Skylanders Smells Like Dirty DLC

I reviewed Skylanders Giants two weeks back and, to my pleasant surprise, I rather enjoyed it. That said, the most monumental Miss tied to the toy-crazy experience came from the physical characters themselves…and it struck me as somewhat slimy. And not the fun-and-games ’90s Nickelodeon variety, either, but a more repulsive brand. As someone who never enjoys being stricken sticky, stay awhile and listen as I describe a successful concept that smells a little like dirty DLC.

Subject: The Skylanders franchise and its unique approach of purchasing physical figures to unlock in-game characters.

Allegation: Activision, the big-name publisher of Skylanders that everyone used to hate before it became cooler to complain about EA, has discovered a way to distribute questionable (and expensive) add-on game content right under our typically-vigilant upturned noses without us making much of a fuss.

Evidence: Buying additional Skylanders toys is required to access everything included within the game’s fully-priced retail release.

Examples of Ick:

  1. Paying for On-disc DLC: A substantial amount of content within Skylanders, including a multitude of playable characters and specific sections of stages, is completely closed off without plopping down a few dollars for a physical toy that isn’t-quite-but-pretty-much-represents the on-disc DLC practices that people are usually up in arms over.
  2. Paying for Extra Lives: When a Skylander loses its last sliver of HP required to survive, the creature must rest until you either finish the chapter or opt to restart at the previous checkpoint. There are no Phoenix Downs or Green Mushrooms to get you through, and the number of Skylanders in your possession directly translates to the number of lives you’re allotted to complete each level.
  3. Paying for Main-Game Achievements/Trophies: Perhaps this example sounds like a stretch, but if it isn’t technically impossible to acquire every achievement or trophy using only the Starter Pack’s three included characters, it might as well be. Given the outlined “Paying for Extra Lives” system, good luck completing the game on nightmare difficulty without experiencing three deaths during the last leg of the final stage. The solution? Buy more Skylanders; earn easier achievements.

Now, maybe I’m overly-sensitive. Maybe everything’s actually a-okay. Maybe our stocked shelves showcasing a cartoony toy collection justify this pay-to-unlock-what-you-already-bought practice. Or maybe that’s just what Activision’s marketing team wanted us to think so the Internet can keep calling EA the evilest company of all time instead. Either way, I don’t like it. What about you? On a scale of Gross to Not Gross, where does the Skylanders System stand? Speak your mind and spark a conversation.

Written by: Luke Frazier

Gaming industry addict. Twitter fiend. Unabashed lover of Kingdom Hearts. Other favorites include The Legend of Zelda, Portal, Bioshock, Journey, and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Also, oatmeal. Let's be friends. @LukeAFrazier – Steam/PSN: GodAlliz

  • This is a difficult thing to navigate, because it’s not solely a video game. The toy line is every bit as important (if not more so) than the video game, since the toys are usable in multiple games across multiple platforms (kid-friendly MMO in Skylanders Universe, iOS games like Cloud Patrol in addition to the first and second Skylanders console games).
    As far as the on-disc component on the characters, there’s really no other way to do it and still have it appear as ‘magic’. If you work backwards from ‘The Kids Should Experience The Portal As Magical’, then you’ll see that every decision made supports that. There’s no install disc with each character, and the character swap is fast because only a subset of the character’s information is loaded/saved to the toy itself. Quite honestly, kids don’t have the same set of data management skills that we do, so it fits the paradigm for this particular kid-oriented video game/toy hybrid.
    Shady’s comment isn’t quite correct, there are ‘bonus’ items available within the locked areas, not main game path stuff. At no point are you ‘forced’ to have a particular character or element to complete the story mode. There are additional areas unlocked and challenges available if you have particular Skylanders and/or elemental types, but that’s added gameplay for those who ‘want’ to buy more characters.

    • Right, but I believe it’s the fact that this bonus content is already included on the disc is the main issue. When Capcom includes on-disc DLC in Resident Evil or Street Fighter, kids freak out. When it’s done here, barely anybody says a word, seemingly because of the physical figurine that supposedly justifies everything.

      • That’s the point I was trying to make, it definitely feels different because of the Portal’s magic. It’s only on-disc because there’s no way to keep the illusion of magic if you’re downloading content or using some install disc to get the character data. Half the Wii consoles are offline anyways.
        It also feels like the toys are an integral part of the game, as opposed to the Capcom example where it feels like the game locks stuff off simply for monetary unlocking. Since buying the toy allows access to multiple areas/play modes across multiple games, and since the toy retains that information itself, it just doesn’t seem to fit the paradigm you’re describing for the outrage at Capcom.

        • Perhaps it only feels dodgy because of how apparent the closed-off content is. I’d be fine with extra characters for different experiences, but locking out large chunks of levels seems ridiculous.

  • Shady

    I noticed that when the first game was released. Idk why people haven’t noticed something so slimy and obvious. Seriously, if you have to pay 10 bucks for a character with a certain element because the game wont let you get to the next level without it then there’s obviously something wrong.