Game: Skylanders: Giants
Developer: Toys for Bob
Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, iOS
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
There’s a lot to be said for a video game that knows exactly what it is. Released last year, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was a child’s toy wrapped in a video game disguise, but no worse for it. Gathering steam because it was not only a really decent, playable, fun game, but also because the figures that worked with the game’s Portal of Power became highly desirable, collectible items.
Skylanders: Giants looks to continue in that vein. There’s not a huge difference, aside from the “Giants” part, between the two games, which means that yet again, Activision and Toys for Bob are on to a winner, and look set to enjoy another rather profitable Christmas.
STORY: Focussing on the Giants, the Skylanders that we know and love have to help the expelled Giants return to their home. It’s pretty simple, but then, it is aimed at children. There are returning characters from the first game, along with new ones, but Chaos is the villain again, and it’s interesting to see that a real canon is attempted at here, akin to Bowser always being the villain that Mario has to defeat.
GRAPHICS: Again, there’s not a huge difference between Giants and the first title in the series, although frame-rates have been tidied up, and there are – of course – new enemy designs. Colourful, charming character designs pervade every moment of Giants, and the Skylanders look as cool as ever. The isometric top-down style returns, meaning that people who have played Spyro’s Adventure can jump straight back in and feel completely at home.
SOUND: The biggest change to the audio design is that Skylanders can now talk. They don’t have dialogue in cut-scenes that are voiced though, instead they’ll shout random battle cries during combat sections. Likewise, when you put a new Skylander on the portal, they will utter their catchphrase. To adults, this may seem gimmicky and daft, but to children, I can guarantee that they’ll find it cool and be repeating what their favourite Skylanders say in no time.
The main characters (outside of the Skylanders themselves) do have fully voiced cut-scenes though, which help aid the story engagement, and work effectively. Other than that, you’ve seen and heard it all before, this is clearly a game that is part of a long-term franchise, so it’s to be expected and doesn’t really harm the game, especially in terms of who the game is aimed at.
GAMEPLAY: Skylanders games basically involve running around as any given character, shooting enemies, collecting things, solving simple puzzles and moving on to the next chapter. Its simplicity is the key to its fun; anyone can jump in and get playing without too much prior gaming experience. To change character at any given moment, you can literally just pick up the Skylander that is on the Portal of Power, and replace it with another, switching characters on the fly. Two people can play at once, locally, by just putting two Skylanders on the portal, so it’s great for siblings, too.
It never stops being fantastic, either. This sort of “toy” might be frowned upon by the more cynical player, but there’s no doubting that people of my generation would have loved this kind of thing as a child. The chips inside the Skylanders hold the character’s data, level and XP, so you can put them on a friend’s Portal of Power and maintain that Skylander’s level; it’s just ace.
Giants are the new addition though, and they are slow, lumbering beasts that are stronger and can move large objects in games. Basically, their inclusion has allowed Toys for Bob to add new puzzles that require you to switch your Skylander out for a Giant, to enable you to progress further in a level. The trouble is, they really are slow, and I found that after the new-car feeling wears off, the player switches quickly back to their old favourite, the more nimble standard-sized Skylanders. The game is backwards compatible too, so your previously purchased Skylanders will work, and you can level them up to 15 now, with the previous cap being 10. The increase in level cap means there are more skills to pick from the tree, when the player goes to upgrade their Skylander.
But there’s more, Light Core Skylanders are sure to be the bane of Father Christmas this year, as they are a second version of a Skylander, but one that lights up when on the portal. The model pose is different too, but the lighting up effect will wow some children, and these Light Core models are slightly more expensive than standard figures.
LONGEVITY: Giants isn’t the longest game in the world, but it offers a reasonably sized campaign, as well as a Battle Mode, which hosts modes like Arena Rumble and Ring Out, which are all variations on local multiplayer, basically versus modes. The real longevity comes through collecting the figures and levelling them up. There’s a lot to collect, so it really is a case of “how long is a piece of string?” as to how long you’ll play Skylanders Giants.
VERDICT: The thing about Skylanders, is that kids love it. You can argue until the cows come home that it’s too expensive, or that it’s a cash-wagon, but the truth is that buying Skylanders figures is no more expensive than buying the equally popular Beyblade units. Skylanders Giants remains a wholly unique video game on the market, but at its core it really is fun, which goes some way as to explaining why it’s so wildly popular. Get this one on the Christmas list, kids!