Developer: Toys for Bob, n-Space (3DS), Vicarious Visions (WiiU)
Platforms: XBox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, WiiU (coming)
Release Date: 17th October (AU), 21st October (US)
Price: $74.99 Available Here
When Skylanders: Spyros Adventures was unleashed upon an unsuspecting gaming market it redefined a whole genre of gaming and brought back an element of magic, fun and escapism into a somewhat lacklustre childrens gaming market. The combination of tangible collectible characters that were amazingly and accurately brought to life on screen proved an irresistible experience for kids and many adults alike. A year later and the banished evil lord Kaos has returned with his faithful and somewhat loveable sidekick Glumshanks to again wreak havoc on Skylands, prompting the return to arms of the Skylanders, now joined by 16 new members including the stars of the show; the Giants. While the addition of new characters and attributes is always more than welcome, does the game and overall experience stack up to the hype created by the first installment? Read on and make up your own mind.
The Skylanders, after being banished from their various homelands by Kaos the malevolent and maniacal Portal Master and stuck in our world in the form of toys, banded together to defeat him and his wacky army of villains and machines and regain Skylands. Kaos on the other hand had other ideas and after being banished to Earth stumbled upon a Portal to execute his next attack on Skylands. Except this time he hadn’t accounted for the Giants in his grand invasion scheme.
Thousands of years ago the Giants roamed and protected the Skylands against the powerful and relentless Arkeyan Robots and their huge armies who had enslaved the local Manu inhabitants. The Giants, known across the lands as Elemental masters were powerful but eventually taken slave themselves and sent to Earth where they have been lying in wait just aching for another chance to take on Kaos. And that’s where you come in, taking on the role of a Portal Master and sending Skylanders and Giants back to their own lands to protect those living there and once again reclaim what is theirs. Kaos, meanwhile has learnt of and acquired the mystical and ultra-powerful Iron Fist giving him unimaginable power and control of a massive Arkeyan Robot.
Accompanying the Skylanders on the journey again is the ever faithful Flynn, whose ship is essential in getting you to each different level as well as Cali, Persephone (the upgrade Fairy) and various Manu. As players progress they encounter a host of really strange friends and foes such as the village of wooden people who come alive and go back to sleep with the flick of a switch.
The Skylanders and those around them for the bulk of the game are quite limited in dialogue and the one liners attached to each character become a little repetitive, somewhat losing their quirky puns in the process (Chop Chop’s Slice and Dice), but does very little to take away from the storyline and in some ways does allow for more emphasis on characters enhancements and attributes as well as appealing to a younger audience whom still find something amusing the millionth time.
As well as having an overall intertwining storyline, each individual character has their own personal story and journey as to how and why they joined the ranks of the Skylanders. Storyline scrolls can also be found throughout the adventure usually in harder to reach areas making finding and completing all the hidden and bonus areas somewhat of an addiction. It’s not often one would say this about a game but the storyline of Skylanders Giants is somewhat irrelevant as to its popularity and is foreshadowed by the sheer appeal of collecting, owning and leveling up the huge variety of characters and their various attributes.
One of my immediate thoughts on seeing Giants was that the overall graphics had been vastly enhanced especially in cut scenes some of which contain some spectacular attention to detail and texture such as the Iron Fist, not often found in games of this genre. The turtle blocks have more depth, the water has a much more realistic look and in general everything looks to have been tweaked up a notch. Each of the environments is represented in rich bold colours which leap off the screen which when combined with leveled up Skylanders spurting rainbows, throwing up mountains of Lava or spraying rods of lightning and ghosts as well as enemies exploding into charms and power balls and you have a visual feast.
Everything in Skylanders Giants is bigger and badder than before. Arkeyan Robots are huge in scale and most enemies dwarf the smaller Skylanders in size. Some of the more impressive features are just in the attention to detail and could be small things that go unnoticed such as the intricate leaves and vines that follow the Life Skylanders like Tree Rex and Camo especially in certain areas. It all adds to the whole magical feel of Skylanders and what sets it apart from the rest.
It’s impossible to not say something on the toys in the review as they are an essential part of the game and without them would not deliver even half the experience. Seeing your beloved figure come to life on screen makes most kids awe in delight and again adds an element of mysticism to the game. In reality the developers of this game are not providing a game so much as an experience, one which for the target market of under 12’s cannot be beaten. My 3 year old daughter won’t let me play with anyone but Whirlwind, having me forever run around shooting rainbows at everything in my path. Whirlwind goes everywhere with her and has taken on a rather battle worn appearance.
The toys are well crafted, each with its own individual personality that is well represented through its design. From a collectible point of view there are special editions of various characters as well as some that are exclusive to various toy fairs or promotions. Activision if you do read this please keep it that way, don’t mass produce these things, it’s more fun having to search for and finally find that glow in the dark character you’ve only seen on outrageous eBay auctions. The 8 new Lightcore Skylanders as well as the Giants glow when placed on the Portal, giving the inanimate figurines even more lifelike qualities. For the true collectors the figures can actually be played through their boxes.
The game has some impressive audio and cameos with Patrick Warburton returning as the voice of Flynn and George “Is there anything I won’t make an appearance in” Takei lending his talents to the robot king. The legendary Hans Zimmer returns to compose the theme song and soundtrack. Each character has a unique voice from foreign accents to crazy fits of laughter.
