creature boasts its own unique properties and attributes, and by uploading them into the adventure, you can use them to progress through its twenty-five-plus levels. The toys are even able to internally track their own statistics, and any skills learned during a play session will be logged right onto the appropriate action figure.
Even more compelling, players can use the same toys in different versions of the game. Because each character’s statistics are recorded within the figures themselves, they can be brought into a friend’s adventure without adversely affecting either of your progress. This allows for almost seamless cross-platform play, and a character raised on one console can be brought over to another without losing any of the stats and skills it had up to that point acquired.
While the 3DS game lacks the multiplayer options of the console versions, it compensates with the unique ability to upload two characters at a time, allowing you to swap between them in the midst of play. Not only does this free gamers from carrying around the Portal of Power (certainly a boon for a handheld adventure), it also encourages them to experiment with various creature combinations to tackle the game’s many challenges. Indeed, over six hundred different tag teams can be created thanks to this feature, and pairing up complementary characters and divvying tasks up accordingly looks to offer a degree of visceral satisfaction not possible in other versions of the game.
Whether or not Skylanders is indicative of the future of the Spyro series ultimately depends upon fan feedback and commercial reception, but it’s certainly an intriguing direction for the hitherto forgotten franchise. While the title eschews many of the mainstays associated with the series, it promises to introduce a slew of memorable new characters and locales in their stead. The ability to transfer actual figurines into virtual avatars is a refreshingly neat concept, and children in particular will likely enjoy this marriage of collectible toys and video games. The title is currently slated to hit North American shelves on October 16, with a European release set to follow soon afterward.