hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts



Skylanders series has made over $2 billion worldwide

Feb 06
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Another reveal from today's Activision Q4 results was that the Skylanders series has grossed over $2 billion worldwide across all platforms. There's been over 175 million of the Skylanders toys sold too. Skylanders is a giant...
Skylanders Swap Force photo
Skylanders Swap Force

The last two Skylanders: Swap Force types are out

Now you can 100% the campaign
Jan 13
// Chris Carter
If you haven't been following Skylanders, the game requires specific physical toys to unlock content. Not only does each character have a unique challenge, but they also have particular elemental powers (to unlock certain gat...
Snow globe photo
Snow globe

Now this is what you do with a Skylanders Portal

Too cute for words
Jan 12
// Wesley Ruscher
I'm not into Skylanders, but even I can't help but want this fantastic snow globe created from one the game's portal devices. Using a smaller 3DS portal and a snow globe creation kit, the holiday themed Skylanders ball of fes...
Skylanders photo

Skylanders Collection Vault brings new level of obsession

Prepare to see a whole new side of your Skylanders
Nov 30
// Wesley Ruscher
For those looking to get a tad more intimate with their favorite Skylanders, Activision has a new app, the Skylanders Collection Vault, currently available on the iOS App Store.  Perfect for managing one's Skylanders col...
Skylanders: Swap Force photo
Skylanders: Swap Force

Impressions: Skylanders: Swap Force (Xbox One and PS4)

Slightly more Pixar-y
Nov 27
// Chris Carter
Skylanders: Swap Force was one of my biggest surprises of the year. After two full iterations in such a short amount of time, I didn't think Vicarious Visions had it in them to make the strongest one yet. But here we are, and...

Wii U gets a Skylanders holiday bundle

Launches Nov. 15 for $299
Oct 25
// Dale North
A new Wii U bundle for this holiday season packs in a Skylanders SWAP Force starter pack for a nice all-in-one gift idea. Set to launch on November 15 for $299.99, this bundle comes with a white Wii U, the Skylanders SWAP For...

New releases: Skylanders, Goodbye Deponia, and more

Oct 14 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Xbox 360: Cabela's African Adventures, Skylanders Swap Force PlayStation 3: The Wolf Among Us, Cabela's African Adventures, Skylanders Swap Force PC: Goodbye Deponia, Cabela's African Adventures, Skylanders Swap Force, Two Brothers, The Stanley Parable: HD Remix PS Vita: Valhalla Knights 3 Wii U: Wipeout: Create & Crash, Skylanders Swap Force Wii: Wipeout: Create & Crash, Cabela's African Adventures, Skylanders Swap Force 3DS: Skylanders Swap Force The Wolf Among Us (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac) [embed]263556:50919:0[/embed] Valhalla Knights 3 (PS Vita) [embed]262078:50537:0[/embed]
Plus The Wolf Among Us hits PSN
A relatively tame week of releases, with the star being Skylanders: Swap Force. This series just prints money, especially now that you can split and merge toys to create new warriors. How cool is that? The other biggies this...

