While at least two of us at Kotaku enjoy Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure enough to recommend a purchase, that doesn't mean we're oblivious to the costly downsides to a game that sells its downloadable content on toy store shelves.
To experience everything Skylanders has to offer as of this writing would cost roughly $US225.
Merging physical toys with an interactive video game, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure opens up parents and children to a new way to play, but it also opens up parents to a new way to pay for their child's interactive entertainment.
First they must invest in the game itself, which will run them $US69.99 on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, or 3DS (the PC / Mac version is $US59.99). With the three included characters, players have access to a good chunk of the game's content and are able to play through to the game's end without worrying about purchasing anything extra.
But the game really makes you want that something extra.
Take the video above. As you play through the console game you're constantly unlocking special powers for characters you don't own yet. The game lets you know which power is for what character, and then shows you a preview of that character in action specifically tailored to making young children scream at their parents until they own one.
That mechanic doesn't specifically lock content away from the player, but others do.
For instance, each level in the game features doors that can only be opened by Skylanders of a specific element. The game comes with three. There are eight elements. Behind those doors lie short obstacle courses containing in-game prizes (power augmenting hats) that can't be completely accessed unless you own a toy of each eight elements. With characters running $US7.99 a piece, that brings the total up to $US109.
But wait, there's more!
Each Skylander unlocks its own heroic challenge in the game. Completing these challenges grants permanent stat and power buffs to whichever Skylander undergoes the trial, so in order to get the most power out of your characters, you'll need all of them. Since only 12 additional characters are currently available, the total rises to $US165, and that's before wave two even hits.
For the sake of completion, let's add in the two adventure packs currently available, each of which add extra game levels and another character each, as well as the Toys"R"Us exclusive Legendary pack, containing three recolored versions of existing toys, including Spyro himself. That's another $US60, bringing the grand total to $US225.
Again, not counting the next wave of toys, another dozen or so at $US7.99 apiece, tacking on an additional $US95.
So to get the total Skylanders experience you're going to be paying at least $US320, and I'd argue that you'd need to play both console and 3DS versions (the 3DS comes with an exclusive Dark Spyro figure), since the 3DS version is a completely different game that uses the same figures.
No matter how you do the maths it adds up to a lot of money, possibly more money than you've ever spent on a single video game, outside of the pricier Rock Band or Guitar Hero bundles.
On one hand, I can see how that might make someone upset with Activision. They're trying to take our money, after all. Well that's what big companies do. Activision has just found a brand new way to do it. It seems to be working, too; the Toys"R"Us I went to on Sunday told me they sold through nearly an entire storeroom filled with Skylanders product.
At the end of the day I'm having fun, I'd like to think my kids are (or one day will be) having fun watching me play, and no other game's downloadable content has left me with a horde of colourful, well-made statuettes lining my entertainment centre. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then you're probably not the audience Acti is looking for.