Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog Post: Have to say, Activision deserves some credit for Skylanders.

Anyone remember Spyro the Dragon back on the Playstation? A counterpart to the linear and straightforward Crash Bandicoot, Spyro leaned more heavily on the exploration and collection elements that Nintendo 64 platformers specialized in. Though I have to say that I never got into Spyro personally, I many of my friends loved the games and they were all well-regarded in the critical community.

After the third title in the series, Spyro: Year of the Dragon, series developer Insomniac went on ultimately to create Ratchet and Clank, and, eventually, the Resistance series, while Spyro was left in the hands of a variety of different studios. All of whom, it's widely agreed upon, failed to re-capture the quality and the magic of Insomniac's Spyro titles.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is notable in that it's not even trying to appeal to old Spyro fans; instead, it's focusing almost entirely on little kids of the Bakugan and Beyblade generation. These kids (and their parents) are used to "collecting stuff," just as my generation loved collecting our Pokemon cards, and Skylanders is likely to make Activision boatloads of money. Simply put, to unlock new playable characters in the game, you actually have to go out and buy their toys, (30 in all) place them on the Portal of Power, and watch the game bring them to life. The game itself plays it safe, with simple combat mechanics and un-adventurous game design. The point of Skylanders is to jump into battle with your new action figures (and with your friends) and the game looks to deliver on that front.

In a mark of complete genius, it doesn't even matter which system you're playing on. All of your character's progress, stat boosts, power-ups, experiences, etc. are saved to each toy, which can then be taken to any Portal of Power, even if it's on a different system, be loaded into it, and boom, you're enjoying co-op with your friend. It's platform-agnostic multiplayer play and actually a pretty great idea.

In an unusual move, Skylanders was developed with the Wii as its primary console, (at one point it was planned to be a Wii exclusive, likely before Activision saw the $$$ potential) with the ports to other systems being handled by different studios. The graphics look great for a Wii game, film composer Hans Zimmer is doing the music, the story was written by two of the Toy Story scribes, and the characters and their toys are of course cool-looking enough that kids will love them and will definitely want to buy as many as possible. Will it matter to them that developer, Toys for Bob's previous releases include "blah" games like as Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and 102 Dalmations: Puppies to the Rescue?

In a sense, with the near death of 3D platforming, it's pretty depressing to see such a beloved genre come to this. Skylanders is a calculated release, to be sure; a product of pure market research and a grab for the cash from a young, lucrative demographic. Looking around at the industry press and seeing and the reactions from long-time gamers, it's impossible to deny the complete and total indifference among them for Skylanders. I have to say, though, that little kids are going to love this game; I would have, if I were a little kid, and apparently Activision's spending tons of money to get its appeal out there to them.

I guess if there's any hope for this, it's that these kids will grow up to demand more (and better) 3D platformers, but that's probably just wishful thinking on my part. Either way, I have to say, in an age when beloved (non-Nintendo) gaming franchises are failing to find an audience in today's market, Activision deserves props for getting kids who weren't even alive when this franchise was in its heyday to once again care about it. Even if their interest has nothing whatsoever to do with Spyro himself.

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