Review: Skylanders: Swap Force

Oct 14 // Chris Carter
Skylanders: Swap Force (3DS, PS3, PS4,  Wii, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Toys For Bob (PS3, 360) / Vicarious Visions (PS4, Xbox One) / n-Space (3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 13, 2013 (PS3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 ) / November 15, 2013 (PS4, Xbox One) / November 2013 (3DS)MSRP: $74.99 (Starter Kit) Once again, Skylanders utilizes the "toy and game" concept, offering up a host of characters to use in-game so long as you own the physical figure. Since Swap Force uses new technology that incorporates figures with multiple pieces, you must buy a new Starter Kit to get the new "Portal of Power" base to beam the toys into the game. Yes it's a bummer, but once you dive into Swap Force you'll quickly forgive the inconvenience. For starters, the series received a huge visual upgrade that puts it on par with many animated theatrical films. While the jump from Spyro's Adventure to Giants wasn't massive enough to turn any heads, Swap Force sports some very high production values in multiple areas of the game, even on a console like the Xbox 360. Not only have old characters been overhauled to bring some more nuance to their animations, but the new characters look fantastic: especially the "Swap Force" members, which I'll get to momentarily. Skylanders also has a stellar voice cast to support said visuals, and pretty much everyone is at the top of their game yet again in Swap Force. Patrick Warburton effortlessly nails the goofy Flynn, and Steve Blum as one half of the anthropomorphic "Hip[po]Bros" is another welcome addition. Famous or not, the rest of the cast is stacked with delightful performances, like a talkative fish who does his best rendition of Steve Buscemi's "total silence" routine from Fargo. I really think at this point after seeing Swap Force in action, Activision could just hire Patrick Warburton and make a pretty entertaining kids show. So what's actually new? Quite a bit, actually. In Giants, the main gimmick involved having to use special "Giant" toys that were larger than most to barge through special barriers. It was highly inoffensive considering that the Starter Pack came with one, and that one Giant was all you really needed to access every bit of content. In Swap Force, many new toys feature detachable legs and upper bodies so that you can mix and match and form your own combinations. I ended up loving this part far more than I thought I would, for multiple reasons. Not only do the new Swap Force toys and in-game models have a ton of detail (Wash Buckler's squid legs are a highlight), but it also allows an unprecedented amount of customization as you search for your favorite playstyle. Immediately, I started experimenting with squid tentacles, snake coils, and chicken feet as I searched for my ideal Skylander, but had a blast the entire time -- especially since each part has its own upgrade path and unique abilities that carry over when you swap them. The key is that the Swap Force brigade isn't solely built around the "switch" gimmick, as a major emphasis has been put on their bottom halves -- which are used to drastically switch up your means of travel. Every Swap Force toy has a new means of getting around, whether that's rocket boots, teleportation, a whirlwind, or wheels -- and they're all a ton of fun. My favorite new character ended up being "Magna Zone," which is the combination of the robotic enforcer of Magna Charge and the fiery rocket legs of Blast Zone. Depending on what leg parts you use new mini-games open up that use completely unique mechanics, like races, flight challenges, Donkey Kong Arcade-esque climbers, 2D platforming sections, and sidescrolling beat-'em-ups. I was pretty surprised at the insane amount of variety the developers packed in, and thankfully, none of it gets stale or overstays its welcome. The core game is just as fun as ever, as it's really easy to just jump in and start blasting or hacking away. Every character still has three base abilities, but nearly all of them have some sort of variation that vastly changes how it operates, like the ability to charge them up into a new attack by holding a button. On higher difficulties Swap Force can put up a decent fight, which is great news for those of you who don't want to just effortlessly make your way through a bunch of playgrounds. Mechanically, quite a bit is new as well in Swap Force, mostly because you finally jump! It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but the first two games did not feature jumping -- instead, players had to use "jump pads" to climb vertically. But given the new-found freedom to leap about, secrets are now more cleverly hidden, new puzzle opportunities arise, and the game just feels better in general as a result. Besides bounding, a concerted effort has been made to make co-op play more fun, which is great news for those of you with kids, or a spouse who enjoys the simplicity of the series. Loot and food are now shared (preventing one player from stealing everything), allowing both players to enjoy the game equally. But multiplayer extends beyond that, as now, everything you do -- even if it's a solo area -- allows the other player to interact in some way. Instead of the one-player puzzle boxes from Giants, co-op partners now have to solve a special multiplayer brain teaser. If there is an area that only accommodates one player, the other is given a power-up or special attack to unleash at their leisure to assist. The enhanced co-op is going to come in handy when you're tackling the most amount of content yet in a Skylanders game. In addition to the fairly hefty campaign, there are more collectibles than ever to find, tons of secrets, and a large amount of bonus missions. The Arena also returns, and it has a staggering amount of gametypes. Thankfully there's a bit of variety this time around, that ranges from PVP, to co-op, to a mix of the two (which is my personal favorite). Like Giants, you earn money and experience in the arena, encouraging everyone to at least try it. You can also raise your "Portal Master Rank" in addition to your Skylanders' actual levels to unlock more items, so you're in for a long ride if you want to get everything -- and it doesn't feel like a grind, because it's fun throughout. Swap Force also benefits from the fact that every past toy is compatible with the third generation. So at this point, you can pick up the previous two games on the cheap, and use pretty much every toy in the current game somewhere down the line. As always, the toy's abilities, appearance, and statistics are still kept in the figure itself -- so you can bring your collection to a friend's house, or even switch console generations without any issues strictly in terms of your character progress. If you were thinking that this was going to be an Activision cash grab, think again. So much heart and soul is consistently poured into the Skylanders franchise time and time again, and Swap Force is no exception. In fact, it's the best one yet.
