A Day in the Life of a Portal Master

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I finally bought Skylanders for the Wii, knowing that this is geared towards a much younger audience. I wanted the Wii version because it is the version that Toys for Bob dedicated their time to.

When I entered Future Shop to find this game, I wandered the Wii section searching for it. I gave up after not being able to find it for ten minutes. I asked one of the employees where it is and he directed me to a section of the store for PC games, PC USB controllers, headphones. There was about 3-4 columns of shelves dedicated to Skylanders for all the consoles with separate toys for sale!

Although I have just started the game as of this post, I want to write about my first impression and the impressions of people who saw me play the game.

The Toys

Not only are there toys that become playable when placed on the portal. There are also adventure packs that come in the form of toys that go on the portal to unlock locations and magic items. Needless to say, some people have called this “physical DLC”.

According to the game’s manual, the following information is saved to the toys:

  • Victory Points and Experience Level
  • The "Nickname" that you give to your Skylander
  • Currency
  • Upgraded abilities and Statistics
  • The Hat your Skylander is wearing

There can be up to three toys on the portal: Two skylanders characters and either a magic item or location piece. The portal for the Wii version is wireless and connects to the Wii using a proprietary wireless USB adapter.

The player’s progress and collectibles (e.g. Legendary Treasures) are stored on the console.


While I was playing Skylanders, some friends and family who saw me noticed the toys and portal on the table and asked me what it was. I explained the game mechanics and mentioned “the people who made Star Control made this”. They looked at me strangely as I played the children’s game. Someone asked me if the toy actually does anything. I replied “No. It just sends and receives data to and from the Wii. It doesn’t move.” They were fascinated by the tech, nonetheless. It was a complete departure from other new games I’d play such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Red Faction Guerilla, Orcs Must Die!, etc. I realized that it has been many years since I’ve bought a toy.

The gameplay is very simple and easily accessible. The player chooses a toy and runs through various levels destroying enemies, unlocking doors, moving blocks, watching cinematics and listening to character dialog. While it’s nowhere as complex as games for older gamers, it’s definitely simple enough for anyone to pick up and play.

There are RPG mechanics such as increasing stats when a character levels up. The maximum level is 10. The only equipment that the characters can wear are hats which have various effects such as damage increases and armor.

Comparison to X-Men: Destiny

I wanted to compare this game to X-Men: Destiny because of some obscure observations I made. However, it’s not fair comparing the two games since they have different source material, designs, target audiences and both developers are of different sizes: There are approximately 90-100 at Toys for Bob and 185 people at Silicon Knights. In addition, I have not played X-Men: Destiny myself as of this post. The aggregated scores for Skylanders on Metacritic are much higher than the ones for XMD.

Keep in mind Silicon Knights worked on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii versions of the game while Other Ocean worked on the Nintendo DS version. For a game that was announced in October 2010, that is a lot of work to get done for late September 2011. Toys for Bob concentrated on the Wii version while other developers worked on the other console ports. In addition, TFB was given more time to make more improvements to the game.

Skylanders and XMD were both published by Activision. Both games strayed away from their respective franchises. The initial reception from the announcements and reviews are very different.

Silicon Knights is a great developer and capable of great things. Like BioWare, they are also a Canadian company. I think the criticism towards their game can be attributed with their multiple platform targets and tight deadlines. That’s all I wanted to say and people should look at how Activision treated these two games. This is yet another example of “video game politics”.

Did you know that Silicon Knights worked on the Sega Saturn version of The Horde?


I finally got the Skylanders game for the Wii. I must admit that I would not place this on my list of “favorite games of all time” because I am clearly not the target audience. The portal of power concept is really fascinating and that’s the only “TFB twist” I see in this game. Each character has a primary and secondary attack and is nowhere near as diverse as the ships in Star Control. In addition, the spoken dialog is nowhere as rich and diverse as Star Control either. After all, this is a game geared towards a much younger generation. I can see Activision making a sequel to this in the future; I read somewhere that these are flying off the shelves at Toys ‘R’ Us and the reviews are generally positive, making it clear that this is a kid’s game.

I thought of X-Men: Destiny because it also has RPG and hack n’ slash elements and I think it’s worth mentioning with regards to Activision and their notoriety for publishing sequels at a steady rate.

I believe that TFB’s strong relationship with Activision earned them more control with Skylanders and took a risk with the toys after discontinuing the DJ and Guitar Hero series.

Overall, Skylanders is not a bad game. I am simply too old for this kind of experience. The target audience is much younger. If anyone wants to know what the game and toys are like, I’d suggest finding a friend who already has the game. Skylanders gives kids a new game and toys to collect; two birds with one stone.

It would be interesting if there could be playable characters from Star Control or other video game franchises. However, since all of the characters are on the disc, I’m not sure how adding new characters would work. I’m curious if people will hack the portal and toy hardware to see what can be done with it. I read an article a long time ago about someone who hacked Guitar Hero so that a computer reads the video output from an Xbox 360, tracks notes and times each note with the correct button presses perfectly. Could someone open the toys, reprogram the chips inside and be able to do new things with the game and toys?

Also, the Toys for Bob website has been redesigned and simplified to show Skylanders. This means that there is no longer a news page at the moment. I will miss those sporadic news posts. :’(

Toys for Bob website
Skylanders website

Edit: Nov 1 2011 - Made a minor correction. Silicon Knights did not work on the DS version of X-Men Destiny. The DS version was developed by Other Ocean.

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