When Spyro first popped up on the Sony PlayStation and charmed everybody with his ability to save dragons and fry sheep, nobody would likely have thought they would one day have a feral version of him on their team in a Final Fantasy-style RPG on their phone, but here we are.
The game features a number of Skylanders favorites, and you'll get to jump right into collecting and enhancing them. Each hero has their own play style, attributes, and unique skills that you can level up and tweak. The tutorial does a nice job of this, and even drops series mainstay Stealth Elf right in your lap. If you're lucky, you can also score Spyro, as this writer did.
Moving on to the game world, it's appropriate to start with the positive points. The first thing you'll notice is that the graphics are fabulous, for what they are. The level of technical marvel matches the graphical style so well that it's easy to get lost in the world and drink in all the details when you should be focused on pummeling enemies or pushing onward in your quest lines.
The sound design is also wonderful. Every unique little crunch, bip, zip and boom fits well, and adds a nice punch to interactions. Since most of those interactions involve beating the snot out of monsters and baddies, this sort of approach to sound design is welcome indeed.
The music is one area where the game world really shines. You'll want to play this one with headphones on as often as possible, because you're never going to get tired of the lilting melodies, heart-pounding fight music, and jaunty theme songs this game has to offer. They will seriously get stuck in your head. Every now and then, you may come across a dud, but that's a subjective thing, and there's no such thing as a perfectly objective game review.
Objectivity brings us to our next point, something we can all agree on; this game's storyline is just an excuse for its battle action. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given the genre and series. It's about what fans can expect, and how things have pretty much always been in Skylanders. The game's core audience is kids, and they'll be delighted to see the big bad rising up and initiating an evil plan involving a doodad to gain more power and take over the world yet again.
For a more mature crowd used to story-heavy games like Honkai Impact 3rd and Distraint: Pocket Pixel Horror, there's not much here. Some kids' games may give a wink and a nod for parents here and there or have some themes that fly over kids' heads, but this one falls flat in that department.
It's not so much that old-school Spyro fans aren't acknowledged or that bigger themes aren't touched on, so much as the fact that everything outside of the main plot is fleeting at best and not really well-explored. That is, as stated before, to be expected. For what it's designed for, which is moving from one fight to the next, the plot is pretty good. The best comparison to think of is the Megaman classic games, or perhaps older Sonic games.
Characterization, as you may expect in a game sporting dozens upon dozens of playable characters, is close to nonexistent, though the writers do have their moments where they shine. A clever quip here, a rib-tickling item description there, and so on. It's really what can be expected, given the inherent limitations of a series like Skylanders. The bottom line is you shouldn't come into this game expecting a deep storyline or stellar world building.
The core gameplay loop here revolves around getting more companions, building and enhancing your team, and fighting. Let's talk about those things, starting with the gacha system. This isn't your typical "spend your gems and cross your fingers" type of thing. You can spend for resources and roll the dice on enhancements and the like, but new characters are obtained primarily in-game, mostly by sheer luck. Get fragments through your battles, and use them to summon new heroes. It's a nice twist that wrenches the game's party-building out of the same tired mobile RPG loop that's been around since the aughts.
Once you've got your team, it's time to build them up. As mentioned earlier, each character has their own attributes and skills. The skill growth is controlled by you, meaning you figure out how best to play each character, and use the resources at your disposal to shape them that way. The resources for enhancement come easily enough, and dedicated players can probably power through most normal content over the course of the game's story with no trouble. You can customize characters further by sticking runes on them, which can offer various boosts.
This all feeds into battle. This game features an intuitive and novel battle system that can get a little frustrating with its pacing, and is a decidedly "gets the job done" affair once the novelty wears off. Actions don't happen as you tap them, and there are no menus to speak of. Instead, below each character, you'll find two skill buttons. Each skill has its own cooldown, separate from the character waiting for their turn. Tap a skill, and when the character's turn rolls around, they'll perform it. If this sounds similar to early Western RPGs like Might & Magic, Wizardry, and Dungeon Master, that's because, on the surface at least, it is.
That's not to say the battle system is entirely dumbed-down. You can create combos and chains with certain attack types in succession, and enemies have elemental weaknesses you can exploit. If you strategize ahead of time and build a good team, you'll be steamrolling monsters in no time. The game's target audience, however, is kids, and they'll find this battle system pretty thrilling, in all likelihood.
The pacing of the storyline and character progression isn't exactly glacial, but it's pretty relaxed. You can blow through the main campaign pretty quickly if you pay to subvert the energy system, but it's better to sit back and enjoy it. Hardcore players who like to maximize stats and explore everything as quickly as possible will find themselves up against a wall in short order. This is definitely no Tokyo Ghoul [:re birth] in that regard.
This is, of course, another feature meant for the core audience. Kids, given their way, may indeed choose to spend far too much time gaming. The slower pacing serves as a guide to them, helping them pace themselves and get more out of the adventure over time.
Outside of the core gameplay, there's actually plenty to do. You can fight in the Arena, dive into Distorted Dimensions for tougher dungeons, join or run a guild, and more. The main hub for your adventures is a skybound micro-city full of decorations, where you can get to the various in-game destinations where the action takes place. Some of your Skylanders will sometimes stop by here and roam around, leading to fun interactions.
- Speed (4/5) This game has a fairly relaxed pace to both its gameplay and its progression. Casual gamers will appreciate it, but the more hardcore crowd may find it frustrating. The gacha elements can speed things along a bit, for those willing to spend.
- Theme (4/5) The game world is brought to life by vibrant graphics, satisfying sound, and well-made music that often verges on great, and is only occasionally forgettable. Unfortunately, a ho-hum storyline bogs down what would otherwise be a standout game world in the mobile arena.
- Features (3/5) There are a ton of different ways to go about the core gameplay loop, but really, at the end of the day, that's all it is; the core gameplay loop, reiterated and repeated in different ways. This wouldn't be such a big flaw if the battles were more compelling and varied.
- Overall (4/5) This is a great game for gacha RPG fans and Skylanders fans, and a passable one for everybody else. There is a lot of fan service, but underneath it all, there's a well-realized world and a simple, easy-to-follow story driving well-constructed and serviceable battles that form the core gameplay of a unique take on the classic Japanese RPG, with a heavy dose of western flair.
- Great graphics and well-animated character models
- A rich world
- Tons to do, even if it all just feeds into the core battles
- Great music and sound, even if some tunes are forgettable
- Somewhat slow pacing
- A very simple storyline that's not going to wow experienced RPG fans
- Longtime Spyro and Skylanders fans my find the transition a bit jarring
The score and pro-con list above are for experienced mobile gamers, which is likely to be a good portion of the AH reader base. While this game does have something to offer the more hardcore crowd, it's most appealing to casual gamers and kids. There's a rich world to get sucked into, and a lot to do. This is a game that eager players may have a hard time with, sure, but those who don't expect the game to be something that the series has never been will have a great time, and the pacing ensures that they'll be able to stop in and get their daily fix for months or even years to come.
The game is not out quite yet for the general public as of this writing, but you can hit the Google Play link below to pre-register.