Personal preference aside, there’s one things that makes any game a great game. If you can create the desire to continue playing the game in enough people, regardless of how you do it, you’ve got a winner. That understood, it can be somewhat difficult to appreciate a game type that fits a niche market. There are not as many players, so there’s less incentive to make new games or keep the existing games fresh. Every once in awhile, some game publisher comes up with the “radical new idea” to try and bring some of these niche markets together on a single game to play. I’m usually not a huge fan of these attempts, at least until Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure crossed my desk.The GameYou are the Portal Master. Not just any Portal Master, either, you are the last one. You were contacted by the previous Portal Master before he died turned into a giant floating head to help save the world. You need to travel the land with the creatures you summon through your portal (the Skylanders), to gather the elements needed to put together this ancient device that will save the world. Got it?The storyline, gameplay, and cut scenes are geared for ages 8-12. Despite the aggressive nature of each of your Skylanders, the game stays as far away from the concept of death as possible. Your characters can’t jump and you will never fall down to your demise. The baddies just pop like bubbles and coins and food come out of them when they are defeated. If you take enough damage, your Skylander will simply sit down exhausted, and you will need to replace them with another Skylander. After about 5 minutes, or if you leave the area you are in, your exhausted Skylander is ready for action.The storyline part of the game is perfect for anyone just starting to play games with more advanced battle mechanics and a third grade reading level. There’s also a battle arena where you can take your best Skylander in a head to head against another player. The actual game, however, only scratched the surface of the Skylanders ecosystem.Gotta catch ’em…This game isn’t quite like any other out there right now. You don’t switch your Skylanders out by navigating through some menu of characters on the screen. The game comes with three action figures and a pedestal that plugs into your console. Each of the three characters represents an element in the game and when you play there is content that is keyed to a specific element. You must have a Skylander form that element to enter that zone.As you might have guessed, the three included three elements are enough to complete the game in a barebones sort of way. To actually complete the game, you need a Skylander from each of eight elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Magic, Tech, Life, and Undead). Currently, there are four characters for sale for each element. If you are proficient enough at the game, you can use the money you earn in game to buy temporary use of a Skylander of a different element. If not, you’ll need to buy some additional, physical, Skylanders.Each individual character is $8-$10 depending on where you shop. Additionally, there are three special edition characters that are only available at Toys R Us and two specialty packs. The specialty packs have a character and an in-game zone that is only available if you buy that specialty pack.Keep in mind that the action figures aren’t just lifeless pieces of plastic. They store within them the adventures you have had while using them and the gear you pick up to equip a character. You can level up your Skylander, and then take it over to your friends house and battle against their Skylander, just by taking your action figure with you. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure is the first serious collectibles system that integrates with the game in such a way that I have ever seen, and each of the action figures are all well sculpted, colorful models.Collecting the entire game puts your total at nearly $350 for everything that is out for the game right now, and that doesn’t count accessories like the case, which holds your portal and a handful of Skylanders for you.Play your game on everythingSkylanders is a great concept, made even better by the ability to play the game on everything. PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS versions of the game all come with the portal, and your Skylanders can be used across all of the platforms. If you have a Wii and your friends have a PS3, you can still battle each other, or even trade Skylanders with each other. We’ve already seen fully-loaded Skylanders for sale on Ebay they’ll probably hit your local game shop one day.If you really want, you can even play the game on your PC, but the rules there are slightly different. Skylanders Universe can be played from any web browser and it doesn’t require a game or portal purchase. You never need to actually own a single Skylander either. If you do, you can play with that character and improve your physical Skylander.Universe is a browser-based game that is very different from the storyline you are provided with when you buy the console version. There is a world to explore with your Skylanders, where each elemental area needs a matching Skylander to unlock, but there are also a wide variety of minigames for your characters to play. Chief among these is Castle Assault, which has a very familiar feel to it for anyone who has ever played Angry Birds. All of the points you earn in the minigames can be spent on unlocking things for your Skylander.Final ThoughtsSkylanders is an impressive gamble. There a huge upfront cost to making all of these models available, making the game so widely cross-platform, and approaching the target customer in such a way that it doesn’t even feel like you are spending a lot of money. My 7-year-old played the game for about an hour before she discovered that she needed a character from an element she didn’t have. She was able to move on, but now she really wants a creature from that element.The game comes with a poster-sized map with all of the Skylanders, so when she was finished playing the game, she went looked over the map, trying to decide which Skylander from that element she wanted. By the time she had made a decision, it was only $8 more to unlock that part of the game. No more than 45 minutes into the game the next day, she discovered another area locked because she lacked the element she needed. This time, however, she had earned enough money to buy a temporary character in that element and continue playing. When you stand back and truly observe the ecosystem here, there’s little more you can do than a slow golf clap in appreciation.Collectors and players who absolutely must complete 100% of the game be warned that this game gets expensive quickly… if you allow it. On the other hand, the possibility for a strong third-party market where you can buy fully developed Skylanders is pretty brilliant. You can spend as much or as little as you want on this game, and still be a part of the ecosystem here, which is fairly unique in the collectibles world. All in all I found Skylanders to be a great game for kids. If the games continues at the pace it is now, I suspect it won’t be long before we see Android and iOS versions of the game enter the world.