I’ve played games from most generations and on a lot of systems. Sadly, I haven’t played many of the games in the Spyro franchise. It’s not that I dislike the games, I’ve just never had much of a chance to play them. I did read Dan’s review of the console/PC versions
of Skylanders and it really makes me want to get a console version. However, I’m here today to review the portable version of the game. Now to make this clear, I’m not basing my review of this game on the fact that it’s a game in the Spyro franchise. In this review, the game will stand or fall on its own merits. With that stated, let’s get started.
You play as a Portal Master who can summon Skylanders into the Radiant Isle with the help of Wendel. A being known as Hektore, an invader from the Outlands, has shrouded the isle in darkness. Wendel then takes you to Sanctuary, the one place that Hektore can’t get to. As the portal master, you must use your Skylanders, collect radiance crystals to help rebuild the shattered sigil, and stop Hektore. I’ve never played the console versions yet, but from what I’ve read of Dan Keener’s review, the story is a bit different in the 3DS version of the game. Actually, there’s quite a bit different outside of the core gameplay.
First of all, this game can get kind of pricy kind of quickly. The starter pack is $69.99 and you get the game, the Portal of Power, some stickers and a couple cards, and three figures: Ignitor, Stealth Elf, and Dark Spyro. That’s not bad for $69.99; that is until you realize that to truly explore the game and get everything there is to get, you need to pick up more characters. Each character belongs to one of eight elemental groups: fire (Ignitor), life (Stealth Elf), magic (Dark Spyro), tech, air, undead, earth, and water. There are some things that you can only collect if you have a certain element in your party, and some of the items you find can only be used by certain Skylanders. Basically, to get everything in the game, you’ll need at least one of each of the eight elements, and at $7.99 a piece, add in the cost of the starter pack, and you’re looking at about $105. Yikes! However, I’m a firm believer that, while it may take longer and make the game a bit more difficult, it is possible to beat the game with just the starter pack. You may have to get almost everything available to you to do so.
From what I can gather, there’s only a single-player campaign in the 3DS version, whereas the other versions have a battle mode. When the game starts up and the little intro story gets out of the way, you can summon one of your Skylanders into the game, and later on a second. From that point on (which I think is after you’ve done the first area for the first time), you can have two Skylanders summoned at once to swap between at any time. However, summoning them is a little different than the console versions. For starters, the Portal of Power is smaller, allowing only one figure to be placed at a time. To summon a Skylander, you have to talk to Wendel at the center of Sanctuary, turn on the Portal of Power (press down on the main platform), place a Skylander on the portal, then line up the infrared port on the portal to the infrared port on the 3DS for a few moments, and voila! If you wish to swap out Skylanders, simply place the one you want to bring in on the portal, then talk to Wendel while having the one you wish to swap out active in the game. Now I’m going to take a small wild guess and say that since swapping on the consoles is pretty seamless, that saving the stats to the figures is instantaneous. Not quite for the 3DS version. To save the info to the figures here, you have to talk to Wendel with whatever Skylander you wish to save be active in the game, then place the same figure on the Portal of Power. Not quite as simple as the console versions, but then again where are you going to plug the portal into a 3DS? Controlling a Skylander is simple. B jumps, Y is your basic attack, X is your spell/special attack, and holding either R or A will make your Skylander dash for a short amount of time. As your Skylanders level up, they can unlock new skills, giving them new attacks.
As for the stages themselves, there are several worlds with about five stages each, and each stage has several challenges for you to complete. These typically consist of collecting certain items or defeating a set number of certain enemies. At least three of the stages in each world consist of a traditional platforming stage where you defeat enemies and collect items and radiance, with the final stage also challenging you to find and rescue an elder. The other two stages are kind of like mini-arenas, challenging you to collect a certain amount of radiance to move on. Think of it like the bonus stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis. The only difference here is that there’s no time limit until you reach the third and final part, in which Hektore starts to pursue you (more on that in a moment). As you complete each challenge you get a crystal, and the more crystals you collect, the more worlds you can open up. You can also find “presents” floating around each stage. Some of these are hats that your Skylanders can wear (which, as far as I know, don’t do anything else than look silly/awesome on your Skylander), but some are scrolls that give a bonus to a specific Skylander, so you want to try your best to find and collect every present you can.
