OPINION: Skylanders deserves more praise

Games press are wrong to ignore Activision's toy-game hybrid, says Alex Dale

Amid the hustle and bustle of Activision's pre-E3 showroom floor, there was an eerie oasis of tranquillity and calm.

While journalists pretty much trampled over each other to sample the likes of Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron and The Amazing Spider-Man, the Skylanders: Giants demo pod sat alone in the middle of it all, unloved and untouched.


Now, it's not uncommon for the lesser lights of gaming to go unnoticed at open-plan press events such as this. With only a limited time to roam the floor and an inordinate number of games to cover, the gaming press can afford to be choosy. (For this reason, there is no job on earth lonelier than that of the YourShape promo girl.)

But still: doesn't this strike you as an odd way for the press to treat a series which, according to a recent Activision press release at least, was the best selling videogame in the world between Jan-April 2012?

Now of course Activision had to do a gonzo amount of stat-massaging to arrive at that statistic (which I'll get into later), but there's one thing you can't take away from the Skylanders series: it's made them a hell of a lot of money already, and their coffers are only going to swell further when the sequel arrives this Christmas.

For the uninitiated, here's how it works: Skylanders is packaged in with three cute monster figurines and a 'Portal of Power', which basically looks the love child between a molehill and Stargate.

Game and toys combined topped sales

The game itself is a rather undemanding hack and slasher with mild puzzling elements. It's slick, jolly and lively enough I suppose, but taken in isolation it never threatens to wow. But that doesn't matter, because the on-screen action really is just a backdrop to the main attraction - the collection of physical toys sprawled out on floor in front of you.

Instead of playing as one fixed character, you control an army of Skylanders one at a time, each of whom is represented by the figurines. You begin with three, and additional figurines can be purchased at a steep £7.99 a pop (this is the real revenue-driver for Activision - factor sales of these toys into equations and you can easily see how their accountants reached the figures they did).

Happy landings
Place the character you wish to play as onto the Portal of Power and it'll read the RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip embedded in the figurine's base and immediately magic up a digital version of the creature on your TV.

Cleverly, the RFID chip records the progress of each Skylander as you play, so you can level up your 'Warnado' or whatever (the names are rubbish) to level 6 on your Xbox 360, and then take it round your mate's house and continue your progress at the same level on their Wii. End history lesson.

So immediately we can identify two reasons why the gaming press have slapped the leprosy bell on Skylanders, but neither really stands up to scrutiny. The first is that it's for kids (as opposed to Transformers and Spider-Man we suppose, whose target audience is Stephen Fry), but so was Pokémon - and we don't remember the gaming press giving that the cold shoulder. We remember them publishing entire magazines about it.

It's more likely to be symptomatic of a wider backlash against Activision, with a quick Skylanders straw-poll around the office drawing up words such as 'cynical'. Well, it's easy to get that impression from the outside looking in (particularly when you learn that the game blocks off content if you don't own certain Skylanders).

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