Apr 13

Skylanders Reprise

FT2 comments • 406 views

My earlier Skylanders post – about the parallels between the smash game’s Physical-Digital interfaces and the ongoing vinyl revival – was written without having actually played much of it. I heard the excitement of my two sons and – cue swell of music – that was enough for me.

Also, as it turns out, there wasn’t much of it to play. By the end of our holiday they were on Chapter 14 of Skylanders Giants, at “25% complete”. Naively I imagined there might be 50 or so chapters. Not so! This is a platform game, and “complete” means that you’ve collected and unlocked every last gewgaw, not that you’ve got through the story. In fact there are 16 chapters and that’s your lot. A dozen hours gameplay, I’d guess, and that’s with a 6 year old at the helm.

Well, you’d say, so what? There are plenty of games where story mode is hardly the main attraction. How many of the hours I’ve logged on Pokemon were strictly in aid of beating the Champion and winning the game? Not many.

The weird thing about Skylanders, though, isn’t just that it’s short but that it’s so fussy and busy with it. The core gameplay – put Skylander down, he appears on screen, you run about with him, hit things, get XP, swap him with another one – is the same throughout, but at the same time they barely give you any chance to grow better it. You’re constantly being hassled into a giant mecha battle, or flying an autogyro, or playing pattern-matching minigame “Sky Stones”. It’s an odd experience: Skylanders’ figure-switching mechanism isn’t just a cash cow, it’s a good way of appeasing short attention spans – but then Skylanders seems fearful of those attention spans anyhow, so shuffles you continually into doing other stuff. It’s a game that seems to have very little confidence in its own core mechanic. Maybe rightly – it doesn’t do a lot with it. There’s no sense that your Skylanders are any kind of team, and the only time you get much use from the switching mechanic is for unlocking small sub-areas with particular figure types.

Will things improve? The next iteration – Swap Force – promises a new twist on the collectables front (heads are detatchable and moveable, greatly boosting the character roster). But on the gameplay side the only iteration is that now your Skylander will be able to jump – the first time this has been a boast on a platformer since about 1981, I’d guess. Will future games be longer or better in other ways? There’s not a lot of incentive: as my kids would attest, playing a dude whose head is a giant eye he throws at enemies is a pretty quibble-proof feature.


  1. 1
    JimD on 18 Apr 2013 #

    There are a couple of others set to jump on this bandwagon pretty soon. First is likely to be Disney Infinity, which does the same “buy characters, use them in-game” thing but makes the main part of the game a “toy box” mode, where in theory you get to set up your own races/platform levels/football pitches/whatever and then drop the characters in there. It’ll depend heavily on them getting the interface right (level design for pre-teens can’t be an easy thing to pull off) but the idea is a nice one if it’ll lead to more natural bedroom-floor style imaginative play.

    The real monster on the horizon though is Pokemon Scramble U. Same thing but GOT TO BUY THEM ALL. Individually.

  2. 2
    Tom on 18 Apr 2013 #

    I’ve just read that in order to get 100% on S:Giants you need to buy over 40 figures, so it seems like Activision already has the GOT TO BUY THEM ALL thing nicely down. (I have not shared this info w/son).

    My first thought was “Pokemon should do this!”, but actually Pokemon have always been pretty good about making collecting (once you’ve bought the game) a matter of effort not money. So I’m a bit dispirited by Scramble U (though it’s a moot point, as a Wii U isn’t likely to factor into our household any time soon).

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