Within the stages themselves, you also collect radiance, which will eventually serve as experience for your Skylanders. You can collect experience by defeating enemies, but your main source of experience will come at the end of the stage. Once you get to the portal at the end of each stage, you get extra radiance depending on how much time was left on Hektore’s timer as well as if you used Skylanders that matched that day’s chosen elemental bonus, for lack of better term. For instance, when I played a little bit before writing this review, the day’s bonus Skylanders were magic and life, which was perfect as I had Dark Spyro (magic) and Stealth Elf (life), who needed some desperate leveling, as she was only Lvl3 (yeah, I’ve been favoring Dark Spyro and Ignitor a bit). These bonuses get added to the radiance you collected within the stage, and that becomes the total end of level experience total that gets added to your Skylander. As your Skylander gains more experience, they can level up, which can give them some additional power as well as some useful upgrades. My favorite so far is Dark Spyro’s ability to jump in the air and fire a beam downwards that causes a damage-over-time effect to nearby enemies. This is very useful for small groups of enemies that can easily overwhelm you.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time with this game and while it is a lot of fun, it’s not perfect. The one main gripe I have about this game is Hektore. I have no problem with him per se, but it’s what he does in the stage that gets my nerves up. Once you complete any challenge that involves you getting a crystal (or in the last stage of each world, get the key to the elder’s cage), you see a message that says that Hektore is pursuing you. At this point, a timer appears on the top of the screen with a certain amount of time remaining. Guess what? This just became a race against the clock. You now have to get to the end of the stage before time runs out. Not only that, but Hektore will shoot lightning to try to hit you. If you don’t make it to the end in time, you get zapped by Hektore, lose everything you’ve done on that run through the stage, and have to start all over. I understand that the developers may have been aiming for a challenge here, but this can just be downright annoying at times. The biggest frustration with this is during an ice stage. You’re slip sliding on the ice trying to beat the clock, you have enemies making your life hard for you, plus you’re getting zapped with lightning. To be honest, I’m not fond of this concept. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the game should be all peaches and gravy with absolutely no challenge, but this is more frustrating in the ice levels more than anything, and I could do without that. Maybe if they didn’t have lightning zapping you every few seconds, it wouldn’t be that bad.
As stated before, there seems to be no multiplayer for the 3DS version, so I decided to check out the online stuff. If you go to www.skylandersgame.com/start, you can register an account (which is definitely geared towards younger kids since it requires a parent’s email address) and check out your own Skyland. After the little tutorial that shows you the basics of how to move about and interact with Skyland, you can move onto the Mainland to play some mini-games and meet new people. This does have some issues though. I had someone send me a friend request, but it wouldn’t let me accept or deny the request. I had to shut down that tab in Chrome, as it kind of froze my controls. However, this is definitely geared towards younger gamers, as I tried a couple mini-games, but mostly became bored within a few minutes. However, it is easy to put your characters into the game, as you can either connect your Portal of Power to the PC or use passcodes you get with each character. It is an interesting concept that still seems to be in beta, but definitely not for me.
Overall, Skylanders on the 3DS is a pretty fun game. It does have its frustrating moments, but what game doesn’t nowadays. The game isn’t completely bug free, as I somehow stumbled upon a glitch that I didn’t even realize happened until I exited a stage and took a look at Dark Spyro’s stats. Somehow, over the course of one stage, Dark Spyro jumped from Lvl7 to Lvl10. Not sure how that happened, but I’m not complaining. Maybe the game just decided to make Dark Spyro Lvl10 to save myself from grinding the same stage over and over again while leveling Stealth Elf. I have to admit, I wasn’t too fond of Stealth Elf from the start (this coming from the guy who always chooses the grass starter in Pokemon), but her range attack can be useful for picking off powerful enemies from far away. I’m a little disappointed that there’s no multiplayer options available in this version. I would have thought that something would be there, even if it was just local multiplayer, but as fun as the game is, I’m surprised they didn’t include any wifi multiplayer to battle friends online, or even local co-op would be interesting.