I first got the chance to play Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure at E3 earlier this year. I walked away from my time with the game quite impressed. Back then I became aware that one of the game’s main features was that the characters you used, which were actually figurines that you transport into the game, were interchangeable with other home console versions. Well, sometime after E3 I found out that a 3DS version of the game was being developed as well, and low and behold you could use the same figurines that you could use for the home console versions. Well, Skylanders is on store shelves as we speak, and I had the chance to take the 3DS version through its paces. So, does the handheld version of Skylanders make the grade?
The biggest feature of Skylanders is the ability to use real figurines as in-game characters. To do this, Activision made a big investment and created a game that has 30+ collectible figurines. Each copy of Skylanders is sold as a starter kit (all versions are sold like this). You get a copy of the game, a portal, and three figurines to start off your adventure. The portal is the key as it allows you place your figurine on it and it transfers the character into the game for you to play. The starter kit sells for $69.99 and although it seems expensive, it has a lot of stuff in it. Along with the aforementioned items, you get character cards, online codes,, a mini-USB to USB cable for PC connectivity, some stickers, and a character poster with all the characters on it. All in all I think there is a lot of stuff included for the price.
Although the characters of Skylanders are interchangeable amongst all platforms, the 3DS version of the game has a different story than those of the bigger and more powerful home console versions. Here, an evil character named Hektore, which is a floating head, has an interest in taking over Radiant Isles. Your main objective during the game is to find and rescue the Seekers, who have been imprisoned by Hektore and his minions, as they have the power to destroy him.
Wendel, who you learn through the intro-movie, is the son of one of the Seekers you are trying to rescue, assists you in your quest. His role is more than just a helper per-se, as he is the overseer of the main hub in the game world, called the Sanctuary, where you transfer your Skylanders in and out of the game. The Sanctuary is also the main area where you access the game’s five worlds that you play through.
One of the main features of the gameplay, next to the use of the portal, is that there are a total of eight elemental classes spread amongst the characters. They are as follows: fire, earth, air, life, water, tech, magic, and undead. Unlike the home console versions, these elements are not as important to open up specific levels of the game, but they do play a role in the sense that you need certain elements to finish elemental specific challenges, which in turn allow you to open the final challenge in each world.
As you play you can level up your characters. In the 3DS version of the game you collect Radiance throughout each of the levels you play. This Radiance, along with any time bonuses, converts to your XP and is added to your XP bar. I should also note that each day you play there are two Elemental class bonuses that are added to your XP should the Skylanders you are using be from that specific Elemental class. Throughout the game you also collect scrolls, and they open up bonus boosts (e.g. damage, health, etc), but they are specific to a particular Skylander, regardless if you have them in your collection or not.
In order to advance to new challenges, and new worlds, you must collect crystals in each level. There are a total of five challenges per level that reward you with a crystal for each, and there are five levels per world. So in essence, there are a lot of crystals to collect, but you do not need to collect them all to finish the game. As mentioned, some of these crystals are only attainable by using specific elemental class characters.
As you make your way through the game, you will have to combat various forms of enemies. This is where differences in the various Skylanders is truly prevalent. Some are quick, some are slow, some are powerful, while others rely on agility to fight, some take a lot of damage, while others can’t afford to be hit that often. Given the number of Skylanders available, you will definitely find those that you like to use. No matter what one Skylander you choose though, they have two different types of attacks, as well as a jump and a double jump.
The learning curve for Skylanders is pretty gentle. It starts of pretty tame, and ramps up very gradually. There is never a time that you think, “Man, I’ll never finish this game”. It is clear that the audience is definitely the younger ones, but that does not mean the older one’s wont have fun either. Although you can finish the game without having to break too much, if any, of a sweat, the game can challenge you in some of the levels, especially when you are trying to collect all the crystals in the game.
All in all the game plays pretty well, but there are a couple of areas that I found might concern some. The first thing I noted was the fixed camera angle. Given that the 3DS is not as powerful as the home consoles, there are limitations, and the camera compensates for such; however, the camera can be a hindrance when trying to back track or explore off the main path. You don’t have the ability to see very far in front of you when you are backtracking as the camera is right in your Skylanders’ face. It made navigating quite difficult during these times and I had to rely on chance and memory more than skill. This can affect some of your enjoyment now and then, but it was not critical in the overall gameplay experience, just an annoyance that would pop its head more often then you would like.
