As the title to this, my inaugural blog post, strongly suggests, I have a last succumbed to the siren song of mass-produced plastic toys merged with electronic entertainment. Yes friends, I went out and bought Skylanders: Giants for my 360 over the holiday.
A few notes before I begin. I have two kids (7 and 4) and for Christmas, my wife and I got our daughter (the elder) Skylanders for her 3DS. She and her brother had both gawked at the figures at Target before and I had toyed with the idea of picking the game up, but never really got around to it primarily because I didn't think that either of them were quite old enough to really enjoy the game. Over the past year though, my daughter's interest and skill in gaming has gotten to the point where I thought that the game wouldn't just frustrate her, so we grabbed the 3DS starter pack and wrapped it up under the tree. As a bonus, my sister and brother-in-law picked her up a couple of 3-packs for Christmas as well.
She was excited/intrigued when she opened the box up on Christmas morning, but there were other more exciting things that needed her immediate attention, so we didn't crack the game open until later last week. She and I both tried out the game on our respective 3DS machines and agreed that it was fun. I was a bit bummed with some of the design choices on the 3DS, however. i.e. game is much more "platformy," which is fine for me, but which I was concerned might frustrate her as she has not played a lot of 3D platformers; inability to swap Skylanders in and out on the fly (something that I just assumed was part of the charm of the game; and finally the portal itself was kind of finicky to get working. You have to hold the figure just so above the portal in order for it to read. Despite all of this, my interest in the game was piqued.
I recalled that the esteemed Mr. Gerstmann was quite taken by the original Skylanders, so I bopped over to Giant Bomb and did some digging on the series. The more I saw of it, the more my interest grew to the point that I was printing out checklists and plotting out with my children (my 4 year old son just digs the figures and was happy to join his sister and I in our scheming) which figures we would buy next. Clearly though, if we were going to step off this ledge, we needed the full version of the game though, right? Of course we did! So, gift card in hand, my daughter and I took an outing on New Year's Day to pick up the full game on 360 and whatever figures struck our fancy.
Those of you who have played Skylanders are no doubt familiar with the scenario that I am about to describe. You go out planning to buy the game and maybe a figure or two and you return home with the game, a figure or two, and about 10 or so other figures that you hadn't intended to buy at first, but hot damn that guy looks pretty cool and HOLY SHIT he lights up as well and we really do need to have at least one figure for each element...You know how this ends. We visited three stores and came home with the game and way more figures than we needed (all elements are represented and in some cases, over-represented). I continued to justify the purchases with the rationale that this is something the kids and I can enjoy together. They both enjoy games and what kid doesn't like toys, right? It was kind of late when we got home, so all we had time to do that night was open all of the figures up while my wife just stared at me with a mixture of incredulity and pity in her eyes as I controlled Jet-Vac and made him talk smack to Crusher (my son's choice) and Hex (the one my daughter thought was "cute").
I told the kids we would have more time to play with the figures and the game this weekend. Naturally, being the responsible father that I am, I felt that I should try the game out (it was my gift card after all) so I hooked up the portal that night, spread the figures all over the coffee table in the basement and got down to business. I was tired and didn't have much time to play, but I enjoyed my first taste of the game. On the surface the game is certainly simple enough for younger kids to play and the absence of platforming elements should allow both of my brood to be able to enjoy the game even if they need a bit of help with some of the block puzzles. The shameless marketing cash-grab of the locked areas really should annoy and/or infuriate me, but for some reason it just doesn't. Maybe this is what a cult is like. It seems normal and ok once you have entered. I doubt that I can be objective about this any more. There also appear to be enough bits and bobs bolted onto the core game to make it worth spending time on. The heroic challenges in particular seem like they are designed to offer some gameplay for folks that find the base game a tad too easy. I liked the game and was looking forward to putting some more time into it. I discovered just how seductive it could be the following (last) night, however. I sat down around 8:30 or so intending to play through a few levels and try out a few more things. I didn't really intend to stay up until nearly midnight but BAM, the time just flew away while I was happily swapping figures out, matching elements, and gleefully finding and trying on hats. Let me tell you, you don't want to mess with a vacuum armed anthropomorphic eagle wearing a turban. He will mess you up big-time.
Needless to say, Skylanders: Giants is now consuming nearly all of my waking thoughts. I have even gotten my wife to admit that Thumpback looks "pretty cool" and that we need to be on the lookout for him when he launches because these things are hard to find. I have lots of other games to play in my backlog. Right now, all I want to do is play Skylanders. Once I get my kids fully hooked into the game (isn't that the opposite of what most parents would want?), I can only see this obsession deepening.
I didn't understand the Skylanders phenomenon before but now I think I am starting to get it. It helps that the base game beneath the crass commercialism is actually pretty cool and fun. I am excited by the fact that this appears to be a game & toy ecology that I can really play with my kids and that we can both enjoy. I just worry about how deep this rabbit hole goes and how long my wife will tolerate our children and I debating the relative merits of various Skylanders over dinner.
Sorry for the length of this post and thanks to anyone who actually read it. Bonus points for making it to the end.