Dozens of creatures at your command in ‘Skylanders’

'Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure" figure as it appears in the game.
'Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure" figure as it appears in the game. ACTIVISION

‘Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” is a solid little action game with a big money-grabbing hook: Each of the game’s characters is represented by a plastic figurine, and you can only control the characters whose figures you have access to.

The setup is pretty light stuff, with players trying to defend the floating islands of the Skylands from an evil Portal Master called Kaos. As a benevolent Portal Master, you will be able to summon and control various powerful beings called Skylanders.

Which character you control is determined by which plastic figurine is placed on the game’s Portal of Power, a plastic platform connected to the game system by a USB cord.

Place the figure of the dragon Spyro on the portal, and he’ll be summoned to your command; remove him and place the cackling gunslinger Trigger Happy there instead, and he’ll take over for Spyro. The portal can recognize two figures at once, allowing two-player action.

There are close to 40 characters in the game, but the starter pack comes just three figures, along with the game and the portal (the Xbox 360 and Wii versions of the starter pack come with the same lineup of figures, while the 3DS version, whose accompanying game is not the same as the console versions, has a different trio).

Various packages containing additional figures are available for sale — some have a single character, others three, and there are also “Adventure Packs” that include a figure along with objects that open up new areas of the game.

Each character has two attacks to begin with, and more moves can be unlocked with time and money collected in the game. As you explore each level you’ll find various passages and items, such as benefit-granting hats for your characters to wear. There are also obstacles to overcome, light puzzles to solve and various enemies to fight — but watch out. If a character dies in a level, it won’t be usable in that level for a while, or until the level is restarted.

“Skylanders” is quite playable with just the figures that come in the box. So what’s the incentive to buy more figures? First, each Skylander is paired with an element—Fire, Magic, Tech and several others. Certain areas of each level will grant a boost to Skylanders of the right element.

More importantly, some areas of each level are blocked off by gates, and these gates can only be passed by a Skylander of the same element. The game comes with three figures, and there are eight elements, so exploring every corner of the game will require an extra purchase or two, or at least a friend willing to bring his or her own Skylanders over for game time. What’s more, the rewards you find often take the form of special abilities for characters that don’t come with the starter set.

It’s the kind of setup designed to have the younger gamers who form the game’s target audience begging for a new Skylanders figure at the store whenever they see one.

If the game wasn’t any good this would seem like a hollow money grab, especially given the higher-than-average price of admission for the game on account of its extra stuff.

But “Skylanders” is well-crafted as a game, the figures are detailed and colorful, and the vocal cast includes Patrick Warburton (of “The Venture Bros. “) and Richard Horvitz (of “Invader ZIM”), among others.