In defense of Skylanders and the collectible figures mechanic

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I’ve seen countless naysayers (myself included) who thought Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures would be an affront to gaming change their tune the moment they played it. Beyond the seemingly prohibitive cost, Skylanders is a truly well-made dungeon crawler combined with the obsessive “gotta catch ‘em all” structure found in Pokémon. Only this time, the trainable monsters are a set of toys — most of which are sold separately. 

Unfortunately, collecting all the Skylander figures, extra levels, and bonus items pushes the game’s initial price ($79) to well over $300. While that does seem astronomical, it doesn’t turn Skylanders into a carcinogenic marketing scheme.

Did you ever play Magic: the Gathering, or even the Pokémon trading card game? Consider how much you spent on $5-20 packs of lifeless card stock. It’s likely a hell of a lot more than $300 if you really kept track.

The difference with video games is the notion that everything on the disc should immediately belong to you. Every Skylander is on the disc. They have to be if players can instantly swap characters in and out. But if Activision was being fair and not just wanting all your money, you wouldn’t have to buy and manipulate little toys, right?


I…really don’t believe that.

Yes, Activision is likely making a killing on the figures. Go to any game retailer right now and they’re probably sold out. Stores in my area are claiming that they won’t have a consistent stock until June or later. People everywhere are shilling out hundreds of dollars for seemingly criminal hunks of plastic. Why? Because the very act of swapping the toys is fun.


I view buying Skylanders like I did Pokémon cards. Getting new ones isn’t vital, but I can probably make room for one or two booster packs a month. I have 13 of 37 figures, as well as both the 3DS and Xbox 360 versions of the game. My fiancé gave me one for Christmas, and Area 5’s Rick Curnutte kindly sent me the other once he’d finished with it.

I don’t think I will go much further than 13 figures. Like Pokémon, not all Skylanders are created equal. Each toy comes with a variety of strengths and weaknesses that are enhanced the more you play. Some are dreadfully slow while others are agonizingly underpowered. The trick is researching each one before you sink money into a potentially terrible character.

If you’re playing on the cheap, all you need is one toy for each of the eight elements. You get three in the starter pack set, which means you only need five more. Eight figures is enough to see absolutely everything the game has to offer.

Trigger Happy

Of course, I do understand the real reservations many people have to games that entice you to spend and spend. Most are marketed directly at children, who, by no fault of their own, cannot filter desire the way adults can. That’s something humans learn as they age, and it’s very easy to take advantage of a developing cognitive state with flashy colors and cool in-game marketing videos. Skylanders unfortunately has ample helpings of both.

It’s up to the parents to guide their children. If they cave to every possession-based temper-tantrum, then of course they’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on Skylanders. Marketing to children isn’t the most morally sound decision, but parents should be able to resist it.

Rather than viewing Skylanders as just another way Activision is trying to make money off of you, think of it like trading cards, or any collectible-based game. If Skylanders was absolutely terrible then I might not be as ready to defend it, but it isn’t. It’s an enjoyable introduction to stat management, character customization, and basic puzzle solving.

Skylanders isn’t a racket or a money pit. It’s just a video game with a novel interactive experience developed by a studio that loves toys. Give it a chance before you dismiss it as a vile effort to extort your kids.  

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