Skylanders: Swap Force photo
The Skyland of Doctor Moreau
Skylanders has had a bit of an odd history. Initially, it launched under the auspices of the Spyro name, and made a very small splash in the market -- so small, that barely anyone knew what it was. Fast forward to six months ...


There really needs to be a Skylanders cartoon already

It's just so cute!
Sep 25
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
The entire Skylanders series appeals to me in a lot of ways, most of all how it reminds me of cartoons I used to watch as a kid. This latest trailer for SWAP Force really shows off what I mean by that, and really makes me wi...

Let's take a look at the non-swappable new Skylanders

Four new characters
Aug 22
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Okay first of all the creature in the header here looks like something from a nightmare. Just, so creepy. Well whatever it is, it's one of four new Skylanders playable in SWAP Force. Two of them are also just normal Skylander...

Activision bringing Destiny, Ghosts, more to gamescom

Plus Skylanders SWAP Force and Angry Birds
Aug 17
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Activision will be at gamescom and are planning to wave their giant wads of money around as they will have the biggest ever demo-theater ever built in gamescom history for Destiny. It comes in at 72ft in length, 43ft wide, a...

Skylanders Swap Force is surprisingly more fun than evil

Jul 29 // Steven Hansen
Skylanders: Swap Force (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [previewed], Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, 3DS)Developer: Vicarious Visions (PS3, PS4, 360, One, Wii U) / n-Space (3DS)/ Beenox (Wii)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 13, 2013 After last year’s Skylanders: Giants, which featured bigger monsters, the toys needed a new gimmick. This time, it’s swapability. Over a dozen of the new characters are Swap Force characters, meaning they can be vivisected at the waist (they’re held fast with magnets) and you can change characters’ top and bottom, mixing and matching as you see fit. It’s basically sanctioned unholy fusion of separate action figures. Kids these days have it so easy. Each Skylanders toy has its set of stats tied to it and each Swap Force character halve lays claim to independent statistics, which means you’re not tied to the entire character if, say, you wanted to keep a quick and speedy base but wanted to easily switch between melee and ranged attacks. Or something, I guess. I think it’s more personal preference than anything, because the game isn’t that deep. There is a Nightmare Mode you can gain access to, so maybe being savvy with character abilities and strategies might be a thing worth considering down the line, but everything I got the swappurtunity to go hands-on with was fairly straight forward mashing on monsters, which gets back to my original point: it’s solid mashing on monsters. I get the appeal now. I don’t exactly like the appeal, because there’s something inherently slimy and manipulative about the whole children’s toys market wherein kids are trained to desire all the baubles, but I get it. Had I disposable income and a child, Skylanders would be a no stress way to introduce said stupid human child to videogames in a lax environment. The child would get colorful visual stimuli mildly reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank, silly toys that children are apt to collect and enjoy, and pretty chill monster mashing combat. It’s not to say I wouldn’t get anything from it, either. Skylanders, at least of the Swap Force ilk. are generally named with lovely puns (and permutations thereof when they get swapped) that I enjoy terribly. Invader Zim’s voice actor also voices the main villain, and the writing in general pulled a few chuckles out of me. You can also see some semblance of heart and fun in Swap Force. Jumping has finally been added to the game and while it’s not a core tenet, it’s fun, as we learned so many years ago playing all those platformers. Plus, the jump animations are all kind of great. There’s a snake Swap Force character, Rattle Shake, who is basically Crocodile Dundee with Antnio Banderas’ voice, which is hilarious in and of itself. His jump features a springy sound effect as his tail coils up and propels him upward. I enjoyed it, anyway. The robot legs also bring a cool backflip jump into play. All existing Skylanders characters have been retrofitted with new jumping animations as well. Also, the Crocodile Dundee snake character? His gun is a smaller snake. I hate copping out and suggesting Sklyanders: Swap Force for kids. First, because I don’t know a modicum about child rearing. I’d probably throw s book at them and make them entertain themselves. Or take them to the park to play sports in the hopes of vicariously living through their organized athletic success after my own failures and blown out knees. Yeah, what of it? Don’t tell me how to raise my own gosh darn hypothetical children. The other reason is that I don’t see why those ungrateful little twerps can’t just play Super Mario World like I did; why they have to have something pared down and spoon fed to them. My SNES is literally sitting in my entertainment center right now. Still, if you can abide by the bollocks that comes along with children’s toys (and potential physical pay walls locking you out of side content that you need certain characters or character types for), I can see how Skylanders: Swap Force might be appealing. I’m still leery of the whole charade for more ideological reasons, but it’s a solidly fun escapade with some character to it. And Invader Zim. And a Crocodile Dundee rattle snake with a snake gun.
Skylanders Swap Force photo
Snakes shooting snake guns
Activision’s Skylanders franchise has always smelled of a money grab to me. Copperish, like the smell of old pennies scrounged up by hard-working parents so little Linda Anne can have all the newest and coolest Skylande...

