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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Wii Review

12/12/2013 Thinking Mindful Gamer Review
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Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Nintendo Wii

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Nintendo Wii


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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Family Gamer (Wii)
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Family Podcast (PS3)
Collecting Gamer (PS3)

Skylanders is a new experience for seasoned gamers, for me it was like something from another planet. I enjoyed it, and it sparked not a few Mindful considerations.

A number of events have converged giving opportunity for this preview. As a family we are joining FGTV to share some of our gaming adventures. These certainly will be adventures, as up until the other day, we have not a had a television for nearly 15 years, and I know almost nothing about gaming.

That in itself has not been an obstacle to being interested in gaming concepts though. well, I say gaming concepts, but what I really mean is I am interested in story telling, and how we find ourselves in stories, how we might frame life as stories and how we use them to make sense of the things we experience.

I use this interest to underpin much of my work in the NHS. By day I look after a research and innovation department for a Mental Health Trust and in this role, I am frequently exposed to the stories in which people live. At work, we sometimes just listen to these and give them our full attention, while at other times we use them to make what we do as an organisation better.

Back to Skylanders Spyro's Adventures. I was invited to help out with FGTV filming on a trip to California. It was all expenses paid by the games company so having squared this with the family I packed a couple of bags of kit and flew out to San Francisco.

The focus of the trip was to visit the developers of the game, Toys for Bob, at their California studio. We met the game creators, played lots of Skylanders and (as was hoped by the organisers) came away enthused by the whole thing.

I went primarily to film, but found myself being drawn in by the stories I heard about the creation of these crazy monsters, about how the sound design came together, about how an old insurance office was turned into an Hawaiian themed game design studio. Running through all these tales was a theme of a commitment to quality, dedication and passion.

What set Skylanders Spyro's Adventures apart from other games for me is how it combines toys with game play. Driven by the motivation that we remember our toys, but our toys don't remember us, and using some kind of technology ("magic" or as they called it), Toys for Bob have found a way to give the toys brains, and memories and this forms an integral part of the game play.

OK, its not really magic, but their I just loved the insistence that what made the toys do the things they do was magic. It may have seemed trivial but it is often the minutiae of our stories that makes them our own and is actually of utmost import.

I had imagined that toys were basically the product of committee meetings.

Previously I had imagined that toys were basically the product of committee meetings, focus groups and market testing -- essentially some kind of faceless corporate activity with a firm focus on profitability. For Toys for Bob at least the practice was far and away from this.

Hearing about the journey to create the toys was simply inspiring. Drawings, conversations, careful sculpting of oven bake clay, painting, 3d printing, right through to final production toys, this was a tale of care and attention -- even obsession of their creation.

The result was simply exquisite. I was impressed with the quality, the weight and the textures. Also as a father of three young children I was also interested in the high claims for durability. I just need to get my hands on one and see how it survives in the wild.

What time I did have with Skylanders while in San Francisco was quite informative. I now understand that level 1 was more a tutorial, hence the constant interruption as the story is set out. The game, well, what I played of it as a novice who barely knows how to use a controller, was a lot of fun, and the magic of placing toys on the portal was really quite, err, magical.

There is something that is still quite intriguing about holding a high quality toy, that has a memory of the previous gameplay, dropping it on the portal and it instantly appearing in the game. I was hugely impressed of what I saw, the technology may or may not be complicated, that is not my concern. The translation from holding a toy to it being in the game was seamless and instant.

If I can play a game, using a toy that remembers me, why can't the NHS do this with my medical records?

Perhaps most interesting of all this for me didn't occur until I was back at my day job for the NHS. There is this debate in healthcare about holding one's own medical notes, and things like Microsoft HealthValut (and previously Google Health), underpin this discussion on ownership and information. As I thought this through, I was left with this question: If I can play a game, using a toy that remembers me, wherever and whenever I play, why can't the NHS do this with my medical records? And, would work for children who are in hospital?

When they are home, they can add details of how things have been to their health record toy and then the Dr's can check in with them and the toy when they turn up for appointments. This way, perhaps some of the fear about being ill / treated could be mitigated, and in the process could it help children to manage chronic illness and have fun.

Once I have had some more hands on time, perhaps this is something I'll be able to write further about. If nothing else I like the idea of combining healthcare and play -- both for patients who could benefit from this technology as well as for my own work. Telling stories is, after all, one of the most playful things we can do with our minds.

Written by Tobi Emmens

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Tobi Emmens writes the Mindful Gamer column.

"I'm looking at videogames to consider how they affect our well-being. Without wishing to simplify things that are very complex, how we spend our time has some kind of impact on how we think, feel and behave. Videogames are no different."

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