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Gotta collect ‘em all: Prices skyrocket for elusive Skylanders

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Spyro the Dragon figure (Activision)

Where have all the Skylanders gone?

For fans of Activision's video game-related action figures, times are tough. Huge demand combined with tight supply means stores simply can't keep them on shelves -- and shoppers are going away empty-handed. In short, they're rapidly turning into this year's Tickle-Me Elmo.

And it's not even Christmas.

The action figures belong to the Skylanders:Spyro's Adventure video game, an October release that proved the top-selling kids game of 2011. Key to its appeal is the unique link between plastic toy and video game: put the figures on its included "Portal of Power" platform, and digitized versions of them spring gleefully to life on your TV screen. It's the kind of synergy that makes many parents squeal, let alone the kids.

Three Skylanders figures come with the game, and while that's enough to finish its story, it's not enough to unlock many hidden extras and power-ups. So once the holiday's shopping season was over and players exhausted the appeal of the bundled trio, demand for extra Skylanders went sky-high.

Just ask mother-of-four Stacy Bisker, who found herself embarking on a fruitless, weeks-long hunt for Skylanders figures after her boys received the game for Christmas.

"Whenever we went out, they were scouting for Skylanders," Bisker said. "We made three special trips to Gamestop, but their display case was always empty. The associates said every time they didn't know when another shipment would arrive."

"We began looking online: Amazon, Gamestop, Wal-Mart, Target, whatever the search engine would pull up," Bisker told us. "Either the characters were not available online, sold out, or priced unreasonably. The boys began to beg for computer time just to shop for Skylanders." Seven-year-old Elliot even started calling round local stores to see if their shipments had arrived.

Other parents are turning to auction sites like eBay -- which, as it turns out, seems to be one of the few places where the figures are reliably in stock, though buyers will pay a premium for the privilege. In-demand figures like Chop Chop -- an undead-type Skylander who wields a sword and shield -- can sell for as much as $40, five times the recommended retail price. Desirable newer releases like Cynder, a purple dragon, have topped the $100 mark on occasion.

And that's before you get to the really rare figures. Cunningly slipped in among the regular models, silver- and gold-colored versions are showing up in stores, and although they don't appear any differently in-game, they're still worth their weight in silver or gold to collectors. Drill Sergeant, a tool-wielding, heavily-armored Skylander, fetches an unremarkable $10-15 on eBay; his far rarer gold-colored counterpart reliably exceeds $150.

Exotica like that is the exception and not the rule, but even the basic Skylanders figures have proved a staggering success. Toys-R-Us CEO Jerry Storch commented this week that the figures "seem to evaporate as soon as they arrive on our store shelves." Even with the restricted supply, over the crucial holiday season Skylanders were the best-selling new action figure of all, beating out more recognizable names like Captain America and Batman in the process.

"Skylanders is succeeding beyond all expectations," said John Coyne, VP of marketing at publisher Activision. "We are doing our best to keep up with the consumer demand for Skylanders and are shipping the toys out as soon as they come off the production lines.  We will get them to stores as quickly as we can."

In other words, keep trying. -- but with the Skylanders world getting even bigger this year with the new Giants game announced today, it's hard to see relief in sight any time soon.

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