Skylanders in Japan photo
Skylanders in Japan

First Skylanders hits Japan in July, gets Wii U port

That's... weird
Jun 25
// Tony Ponce
We are so used to waiting insufferably long periods of time for Japanese games to be localized and brought out West that we often imagine Japan as this floating island of privilege and good fortune. How easily do we forget th...
Skylanders photo

Hide your kids: Skylanders: Swap Force launches this Oct.

Also coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Jun 07
// Jordan Devore
Skylanders: Swap Force is targeting October 13, Oct. 16, and Oct. 18 for North America, Australia, and Europe, respectively. This new installment, centered around swappable parts for characters, will be out on most every syst...

Reviewing Skylanders Happy Meal Toys

Yeah, slow news day, etc.
Apr 16
// Jim Sterling
Activision sent a box of those Skylanders Giants Happy Meal toys over. Bereft of anything interesting to do, I decided to review them. I didn't really review them, though. I just rambled sarcastically while playing with toys.  Videogame journalism is real.
Skylanders photo

It's happening: Skylanders toys in McDonald's Happy Meals

Parents don't stand a chance
Apr 10
// Jordan Devore
This month, the inevitable will happen for the billion-dollar Skylanders franchise: it'll pair up with McDonald's for placement in Happy Meals. Nine toys based on Skylanders Giants will be offered from April 12 to M...
Disney Infinity screens photo
Disney Infinity screens

Disney Infinity shows off new Monsters University screens

Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me!
Feb 12
// Chris Carter
Disney has sent us a new batch of screens from the Monsters University portion of Disney Infinity, which are based on the upcoming Pixar sequel to Monsters Inc. These new shots show off quite a bit of the game's two modes -- ...

Skylanders franchise nets $1 billion in worldwide sales

That's a lot of toys sold
Feb 11
// Keith Swiader
Activision's Skylanders franchise just topped $1 billion in worldwide retail sales, the company announced, inclusive of its toys and accessories, and hit that milestone in only 15 months.  Last week, we reported over 100...

Activision's Kotick 'disappointed' by Wii U launch

Suggests Nintendo's system was a hindrance to Skylanders
Feb 08
// Jim Sterling
Bobby Kotick, Activision's double-Satanic CEO, has been summoned from the Blood Waters to provide his nefarious opinion on the Wii, though he ended up instead discussing the Wii U, and its performance since launch. The o...

Over 100 million Skylanders toys have been sold so far

'The key to longterm success is breakthrough innovation.'
Feb 06
// Keith Swiader
Activision's Skylanders franchise surpassed $500 million in total revenue, with over 100 million toys sold throughout the U.S., the company announced at their Toy Fair 2013 press conference.  The franchise reached this m...
Skylanders: Swap Force photo
Skylanders: Swap Force

Here's what Skylanders: Swap Force looks like in action

Mix and match toys to create new figures
Feb 05
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
The next Skylanders game was revealed early in the morning today and it's going to let you swap different toy parts to make new heroes. Yes, you get to break the toys in half, but on purpose! Skylanders: Swap Force has a pre...