The other area of concern I have is that the game is different than the home console version in that you cannot change your Skylander on the fly in mid-level during your gameplay, and some may not enjoy this fact. In the 3DS version you have to finish the level you are challenging and head back to the Sanctuary in order to change your Skylander. To counter this deficiency, Vicarious Visions allows you to bring two Skylanders into the game for single player play. You have the ability to switch between the two Skylanders you have downloaded to your 3DS any time, and this can be important for Elemental challenges. I know that some people may want to have the home console ability to change Skylanders at any point, but that would mean hauling your 3DS, portal, and figurines everywhere you go, so that could be one big pain in the “you know what”. People will learn to adjust, as I know I did, even though I wished I could download a different Skylander at anytime.
Sadly there is no multiplayer gameplay, locally or online. I know that the home consoles have two-player local cooperative, but alas the 3DS has been left out of any cooperative love. I think that they should have at least allowed some multi-card cooperative play as two players with the game and a few different figurines could have had a blast.
Visually, I have to say that I am duly impressed with what Vicarious Visions has done with Skylanders on the 3DS. They have taken a home console game and used the strengths of the 3DS to make a very good-looking title. Each level is very different from one another and the variance in each world is just as impressive. From jungles, lava worlds, to snowy villages, each one has a sense of its own and can be very impressive when you play through them.
Characters are also well implemented. Once you transfer your figurine into the game they come to life on the 3DS screen with lots of colour and vibrancy making them look pretty identical to their real-life plastic counterpart. They move quite gracefully too, from lumbering across the landscape to double jumping high above an enemy. Given that there are different Elemental classes, there is ample use of different effects for each Skylanders’ attacks, from swords, flaming arrows and lasers, to large waves of water or a fireball that hones in on the enemy. As for the enemies, they too are well designed and animated quite well. I was always interested to see what kind of enemy I was going to face in each of the different worlds. I was pleasantly surprised with the variety and looks of all that I came across during my gameplay.
Technically, Skylanders is very solid. There are very few third-party titles that seem to take advantage of the 3DS hardware at this stage, but Skylanders is one of these games. The game shows very little draw-in during your adventure, and when it does it is not intrusive nor does it affect your gameplay experience. There was very little clipping as well. Surprisingly, even with lots of enemies and action on screen I never noticed any slowdown. Overall the in-game engine is pretty impressive and on par with any game in top echelon for 3DS visuals.
As for the 3D effects, I was very amazed by what I saw. When playing Skylanders with the 3D slider on, the feeling of depth for each level was amazing. Running down the various paths was awesome in 3D as you could see the depth and it felt like you were running into the level, not just on it. There were even a few times that the 3D effects allowed me to make some tougher jumps now and then. Kudos to Vicarious Visions for their hard work in this area.
In regards to the sound, although it is quite good, it does not match that of the home consoles. The music is quite upbeat, and in many ways somewhat catchy, but it not a lasting experience as it starts to repeat more often than I would have liked. As for the sound effects, they are more impressive than the music. What I found interesting in regards to the sound effects is how each character is different sounding, from their individual grunts when using their weapons, to their actual weapon effects. They are all quite varied and are far from generic. Unfortunately there is little voice acting, and what is available is only found in the cut scenes, which is a shame as voice acting during the game could have made the narrative that much better.
I also want to comment on the 3DS’s external speakers. The sound coming out of them was impressive and I found that even when I didn’t use my active noise-cancelling headphones, Skylanders’ sound had impact and spatial effects that are not usually found in portable games. I attribute this to both the 3DS speakers themselves and the game’s sound effects that were programmed so well.
Although Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a different game then the home console versions, that does not make is any less enjoyable. With great visuals, solid sound, and addictive gameplay, Skylanders on the 3DS is a great game for most to play. The added feature of being able to take your leveled up characters from the portable game into the home console game, whether it be on your own or a friends console, is added icing on the cake too. For those worried about having to buy more figurines, don’t fret as you don’t have to buy them all, and besides, you can always borrow a friend’s figurine that you may not have in your own collection. In the end, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is a 3DS game that is easily worth the price of admission as it brings innovation and fun onto Nintendo’s portable console this holiday season.