Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is one of the most unusual games I’ve ever played. It is much more than just a game; it is a media juggernaut including a toyline, an adventure game on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii, a platformer for the 3DS, and even a light MMO on the PC or Mac. The various components work together seamlessly due to the innovative design of the toys themselves. It is incredibly polished, and it’s clear that careful thought was given to even the smallest details.
The most likely entry point into Skylanders is picking up a Starter Pack for the system of your choice. I chose the Xbox 360 version, which comes with the game itself, three non-random Skylander figures, and the Portal of Power. This latter piece of hardware is a dongle that plugs into the USB port of the Xbox 360. (Other versions include a wireless Portal.) Once plugged in, the Portal lights up in an impressive rainbow of colors. As the game starts up, you are asked to place a Skylander figure on the Portal. When you do so, a detailed animation of the Skylander being summoned is displayed, and it pops up in the game. At any point, you can swap to a new Skylander in game by replacing the figure on the Portal of Power. Seeing an actual toy come to life in a video game is quite satisfying, and kids of all ages will love it.
A second player can join in at any time throughout the adventure. Simply turn on a controller, place a Skylander on the portal, and within seconds, P2 is up and running. Dropping out is just as simple. The campaign itself is a 3rd person action adventure, very much like Gauntlet Legends. There is a hub world, from which players can journey to other lands via balloon, pirate ship, or even by climbing a giant beanstalk. Skylanders earn experience throughout their adventure, with light RPG elements like unlocking upgrades and equipment are included. Simple puzzles and mini-games are sprinkled throughout the campaign, which can help break up action sequences that are at times, a bit too easy.
In addition to the 20 level campaign, a character in the hub world allows single characters to take on Heroic Challenges. There is a specific challenge for each Skylander, but you can change to a different Skylander to complete a tough challenge if you wish. And you just might want to do that, because the timed Heroic Challenges are pretty difficult, even for adults. I attempted a couple of them four or five times each with no luck. Overcoming challenges unlocks unique upgrades for the characters, helping make these Heroic Challenges a nice contrast to the rather simple campaign mode.