Next Skylanders lets you swap parts to form new toys

Feb 05 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders: Swap Force (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 [previewed])Developer: Vicarious Visions / nSpace (3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: Fall 2013 It looks like a Pixar movie Activision showed off a very early look at Swap Force to us and even though there's still a ton to work to be done, it's easily one of best-looking games I've seen this generation. The visuals will seriously make you think you're watching an animated CG movie, but it's not just the graphics that give this feel. Vicarious is infusing a ton of animation and life to the characters, capturing the spirit of what makes a Pixar film -- and even some of the better Mario games, like Super Mario Galaxy -- so charming and engrossing. Ridiculously high praises, but completely justified. I can't stress enough how this new tone makes it really feel like a cartoon show. Characters you'll meet in the world are fully animated and voiced now with the bigger focus on storytelling, adding to the kids-show aesthetics. Nothing is pre-rendered either, and cinematics such as the one featuring Flynn (voiced by Patrick Warburton) that I saw were all comprised of in-game assets. The all new swappable toys As I said, there are 32 new Skylanders. 16 of them are your basic heroes, and the other 16 feature swappable body parts. This essential gives you the ability to make 256 unique combinations of different heroes. The two halves are connected by two small magnets that keep them pretty securely connected. In fact, I thought I was about to break the toy I was handed when I first tried to pull it apart. Combining different toys will serve multiple in-game purposes. One of the new Swap Force heroes I was introduced to was Wash Buckler, a water-element character that's a pirate squid. At one point in the demo, Wash Buckler had to go up against a mini-boss named Gear Gollum and Wash wasn't the best suited for this battle due to his slow speed. So the toy was taken off the Portal of Power, and his bottom half was removed to be swapped with the bottom half of Magna Charge, a fire- and robot-based new toy that gets around by a singular electro-magnetic based wheel. The two toys now formed Wash Charge, and the combo of Wash Buckler's attacks with Magna Charge's speed was able to make short work of Gear Gollum. Now imagine doing that with 256 characters. Not only that, but imagine the developers having to plan, animate, and name all of these different combinations, on top of everything else going on. It's quite the feat, that's for sure. Other new characters I saw included Countdown, a walking bomb that can throw his exploding head around and shoot rockets from his hands. Blast Zone is a knight made of fire that can breath fire and throw bombs, plus can move around with rocket boots. My favorite was Roller Brawl, a roller derby undead character who has giant claws on her hands, headbutts enemies, and moves around on roller skates with buzz saws in place of normal skate wheels. You should also know that each half of the toys have a memory chip, so they'll be able to level up on their own as you move them around to different halves. As for the level cap, Vicarious wasn't sure yet if they'll be raising it. Elemental zones are back, with the addition of two new zone types. The first are the dual element gates, so either a Swapple featuring the two required elements or just two people playing co-op with the right elements, will be required to enter them. More of the same there, but the new Swap Force Zones (tentative name) present totally new experiences. These traversal zones require a certain body type, and the one I saw needed a character with a rocket to enter it. From here, the player was actually free flying around an environment, hitting a bunch of rings in order to complete the challenge. You can expect various new gameplay elements, such as areas where you have to climb on walls, compete in races, and dig to find hidden underground caverns. What's old is new again As with Giants before, all the toys from the first two games will work in Swap Force, and yeah, all your upgrades and extras will be intact. Plus, they'll all feature new animations to match up with the new engine. All 100-plus characters now also have to ability to jump now too, a big fan demand that will add some new gameplay elements. Expect local drop in/out co-op, and versus mode to return as well. So this begs the question, is Activision pulling a Call of Duty by having two studios switching off with yearly installments? It's too soon to tell for sure, but I was told by the Activision reps on hand that Toys For Bob's Paul Reiche and I-Wei Huang, the two men that have the final say for the toys in their version of games, have been part of the toy design for Vicarious' version, imparting feedback to ensure the Skylanders feel is present. You can expect Swap Force sometime this fall, and while it's too soon to know what the final prices will be, we do know that the starter pack will consist of two Swap Force characters, one Series 3 Stealth Elf in a new pose and outfit, new Portal of Power, and the game. Needless to say, I was quite impressed by the fresh visual design and really dug the new toys. I love the idea of being able to merge different pieces together, and if anything, this is a great counter to Disney's Infinity project.
Next Skylanders  photo
Skylanders: Swap Force
The next Skylanders is the last thing fans were probably expecting as there's three major changes going on with Swap Force, the new entry in the series. For starters, it's not developer Toys for Bob making this one. Vicarious...

Skylanders New York event photo
Skylanders New York event

Skylanders event being held in New York next week

At the Toys"R"Us in Times Square
Feb 02
// Chris Carter
If you find yourself in New York City on February 5, you can join in on a community event for Skylanders Giants, held at the Times Square Toys"R"Us. Basically, you'll have a chance to get a free Ninjini figure before launch, ...
More Skylanders Giants photo
More Skylanders Giants

Two new Skylanders Giants enter the fray

Thumpback and Eye-Brawl
Jan 23
// Chris Carter
It feels like we've been waiting forever for new Skylanders Giants characters. The titular "Giants," who are rather large and expensive toys, are getting a staggered release schedule to increase demand. Here, near the end of ...

Review: Skylanders: Battlegrounds

Dec 12 // Chris Carter
Skylanders: Battlegrounds (iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 4], Android)Developer: Vicarious VisionsPublisher: ActivisionReleased: November 21, 2012MSRP: $6.99 (App) / $49.99 (Starter Pack) To clear things up, this isn't truly a $50 iOS game. The standalone app is $6.99, and the starter pack, which is $49.99, comes with a bluetooth portal of power, three figures (which usually retail for around $10 each), a special item figure, and a redemption code for the game. Pricing it all out (and discounting the fact that the Double Trouble figure is unique to this bundle), you're essentially paying an extra $13 for the convenience of a portal, and an item. Basically, the portal is not needed, since you can activate your Skylanders through the code that came packaged with them. Sadly, this has a drawback, as data is conversely not written to the figure itself -- which is half the fun of owning your own characters. When you use the portal, all you do is ignore a coin fee (in-game currency) for switching out individual Skylanders -- but since the game is fairly easy, you won't need it (outside of potentially using it for the other mobile Skylanders games, Cloud Patrol and Lost Islands). With that out of the way, you still probably won't want to spend any money on Battlegrounds regardless. It's not the same action-oriented game as past Skylanders -- it's more of a simplistic RTS -- which would be fine, if it were done well. You start with up to two skylanders on a hexagonal world map, engaging in rogue-like movement until you land on the same space as an enemy -- in which case, a battle sequence will initiate. Once you're in battle, you can send your squadmates to a location or into an attack formation by swiping a line pattern. It's all pretty easy, but once you have to start tapping the screen constantly to pick up gold, you realize that there had to be an easier way to allow for less tapping. This is only exacerbated by a complete lack of a defensive auto-attack. For whatever reason, your skylanders only attack enemies if you specifically order them to -- meaning there is no idle auto-attack function. This lackluster design choice can get extremely annoying, as you'll constantly find enemies beating on your character for a few seconds only for them to do nothing about it. After repeating this same battle process around twenty times, I started to feel the burn, and a bit of a paywall. At some point you'll probably get bored of fighting the same enemies over and over, and be tempted to spend some extra real-life scratch for in-game help. Honestly? That's about it. You walk over tiles, sometimes get into battles, and fight waves of enemies over and over. There's no real exploration element to be had, something the core Skylanders games do extremely well. The entire premise is also markedly less interesting this time around: you find yourself locked in combat with Kao's Evil Generals -- one of which is a reskin of a regular enemy in the Skylanders console games -- and not Kaos himself. There's no real big bad or interesting villain this time around, which makes it hard to stay motivated. But that one boss reskin isn't the sole culprit, since nearly every enemy in the game is borrowed from the series. Combat in general also gets old as you constantly fight the same small stable of foes over and over, due to the low variety. To add insult to injury, you can't access everything at launch, leaving you at the mercy of updates to access the entire game (at the time of this writing, only 20 of 40 levels are unlocked). If you're interested in the IP, stick to the core Skylanders series and avoid Battlegrounds. Toys for Bob did a great job synthesizing quality figures with quality games: Vicarious Visions, not so much. I don't understand why Activision couldn't just have Giants ported, but until they decide to get serious about a full mobile version of the game, stick to trying out the modest spinoffs Cloud Patrol and Lost Islands.
They might not be giants
Toys For Bob sought to make a quality product that both kids and adults could enjoy in tandem. They greatly succeed with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants. But as is the case with any runaway IP, one develop...


