The Toys to Life genre is nothing new anymore – we all know that you can take that adorable action figure and put it on a portal and play with it on your TV. While it still sort of feels like magic to me, it’s established technology and a huge part of gaming with an increasing number of competitors entering the market. This meant that Skylanders, the original in the field, has to keep pushing the envelope to keep things feeling fresh. This time it was up to Vicarious Visions to bring something new, and wow did they deliver.
Much like any Skylanders game, the premise of the story is fairly simple and straight forward. The usual bad guy, Kaos, is running some scheme to take over and ruin Skylands, and it’s up to you, the Portal Master to use the various Skylanders to save the day. Your characters will level up, specialize and progress through the various combat and platforming challenges to complete each level and move through the story. However, this time there is a whole new gameplay aspect and it makes the entire experience feel unique.
This time, there are vehicles. Players can make use of land, water and air transports, each offering new gameplay experiences. The starter pack comes with two characters and a land vehicle, and the entire game can be completed with just the starter pack. However, it didn’t take long before I was already itching to head to the shops to pick up an air vehicle, and maybe an extra character or two to match a water vehicle as well. While those levels are optional, they are nagging at my completionist nature as I want to experience the full gambit of what the game has to offer.
Land vehicles offer a whole bunch of fun experiences. In the main story line, you will need to drive through impressive courses that feel like a mix between Trackmania and Mario Kart as you strive to collect gears, shoot enemies and land that perfect jump. There are even half pipes and certain levels that require some skateboarding moves that are far too much fun to pull off. Back at the academy, though, players can also access a host of races and time trials to add to the vehicular fun. Vehicles can also be upgraded with a variety of mods to change everything from horns to weapons and even manoeuvrability and speed.
Most enjoyably, the vehicular experience works well in co-op as well. Pop another Skylander on the suddenly very crowded portal, and you can share the driving and shooting duties. One player takes control of the steering while the other is in charge of the weaponry. This is fantastic for those who play the game with their offspring, and can even be entertaining for two adults who are also learning to share. Boss battles are best using the vehicles and offer a fun mix of movement, combat and environmental considerations that make each experience feel like something I’d truly never experienced before. It actually made me prefer the vehicular bosses to those combatted on foot.
Another entirely separate and addictive form of gameplay comes from Skystones Overdrive. Essentially an easier form of popular card games like Hearthstone, it see players using a series of stones with various attributes to take on opponents in a strategic match to the death. I have yet to lose a game, which makes me wonder if I’m just that pro or if the game is just that easy, but it really is a whole lot of fun and I found myself often slipping in a few extra rounds of it rather than heading back into the story levels.
Combat and movement feel incredibly slick in this iteration, letting players explore a whole range of levels and worlds while swapping and changing between the play styles of the various characters. As always, each area is attuned to a different element, granting bonuses if you have a corresponding Skylander – yet another reason to head out and buy more, or make use of your existing Skylander collection.
Traditionally, the series focused on the action-adventure gameplay which eventually made certain levels feel a bit same. However, this iteration adds some new unique gameplay twists in the various locations. One area saw a manipulated gravity that forced players to navigate walls and ceilings. Another made use of an almost force-like ability to push and pull while another added shrink and growth rays to the equation. Each of these offers players some cool new strategies; for example some enemies could be weakened when shrunk, while others could be crushed by their own weapons if the growth ray was timed right. These twists applied to combat and puzzle-solving and helped keep each new area feeling new and different.
As always in the franchise, the toys are of remarkably high quality, with the vehicles featuring moving parts such as spinning wheels or moveable fins. When adult friends came around and saw the toys on the table, they were excited to play with the toy cars, even without the TV turned on. The appeal for kids is exponentially higher and a real testament to the quality of the Skylanders as toys above and beyond the digital entertainment value.
Last Updated: September 30, 2015