Again, it’s all about the toys and seeing them teleport from the Portal to the screen. To get anything from the Skylanders experience you really need to own at least one Giant as well as one Skylander from each Elemental force. Like in Spyros Adventures these are needed to access the areas whose gates will respond only to that force. The Giants are essential for access to areas that no regular Skylanders are strong enough to enter. These are usually blocked by boulders which Giants can lift and either launch into the horizon or into an enemy, or require a “Feat of Strength” such as reeling in a floating island or knocking over huge stones to create bridges. Giants can also break most items without even breaking a sweat and can simply walk through barrels and boxes to get the treasures inside. Despite their brute strength and size they are very slow and vulnerable to attack and can still be taken down sometimes with ease by certain powerful enemies.
Skylanders Giants like Spyros Adventures is really a role playing game for kids in relation to the way characters level up and acquire abilities, mixed with frenzied button mashing action that takes a hell of a lot to tire of. Never before had I wanted to finish a game so quickly so I could start it again with different characters as well as having the brute force of Giants and upgraded Series 1 Skylanders at my disposal for some of the peskier bosses and Arena battles. The replay value is huge in Giants with each new character offering the same path but a totally different strategic approach. Some characters are only useful up close such as Chop Chop while others like Camo can be devastating from a distance.
Despite being the Numero Uno villain in the game, Kaos doesn’t make much of an appearance as a boss, which was surprising due to his prevalence in Spyros Adventures where he appeared at the end of several levels. Rather the job is left to his minions mainly in the form of Arena battles featuring enemies coming at you from all sides with each successive wave increasing in difficulty. Some of these battles left many of my Skylanders resting on the sideline with the Portal Master slightly concerned about having to make a trip to the shops and who to turn to that was strong enough to send into the Arena.
Skylanders Giants also sees the return of the door puzzles and the challenging concept of having to maneuver the little green critter around the grid to collect the lights. Additionally there’s has been the introduction of another puzzle game called Skystones which is played against various characters met throughout the game in order to open doors to treasure, legendary items or the outrageously funny (underpants) hats found throughout each chapter. Skystones involves players taking turns placing stones on a board with 9 squares. Each stone represents a Skylander enemy and has a certain number of spikes on the outside. A stone with 3 spikes placed next to one with 2 will capture that stone. The player with the most number of stones wins the game and the loot.
While taking a break from saving Skylands there’s no better place to hone your skills and be further challenged than the heroic challenges. From delivering presents to providing cooking ingredients each challenge can be attempted with each individual Skylander with some much better suited than others to each task. The Skylanders vary greatly in abilities especially speed which is crucial in certain chapters and emphasises the necessity to be using a range of characters despite the dent in your wallet. It would be wise to know your Skylanders abilities so you can tailor the hats you find along the way to individual Skylander such as providing Giants with hats that increase speed is of great advantage.
Skylanders can also now level up past level 10 and up to 15 meaning your old characters have a way to go again before they reach their maximum potential. With increased power comes greater abilities and those characters deemed worthy enough to return as Series 2 Skylanders such as Cynder and Chop Chop also get a bonus Wow Pow Upgrade as well as an Upgrade path choice. To explain a bit better Cynder has 2 main attacks, that being her lightning strike and ghosts. Players will have to choose whether to follow a path that increases the power of her lightning or opt to power up the ghost attack but cannot have both.
After finishing the game you will see the addition of Nightmare mode when you restart which has harder and more enemies much earlier on in the picture. For those complaining it’s not hard enough it’s made for 10 year olds so just get over it. Saying that, if Activision made something similar for adults with more difficult campaigns it would be something I’d play all day long with a smile on my face.
Along the way players come across Soul Gems which give a preview of a Skylander and shows off their signature moves, further enticing players to want to collect those they familiarise with.
If I had any complaints about Skylanders Giants they would be very few and minor but nonetheless, I found the Giants moved too slowly in general not so much in battle but trudging them from A to B. Energy bars on larger enemies would also be welcome as it would help strategise and make for better use of characters abilities. It’s not easy to level up multiple characters playing through only once and using weak Skylanders towards the end of the game isn’t going to end well. Replayability is the key here and only by going through a few times with different Skylanders will you be able to get them to the strength needed to take on the larger harder enemies.
A one of a kind experience that is highly addictive, superbly executed and finally gives younger gamers (and not so young) something to get excited about. Each character has been designed with care and attention to detail and allows players to form a relationship based on their personalities and strategies. As you might be able to tell gaming for me is about fantasy, magic and the unknown, whether that is in a sport game, FPS or kids game and Skylanders Giants delivered on every front. The introduction of the Giants and Lightcore characters adds a new dimension to gameplay, especially to the kaleidoscope of colours the portal and screen spurt out across the room and with the slightly harder difficulty settings adults will find much more of a challenge as they play through it with their kids. Although if a had a dollar for every time a retail assistant has heard “it’s for my son/daughter, honest”, I’d probably be a lot richer. According to Kaos he has 7 more evil plans still to come to fruition so expect his diabolical self and hence the Skylanders to be around for quite a while on your shelves.