A $50 iOS game? Skylanders: Battlegrounds

Launches this week
Nov 20
// Dale North
The Skylanders franchise is the new Pokemon when it comes to money making power. Take the retail version of the new iOS franchise game, Skylanders: Battlegrounds, for example. It sells at retail for $49.99. Why so expens...

Merging toys and videogames with Skylanders

Oct 21 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Paul Reiche's obsession with monsters Paul Reiche believes that "in our DNA here at [Toys for Bob] is monsters, heroic adventure, and having fun with fantasy adventure." Given Paul's history with gaming, it makes sense, especially with the amount of games he's made with monsters in them. Paul's first taste into the realm of gaming and monsters began with Dungeons & Dragons during high school. His early success with D&D would soon see him working for TSR (the former Dungeons & Dragons publisher), where he helped develop multiple Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World games. Paul's interest soon shifted to digital gaming, and growing up in Berkly gave him a chance to learn programming at the Lawrence Hall of Science. This proved most fortunate for him as he "happened to be in the right place, at the right time" for the dawn of videogames, making his first D&D-based videogame for the TRS 80 and Apple II. From there, he and Jon Freeman (co-founder of Epyx) formed Free Fall Associates, where they worked on some of the first games for Electronic Arts such as Archon and Mail Order Monsters, both which had you controlling monsters that fought each other. Paul eventually left Free Fall Associates to form his own company, Toys for Bob, with Fred Ford in 1989. It was just the two of them at the beginning, and the company's first title was Star Control. Paul focused on the design and fiction, while Fred handled the programming. Star Control would later be ported from the PC to the Sega Genesis, but Toys for Bob had to work around Sega's restriction and create an unauthorized version for the system. "Back at this time we were trying to break first party," Paul told me. "It didn't work, so we worked with reversed engineered material to create Star Control. It was the biggest cartridge [on the Genesis] at the time." Picture via Ars Technica, which has more on the unauthorized Genesis dev kit They then made Star Control II, and according to Paul, "To this day, we still have a dedicated fan base who want us to abandon Skylanders and just go back to working on it (laughs)." In 1994, Toys for Bob worked with Crystal Dynamics to make Pandemonium, The Horde, and The Unholy War, the latter two both being monster-focused as well. It was also at this time that they made Majokko Dai Sakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs, their weirdest game ever. Paul loved the SD Gundam series, so he went to Crystal Dynamic's head of studio at the time, Rob Dyer, in order to reach out to Bandai and get the rights. Somehow they ended up making the Little Witching Mischief instead, a game based on the Japanese anime from the 1960s. The game was only sold in Japan, and he's not sure how well the game did as their original contact at Bandai ended up quitting. He is looking for copies of the game still, as they only have one in their possession.   Their last title with Crystal Dynamics was 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, for which they serendipitously looked at the original Spyro as the basic model in order to make a good kids game. Toys for Bob would go on to partner with Activision in the early 2000s and make Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure. The company was bought by Activision in 2005 and continued to make kid-focused titles such as Madagascar, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, and Madagascar 2. How the idea of Skylanders was born It was around 2008 when Paul noticed, "[T]he world started to change. The high-end licensed titles just weren't making enough money to really justify a great big studio in Northern California. So we ended up being asked come up with something new." Specifically, Activision had sent out a company-wide email asking if anyone had any good ideas that the they could patent. "I just kind of thought that was a funny email," Paul told me. "I said, 'Well, no one is going to answer this. Who would just send off their ideas into the void?' So I said, 'I will! It's a challenge.' "Whenever a studio is told that they know, 'okay, we better do this' (laughs). We want to remain in existence. So we sort of said, well, this is the first time in a long time we've been offered the opportunity to come up with our own game. "So one of the ideas I had, although I didn't know the precise technology underlining it, was this wireless communication through this portal where you have a character, and you would put it on the portal and the game would interpret it and that you can freely move the characters around. "And then they said, 'Oh, and by the way, would you like to work with the Spyro license?' We said, 'Yeah! That's a pretty cool license.'" Activision added that it can't just be a new Spyro game, though. It had to be a new kind of game, because for it to be successful in Activision's eyes, it not only has "to be the top kids game of the year, but it has to be in the top five games period of the year." An extremely tall order, but the timing couldn't have worked out better, as Paul saw it as a chance to combine his portal idea with Spyro. Paul and I-Wei Huang, character and toy director at Toys for Bob, went to Activision with a couple of illustrations to show off their idea, where they would make toys that would work with a piece of hardware that communicates with the game and create a real-world relationship. "The floor of what we needed to achieve was almost unachievable,” Paul explained. "Fortunately, they gave us some time to prototype, and we ended up coming up with this idea for Skylanders. "All through this idea, I kept asking myself, 'Am I smoking crack?' Because we literally had to craft everything by hand, go to Activision, show these crazy demos, and once we actually got to the point where we could put [a toy] on a portal, and it would come to life in the game, this sort of light bulb went on in everybody's head and we said, 'Okay, now we just got to make it good.'" Creating a toy company within a game company As we all know now, Paul and Toys for Bob's crazy idea worked. Penny Arcade immediately took to it, figures were selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, and even Justin Bieber is a fan. Toys were selling out like crazy, especially around Christmas. Right now, there are so many Skylanders figures that if you were to put every one of them side by side, they would stretch out for 1500 miles. Paul further drove that point home by stating that there are more Skylanders toys than there are people in the United Kingdom! The series is successful now, but I couldn't help but wonder if Paul had any fears when developing the whole idea. "I think we were fortunate in that we didn't know what we didn't know. I think if we had known all of the things we were going to confront, we would have said it was impossible. But fortunately we didn't know, and so what we had was people who worked with us for many, many years. The guy who actually invented the portal technology [Robert Leyland], I've worked with him on and off for more than 30 years. Robert had done hobbyist electronics his whole life. We actually signed Electronic Arts development contract #1! A very obscure game about a murder on a zeppelin." Robert, I-Wei, and Paul went through a lot of different prototypes with the Portal itself, and even at one point made things out of dish drainers. Once the prototype was settled, they went to Red Octane, Activision's proper hardware group. "[Red Octane] had made all of the hardware for Guitar Hero, and then Guitar Hero had sort of found its natural level of success. And so they were ready and waiting to help us take a prototype and make it manufacturable. There's a whole proper physical engineering that we really didn't know about how to do it. We worked with a company called Creata, and they did the toy engineering for us. And then we worked with Red Octane and they did the Portal." While Red Octane was busy creating the Portal, Paul and the team focused on making the toys. "This time around, we sort of went from the Stone Age where I-Wei was crafting things with clay. I had made rubber monsters and plastic monsters as a hobby, that was my contribution to the hobbyist part. I was able to say, 'Well, I can show you how we can take your clay toy, make a mold and then we can cast a bunch of them.' 