Too many kids games are shovelware, and what they're shoveling isn't dirt. They're also prohibitively expensive, now that all three major console makers are turning their eye to the kiddie market. Therefore, hardcore gaming sites like GamingExcellence don't tend to give priority to previewing them.
But I have geek weaknesses that override such priorities. I have a weakness for toys as anyone who has seen my house on TV can attest and I have a terrible weakness for monsters. So the siren call of a bug-eyed, long-tongued, gun-wielding critter lured me toward Spyro's new game after my MW3 interview.
"Toys." I announced to a guy near the plexiglass case, pointing to the little, crazed-looking monster.
"Yeah that's Trigger Happy." The guy said, chuckling. Turns out this 'guy' is Michael Graham, the associate producer on Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure.
Skylanders is a property of little monsters and big ideas. Based on the idea that kids think their toys are secretly alive, Skylanders combines traditional platforming gameplay, cutting edge technology, and collectable toy culture. The concept is that the little Skylanders are secretly guardians of a far away land, who have been banished, frozen, and shrunken. But if a kid puts them on the "Portal of Power" that comes with the game, ta da! Spyro and his friends are back defending Skyland!
The game retails for $69.99 and comes bundled with the Portal of Power and three Skylander toys, which are actually storage devices. Each additional little guy will sell for $7.99, and each of the figures will work with any copy of Skylanders, on any system. This is the wonder of Skylanders: it works on every console on the market, and the individual toys can be read on all of them, without reformatting. You can take Spyro, Trigger Happy, and their pint-sized compatriots, off your Wii and over to your friend's Xbox, and play with all your stats and unlockables intact. You can even share the things you unlock, which is great for gamers (like me) who unlock stuff for less-patient youngsters.
The amazing thing is how well it works. These aren't promises which haven't yet materialized. This is an IP that's set to hit stores in fall 2011. And I tried the swaps out myself... replacing every other character with Trigger Happy. Because he's just better.
With my uncanny ability to break games, I unintentionally helped the dev team find three small bugs, but the core technology worked like a dream. The digital component of Skylanders is a good old-fashioned isometric-view platformer, with secret paths and puzzles, some of which are only accessible by certain character types. There are also plenty of enemies and destructible objects to scorch, stomp, or Gatling gun into submission.
Skylanders is certainly steeped in simple childhood pleasures, and I couldn't help but think of my early geek days, going over to a boy named Ron's house to play Crystal Castles. Ron was cool because he had Crystal Castles. He was the only one I knew with it. The fact that kids can access the product with only an $11 toy and a friend is something I like a lot. If Activision can make this thing, pardon the pun, fly, it will be a refreshing addition to the market: a game for kids that's affordable, encourages them to play together, and doesn't make adults go brain dead.