On to the toys themselves, which are a large part of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure’s’ appeal. The starter pack includes only three figures, including Spyro himself. You can certainly play through the entire campaign with just these three toys, but the game is obviously more fun with additional Skylanders. Each Skylander is attuned to a particular element; Spyro is magic, Gill Grunt is water, etc. Some areas scattered through the game require a particular element to unlock. In order to proceed, you must swap in a corresponding Skylander. As there are eight different elements, you’ll need to purchase five more Skylanders in order to see everything in the campaign. These unlockable areas never block your progress through the level, but are more like the optional coin levels in Super Mario Bros. They are typically fairly short, and might include extra treasure or a special item.
In my opinion, a few coins and a new hat aren’t enough to justify purchasing five more figures at $8 a pop. The figures are available alone, or in three packs, which save you a little bit over individual purchases, but it’s still expensive. In essence, Skylanders takes the “unlockable DLC already on the disc” concept to a whole new level. There are Skylanders that come packed with other figures that unlock entire new levels and powerful items, which are pretty clearly attempts at getting more money. I think the game is quite fun and totally playable even with the starter pack figures, but it’s obvious that in order to maximize your gameplay, you need to buy more Skylanders. This expense could be a deal breaker for some potential buyers.
That said, the real appeal of having more Skylanders is that, well, you have more Skylanders! The characters themselves are cute, quirky, and likable. You’ve got fish men, several dragons, a walking tree, a dynamite-throwing goblin, and many more. My personal favorite is the crystalline golem Prism Break, an earth-attuned Skylander that shoots lasers from his fists. He looks particularly cool in an absurd hat I picked up that made entirely of fruit. Thirty-two different Skylanders are available: four of each element. The toys are well crafted, with lots of detail, and my ten year old son absolutely loves them. Even the most hard-hearted of gamers will find them cute. Each Skylander looks and plays much differently than the others, too; there’s no straight pallette swapping going on here. My only complaint about the toys themselves is that they are not articulated at all, so you can’t put them in different poses.
The game itself does a good job of convincing you to get more Skylanders. Each campaign zone has a “featured” element, and figures of that element do more damage. Also, having additional Skylanders in your collection adds a small amount of power to that stats of each one. The most blatant attempt at selling you more Skylanders are what amount to in-game commercials. You’ll often find items that unlock abilities on certain figures, and the game helpfully gives you the option of seeing a preview of how awesome that new Skylander is. The whole system is designed to incite a furious shopping session, and I realize that some gamers will dislike this. I found the whole racket to be so much fun, I can’t complain about it too much.