'Cause every time we would send a toy down to Activision for them to show somebody it would vanish." Paul joking speculates that some kid of an executive would end up with it. "So we started making our own little sweatshop here where we would, after work, cast all these toys and hand paint them. And then those would all vanish. So finally we ended up working with Creata, and they took our solid toys and showed us how they get broken apart." Paul described how the toys are broken down into a very complicated system so that they can be created with as much detail as possible, marveling at how "there's a whole science to how you break toys apart." It's a process that was well above what Toys for Bob could do on their own, so it was fortunate for them that Red Octane was seemingly lying in wait. As for Creata, that whole partnership came about thanks to a man named John Coyne. "We knew when we were getting into toys that we actually needed to have someone in the business who understood toys and had sold them before. So we found a guy named John Coyne, and he had worked at Spin Master, which was the company that launched Bakugan, and before that he had worked at Mattel, and he knew collectable toy lines. "So he helped introduce us to people in the traditional toy world. A lot of them said this is impossible. No one's ever, out of the blue, made 32 toys and sold them in Toys 'R' Us." Paul was grilled about the idea, being asked by people what isle they would sell the product in. To which Paul simply stated, "The aisle with space ... ?" It's not as simple as that, of course. "In Toys 'R' Us, there's an aisle for boys' 8-10 action figures, there's an aisle for girls, there's an aisle for this, etc. And we were like, 'It should sell everywhere! It should sell by the videogames, it should sell in the toys!' And they were just like, 'You can't do that!' "Fortunately, or unfortunately, there's been a decline in the age at which kids will continue to play with toys, particularly boys. They migrate to videogames cause videogames are so compelling. Toys 'R' Us was really excited that we found a way to reintroduce toys and make plastic toys more by adding this sort of intelligence into them and this communication, and then building this narrative about the toys moving between worlds. We showed it to them early on and they said, 'Wow, this is really cool.' So they worked with us as a partner, helping us, again, learn all the ropes of 'well, how do you move into this aisle?' "The world of retail is a whole really complicated business. We make videogames and we have partners at Activision that really help us and [one day] they said, 'We got the something shelf at Walmart!' And we were like, 'Cool! ... What is that?' And they said, 'This is the shelf that normally stocks ketchup and mayonnaise.' And we were like, 'Okay ... ' They said, 'No, you don't understand, this is the most coveted shelf at Walmart and you guys got it worldwide!' 'Cool! Mayonnaise and ketchup alright! We got it!' It's business. Because we have something people want to buy, we're getting a lot of support from the retailers." How the Skylanders are born The scope of how much quality control Toys for Bob have now wasn't made clear until I talked to I-Wei, who will draw, create loose sketches, make iterations, and then get a 3D model printed in full color. He told me, "Once we have this in our hand, that's when we go, 'Okay, is this a cool toy? Do we like it?'" I-Wei specifically showed me the many iterations of Bouncer, one of the new Giants characters. He first was this extremely fierce-looking robot with Gatling guns for hands. It reminded me of the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, in fact. Cool but not something suitable for the kids. From this initial design, Paul and I-Wei tried to mold the character. They were set on giving him some type of gun-like weapon, and while trying to think of specific examples, they both kept using their own hands as a gun. It's something everyone has done with their hands, so they applied that idea to Bouncer. From there they went through many different color designs and wheel designs, making sure that not only did he look cool from the front but also from the back and above, as that's what the player has to see in the game. I-Wei went through about a couple of dozen designs, from small to large changes, before settling on something on paper with Bouncer. For the next step, the team modeled the character out in full 3D within the game, animating it and making it strike different poses. Part of this process is to figure out the actual constraits for the toy, as they have to make sure that it both fits on the Portal alongside another toy as well as in its retail packaging. Next they get feedback from Creata and the manufacturing process. If the design can't be mass produced within the set limitations then the design has to get altered yet again. Then there's the painting process -- this is something Paul and I-Wei really obsess over, debating back and forth with each other. Automation is not part of the paint process, and every paint stroke costs money. They first go about making the toy look cool then scale back, typically with the color schemes, in order make the toys affordable. "If you compare [our toys] to what's on the shelf today in Toys 'R' Us or whatever around the same price range, this is a much higher quality 'cause we use so much more paint then anyone else," I-Wei tells me. "That's mostly because we care, first of all, about our characters. Originally, it was because we were ignorant. We weren't toy people, we just wanted cool toys. "When we got prototypes back, it's like, 'No, that looks like crap, you knew you need to paint this part, and let's try doing this and this.' The toy companies are trying to tell us, 'You know, you're like twice more than what you should be. It'd be fine just doing this.' No, we just want a cool toy," was I-Wei's blunt answer to the manufacturers. I-Wei pointed out a case filled with Skylanders figures across from him that all had something wrong with them. "We go through a lot of eyes, eyes are never painted right the first 10 times." Bouncer in particular took a few months from concept to final version to complete. That's just one figure, but they're creating a lot of different characters at the same time, too. "I was really fortunate that I got to participate," Paul told me. "I-Wei and I decided early on that he and I would work together to do all the character designs. He's the artist, the illustrator, and the modeler. So really, the vision of the characters is very strongly in his hands. What I come into it is saying, I come from a D&D player head, I'm like, 'Okay, I have this giant tree guy, and he's going to be really strong.' I started clenching my fist, and I-Wei would go off and start sketching. "Sometimes, we'll get requests from the design department they'll say, 'Okay, we need a range guy, he's a fire range guy who's funny. Those are the things you guys have to work with.' But normally, I-Wei would bring me some sketches and I'll say, 'Oh my God, that guy's great. Now let's replace that crazy skull head with a furry little creature head,' and he would go do 40 variations on that. I-Wei sometimes just draws these crazy monsters, and I just get to play with them." Paul explains, "[I]t's this amazing new creative job, but by shifting and taking more responsibility over the look of it, what we're able to do is really increase the quality of the toys." The toys and game models in Giants are 1:1 this time around, something that wasn't the case for the first game as they didn't have certain technology at the time, specifically their gigantic 3D printer. Improvements have of course happened on the game itself too, as the team knows what they're doing better for the sequel. "This time around, we really knew what we wanted to achieve on both on the toys and on the game." Combat is better, there's a better presentation and more variety, and they even got some more Hollywood talent. Patrick Warburton is back as Flynn, Richard Horvitz is back as Kaos (who's basically Invader Zim here, I mean, come on). New to the cast is George Takei of Star Trek fame and Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo. Kevin actually reached out to Toys for Bob, asking if there was some way he could be part of the game so he could score some cool points with his kids that love the series. This is Crusher, a new Giants character voiced by Kevin Sorbo Dealing with pressure by focusing on quality Skylanders is now one of Activision's biggest sellers with the likes of Call of Duty. That adds new pressure to the humble studio, but it's "the kind of problem you want to have," Paul tells me. "You can't look at the dollars and the numbers or you'll go insane. You have to just focus on the things that you can control, which are quality. "There is tremendous pressure. We went from being nothing to being a half-billion dollar franchise. And of course [Activision] wants it to be more. We would love to do that too. We want more kids to enjoy our game. And success is good, it guarantees we continue to have jobs. The only way we can control it is quality, and that's what we focused on." This time around, "[Toys for Bob] went into the toys and said, you know last time the way we worked with the toy developers [and] the engineers was we would send them illustrations where we would send them in-game models and they would craft from 3D from the ground up. We would go back and forth with them many, many times trying to actually recreate the character that we created. "This time, we bought a 3D printer, and we did all of the new characters in hi-res and ZBrush ourselves. So we sent them, this is exactly how it should look. We had the 3D prints, so we could send them a solid object and say this is how it should be colored, and then we would go back and forth on the paint operations." The ultimate bar that Paul envisioned was reaching Nintendo heights. "When we started this project, we said, 'What do we need to achieve to make this work?' One of them was our game needs to stand up to Nintendo first-party titles. They're the gold standard of quality for our audience. "Nintendo has a way of tracking how many hours people are spending with what games. We just surpassed Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 in terms of average number of hours players play Skylanders. That was as good as we could of imagined. We want kids who are spending money on these toys to feel like it was really worth it. Not only in terms of how cool the toy is but that they got more play value. "I-Wei and I both have to evaluate stuff, and mine is 'Do I want to be this guy?' I-Wei's is 'Do I want to reach up on the shelf and buy this guy and convince mom to pay for it?' Without that, it's too cerebral because toys are way more emotional. Physical objects trigger different relationships than virtual ones. I think they're more emotional, and I think they're more deeper in your brain." Skylanders Giants is out today for the 3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360, and coming November 18 on the Wii U. Read up on our review  for all that's new and improved. [Special thanks to COIN-OP TV and Nintendo World Report for providing some of the photos. Go check out their video tours at Toys for Bob for more!]
Playing with toys photo
Just how are the toys made?
Who knew actual physical toys would propel a videogame to become the number one selling Activision title (so far) this year and generating over $200 million in sales? Developer Toys for Bob struck gold with its ingenious idea...

