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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Gotta collect them all! Oh wait, wrong game.

I'd noticed ads around town for Skylanders, proclaiming it as the first game that let you take your toys into the virtual world (or something). I'll admit, I was intrigued. I'm man enough to admit I still pick up the odd action figure from time to time. But then I discovered it was a Pokemon-style system that required you to collect figurines to use in the video game and my interest quickly soured. Games like this feel like the most cynical cash grabs, the kind that prey on a child's desire to own everything related to their interests. All of the 32 playable characters in Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure are on the disc, but can only be unlocked when you own the corresponding figure. And each figure comes in a three pack that cost $20 each. Oh and the starter pack (game, three figurines, and "power portal" that reads which figures you're playing with) costs $70. Even a child can do the math on that: Owning this game is an extremely expensive proposition.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is a simple co-op action game. You traverse through floating islands (via a hot air balloon whose pilot is voiced by the ever-entertaining Patrick Warburton), blasting enemies and solving puzzles as you go. There's really not much to it, although without a partner to play with, it can get tedious and possibly even difficult in later levels. As far as family games go, it's not too bad, and certainly could be enjoyable to play with your kids, but by yourself the fun level drops considerably. And among co-op family games, Skylanders is certainly not in the same league as the Lego Star Wars/Harry Potter/Batman/Indiana Jones/Pirates of the Caribbean games.

The big draw, of course, are the collectible figurines that you use to play the game with. The starter kit contains Spyro, a fish and a gremlin-looking guy with two big guns. Each corresponds to a particular type of alignment (magic, water, and mechanics, respectively), and as you go through the game characters of different alignments are strong in different areas, as well as being able to access bonus sections for additional challenges. Of course, quite quickly you'll find areas that can only be accessed by characters you don't currently own, tempting you to run out and buy them all immediately. But there are truly too many for one family to reasonably collect. Thankfully Activision has built in a few features that lessen the need to purchase every last figure.

I will admit, as cynical as I find the idea, Activision has done some cool things with Skylanders. For one thing, the figures can be hot swapped as you play. The power portal will read whether or not there is a character on it, and if so, which one. Whoever is on there is the one you play with, and if your character should die, you can toss another one on to act as a 1-up. The more figures you own, the longer you can play without restarting a level. But even better is that each character levels up individually, and their figures retain these statistics even if you use a different power portal. So you can play the game through with your figurines, then take them to a friend's house, and they'll be at the same level they were at when you were at home. And your friends can bring their characters to you. This helps alleviate the need to own every last one. Even better, the figures work across all platforms, meaning your figurines will work on your friend's Wii even if you've been playing on the PS3.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure isn't a great game, but it's not a bad one. If you're a kid, the draw is probably irresistible. If you're a parent, the high price tag will probably send you running for the hills. But if you want to play with your children, and they have a few friends whose parents were willing to buy them some additional figurines, then you might be able to get some decent fun out of it. For everyone else, though, Skylanders is a pass.