Skylanders-- Is it for you?

The Skylander bug has seriously bitten again (you may want to keep an eye on the front page as to why). However something still leaves me scratching my head. Sure kids absolutely love the game. And Gamer Dad’s probably love the game (you can see my review here). Yet, so many core gamers seem very reluctant to give the game a try. Yes, it has a cute cuddly veneer, but under the plasticy cartoon layer, Skylanders has this really engaging tactical dance with an ever increasing library of characters/ “ability bundles” that lets the player carve apart combat problems in unique ways.

So to that end, given my Skylanders Fever, I thought I would toss up a quick love note to Skylanders and CC everyone here.

Two things to consider when an engagement is about to occur. What sort of baddies are coming up and what kind of terrain will they be presented in. Skylander critters have all kinds of different variables. Sure the standard ranged vs. melee variables are present. However you may be presented with critters that teleport, pull you towards them, explode when standing next to you, toss you a ball that explodes (and can be tossed back), fire delayed attacks you can see, fire delayed attacks you can’t see, are invulnerable from the front, or maybe they transform smaller critters into bad ass slobbering death machines and keep transforming unless you can get behind the wall of teeth to the transforming mage holding the leash. There is a lot of variety. And positioning matters. Like in that last example you need to find a way to get behind the transformed critters, but how? Is it an open room and you just need speed? Do you have a SKylander with a penetrating range ability if it is a narrow corridor? How about a delay attack like Whirlwind’s clouds that hover for awhile and fire out lightning allowing you to back track to draw the enemies across the trap. All sorts of options.

Consider the following that I was tackling yesterday:


Here you can see there is a ramp ledge curving up to a plateau above. On said plateau are two Bark Demons (lash out a burrowing root that will pop up and hit you with a tree sprouting out of the ground), one Chompy Pod (spawns basic critters that the previously mentioned Bark Demons can eat for health), one Arkeyan Bomber (tosses a nasty bomb that you can catch and throw back), and finally an Arkeyan Shield Juggernaut (locks up with a shield and fires a slow moving beam in an arc with a small vulnerability window after each blast) that will jump down at the end.

Due to the fact the bomber is issolated on the left, it is fairly easy to pick him off with his own bomb. The others are tricky and your options will depend on what Skylanders with which unlocked skills you have at your disposal. You are probably going to want some range and/or mobility though.

With that, Welcome to Skylander School: Hex edition.

I had Hex at my disposal. Her standard attack is just some shooty “phantom orbs.” Nothing special. Her next ability is Wall of Bones. It is a wall, of bones–go figure, that you can summon to block enemies and hide behind. The wall will go down then back up if she walks through it or she can just sit back and shoot orbs through her own bone wall.


A cool option that lets you dissect a lot of combat situations. However, not so much this one.

No, what helps here is her third ability. You know that cute cuddly veneer I was talking about earlier? Okay, if you look at the screenshots for Hex you probably see some pale elfy thing with huge white anime eyes and a black, not so spooky, dress. Essentially a barbie doll for your favorite 4 to 8 year old girl that hit the gothic stage way too early.

But you are seeing it all wrong. Actually, she is a blocky, metalic, wheeled platform dotted with rivets and crowned with a huge cannon-- an artillery piece. In Skylanders world, Hex is one of your brands of artillery with her Rain of Skulls ability. When you want to nuke THAT room from orbit, use Hex, it’s the only way to be sure.


Hex can barely move when she is building up power. As seen above, she builds up the meter on her left as skulls slowly appear whirling above her. You can fire it early, but only the amount of built ups skull will fire. Once she lets it go, after a short delay, skulls come crashing in and she is free to walk around to orb, orb/wall, or re-fire-for-effect as the situation calls for. In this case, it works great to just park on the lower ramp and artillery barrage the upper platform until things are cleared enough to move up and engage the Juggernaut (with probably something other than Hex).

Now, do you NEED to play this way? No. Otherwise you would kick the kids out of the market. Brute force of either tons of Skylanders, over-leveled Skylanders, or a low difficulty setting would work just as well. However, if you limit the number of Skylanders (remember they are ability bundles so choose wisely) you will use, keep level appropriate Skylanders and hats (gear), and keep the difficulty in a place where the grizzled gamer adult finds themselves awkwardly sweating to cartoon violence… you will probably find a damn good tactical treat awaiting you.

Will sky landers eventually lead kids into Dota 2 and LOL?

If my kids were small I would be into this that is for certain.

Does this have single player?

The “if my kids were small” thing was what I was trying to get at here. Yesterday we (adults) played Skylanders sans Kiddo a fair amount. In fact I ended up handling the final Kiddo bedtime rituals because someone (who is now under the bus) didn’t want to step away from the portal. It started early in the day after a fair bit of frustration had built up and many Skylanders were near knockout. I then stepped in while narrating and dissecting my combat choices through a midish game level with a pair of level 1 Skylanders while accruing nearly zero damage. Once my Mr. Smarty Pants display was over, it was on and we carved up the tactical game with gusto (and the motivation for this post was born).

As to your questions, Skylanders has a lot in common with the MOBA model. It resembles the compartmentalized ability bundles, and has an ever expanding pool of character content. How you play it is very different though. MOBAs are e-sport/ fratricide games whereas Skylanders is a combat/ mini-game/ platformer mash-up for single or 2 player couch play through the story or the solid 2 player local “horde mode” arenas and competitive battles.

What are the difficulty settings? I always figured that these games would be super easy.

What platforms are available?

I did understand you were talking about adults but I can imagine telling my wife that I want Skylanders for Christmas! My kids used to be my excuse to play with Legos etc.

Mark, the first game (Spyro’s Adventure) was super easy with the rare exception of some oddly tuned boss fights. Starting with last year’s release they have added a very adult oriented (well, you know what I mean) difficulty setting with easy, medium, hard, and nightmare. Easy and medium are pretty easy/ kid friendly affairs. Hard will give you a good run for your money. Nightmare requires slicing and dicing the game’s combat and bonuses (but is only available once the game has been beat).

That said you can and will twink unless you put a governor on yourself. As the number of Skylanders you own is essentially your life bar, you can break the difficulty by using too many in a level or using over levied Skylanders that you used in previous games. If you limit how many you use (I tend to target 3 or 4 tops per level) it can be quite challenging and is when the real magic shows itself to an adult gamer.

GeeWhiz, SA and Giants exists on pretty much any platforms you can think of although the product can change significantly when you get outside of the console core (handhelds, iOS, etc). Also remember that all figures work on their game plus all later games. The next iteration out this fall (Swap Force) has current and next gen releases. If fact, I have it on pretty good authority that there has been some coverage already for Skylanders Swap Force on the main page with a substantial piece hitting…today. Or so I hear.