Review: Skylanders Giants

Oct 18 // Chris Carter
Skylanders: Giants (3DS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Toys For Bob (Mac, PC, PS3, Wii, Wii U, 360) / n-Space (3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 21, 2012 (3DS, Mac, PC, PS3, Wii, 360) / November 18, 2012 (Wii U)MSRP: $74.99 (Starter Kit) / $59.99 (Portal Owner Pack) As some of you may know, Skylanders incorporates physical toys -- lots of them! -- that you can pick up at your local brick and mortar store. Using a USB device called the "Portal of Power," you can digitize any number of the eight giants (read: big toys) or the 45+ smaller figures into your game. All the characters have a tiny microchip inside them that captures and saves their data, such as the amount of coins you have, your experience, and what Gamertag/ID they're registered to. Considering the main hook here is essentially peddling children's toys, I hope you aren't expecting a transcendent Machiavellian narrative of the subjugation of the proletariat. To be blunt, the setup is going to be really familiar with anyone who has ever watched a cartoon aimed at the 16-and-under group. After the day was saved in the first game, the premise is basically your typical "big bad villain returns" scenario. The eight giants, once thought to be a myth to the citizens of Skylands, have now come out of hiding to band with the rest of the Skylanders and do battle with the evil wizard Kaos. The tone is completely lighthearted, at times cheesy, but not overly hilarious. Just like the first game, it gets the job done. If you enjoy movies like the criminally under-appreciated The Emperor's New Groove, you'll have a good enough time in Skylands (especially so, as Patrick Warburton reprises his role from the first Skylanders, which is basically Kronk). [embed]236152:45413[/embed] When it comes to gameplay, your experience will pretty much mirror any standard dungeon crawler you've tackled before. Obstacles range from simple puzzles to straight-up battles, and there's even a home base of operations with various merchants (like the Diablo series). Giants themselves offer a new layer to the series, as they're required for traversing certain extra areas and obstacles, most of which are optional. They're large, they're lumbering, and as a result, most of them are slow, which may or may not suit your play style. That's totally fine, as the Skylanders series is built upon giving you the freedom to use just about anyone you want (keep in mind that you will need a Giant on-hand for at least a few required areas, even if you can play 99% of the campaign without them). As was the case with the previous game, the nuances of combat and exploration are going to be pretty basic, and since most characters don't jump, it probably couldn't even be considered a basic platformer. But it would be criminal to dismiss the game based on that premise, as there is a ton of depth here should you choose to dig further -- and what it does offer, it does very well. First, the optional challenge missions are back. They're still quasi-difficult and task you with various objectives like "destroy X amount of enemies in a certain amount of time," granting you bonuses should you succeed. These can be done very easily from the main ship at the beginning of every stage, and they're even easier to get sucked into as you try to complete them all. Challenges aren't the only thing that will test your mettle, however, as there's also a number of arenas to conquer, all of which net you some sort of reward. If you're feeling lonely, local multiplayer is thankfully supported by way of full two-player coop (for the entire campaign), and a fairly meaty versus mode that has a decent number of different game types to choose from. Add in hundreds of collectibles, a fully fledged Othello-like game called "Skystones," ability gems hidden in each level, stat-boosting hats (hats are all the rage these days, I'll tell ya), and optional in-game achievements that boost your stats and XP, and you have a full game that inherently gives as much back as you put in. If you're a completionist, you can level up your character to the increased cap of 15 (up from 10 in the first game). Earning XP and gold in multiplayer battles is also a nice touch (provided you have a local partner in crime, as there is sadly no online play support). This all works well and good within the contained Giants ecosystem, but what about prior adopters? As we all know, Activision isn't the most reliable of folks when it comes to backwards compatibility, so I'm sure a lot of you are concerned whether or not Giants will play nice with your old toys. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that Activision and Toys For Bob did a solid job of serving both games. Figuring out what works where is fairly simple: look at the bottom of your toy's base. If it's green, it's from the first game (Series 1), and if it's orange, it's from the second game (Series 2). All Series 2 characters that were carried over from the first game will work if you plug them back into the original. All new Series 2 characters (i.e. Giants) will not work with the original game (which is to be expected). These details are also clearly marked on the actual packaging for the toys. All of this works pretty effortlessly, even without a patch or title update of any kind. For instance, my wife and I were playing coop in Giants and she proceeded to upgrade and level-up a toy she had picked up a year ago. After going back to the original game later that day, all her stats, coins, and abilities/upgrades were still there. So if you're interested in picking up the first game on the cheap some day, you can reap the benefits of re-using select characters. In terms of length, there are 16 stages, each which take about 30 minutes the first time through, or 10 to 15 minutes for speedruns. If you're looking for more replayability beyond going back to the original game or buying more toys, Giants has you covered with all of the modes and extras I mentioned above. After playing through both titles, it's clear that a lot of heart went into the franchise. This should please fans both young and old, provided you're willing to go in with an open mind and embrace the simplicity. Skylanders: Giants is a simple but incredibly enjoyable game, packed with content should you decide to explore every nook and cranny. Despite the fact that a lot of the characters are pay-walled behind what is essentially physical DLC, it's still perfectly serviceable even with just the characters in the standard package.
Activision ditches the Spyro moniker but keeps the fun intact
Skylanders was one of the biggest surprises of 2011. Pretty much everyone expected it to be a cheap cash-in of 90s nostalgia to sell toys to unsuspecting kids -- and boy, were we wrong. It was actually a pretty fun, serviceab...


Warning: this kids' Spyro costume is f*cking nightmarish!

An eldritch horror from beyond reason
Oct 15
// Jim Sterling
Behold! The LORD's cruelest joke! Cast out from Heaven, rejected by Hell, and feared by the realm of mortals. The rules of nature apply not to this misshapen beast, for it is wrought of no natural element. It exists without e...

A look at all the biggest Skylanders Giants characters

Oct 05
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Here's a nice look at all eight of the new Giants characters in Skylanders Giants. This may be old news to hardcore fans frantically looking for any bits of news on toys, but for everyone else you can see just how cool they ...

Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...