Fans of the Skylander series got a welcome return to the Sky Lands at the end of October. Skylanders: Giants was developed by Toys for Bob and released by Activision on October 21st. This game serves as a direct sequel to Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, picking up directly where the first game left off.
Kaos, the villain from the first game, awakens from being transformed into a toy in OUR WORLD (Yes, this game breaks the fourth wall) and finds his way back into the Skylanders universe. From there, we learn about the history of the Sky Lands and how the game’s newest additions, the Giants, were seperated from their smaller Skylander kin.
Now, the Giants are back in the Sky Lands, and not a moment too soon, as Kaos has returned and awakened an ancient evil to try and rule over the Sky Lands.
What Skylanders: Giants does well is that it’s entertaining. New characters introduced into the Skylanders world are well designed and pretty cool, including all of the giants and some of the bosses. Voicing for these characters are especially well-done, with some familiar voice actors included in the works. Captain Flynn, your comrade in arms from the first game, is once again voiced by Patrick Warburton, the actor who played Kronk from the Emperor’s New Groove. Another of your companions, Cali, also returns to the game as your guide to Heroic Challenges and Captain Flynn’s support.
But let’s look at the cast of characters available, the Skylanders themselves. First off, you have the newest addition to the bunch, the Giants, called Elder Elementals within the game. There are a total of eight Giants available through retail, with one of the Giants included with the game when you first pick it up.
The Giants introduce new elements to gameplay, with the ability to break down walls (normally reserved for bombs if you are currently playing without a giant) or the ability to break through floors. These additions add some new uses for these characters that become essential to completing some levels.
As for the Skylanders themselves, all of the 32 Skylanders originally included in the first Skylanders game are allowed to be used in this game. Not only that, but eight new Skylanders are back for this go-around, bringing that total up to 40. Certain Skylanders have been re-released with Generation Two versions. These Skylanders introduce new moves to familiar characters, only available if you pick up the new editions of the character’s figurine.
When you look at those numbers, there are a total of 48 playable characters available for this game. Each of these characters fall into eight different elemental categories, with certain areas of the game’s levels only accessible by a character of a certain element. In other words, to access all of the game’s areas, you need to make sure that you have at least one Skylander of each of the elements. Seeing as you start the game with three Skylanders already on purchase, you are looking at an additional investment to get at least five other Skylander toys. While it is not essential to complete the game, you will probably want to access all of the available areas as you play through, so those characters can be picked up at your leisure.
After you complete the first two levels of Skylanders: Giants, you gain access to the Dreadyacht, an airship that serves as a hub world for all of your activities in story mode. Here, you can buy new moves and equipment for your characters, take on side missions, play mini-games and keep the story moving to the game’s next levels. You can also access all of the game’s previous missions through the pause menu.
There are plenty of different activities to keep young gamers entertained, including heroic challenges (one for each new Skylanders figure that you introduce to the game file), Arena Battles (unlockable as the game progresses, with toys expected to be released that will unlock further areas, I believe.), a card game (which plays like Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad) and all of the challenges in the game’s levels.
With all that there is to do in this game, nothing seems overly complex or complicated, which is especially good for a children’s game. There are some challenging elements, especially in the arena battles, but nothing that a kid wouldn’t be able to figure out with a little more experience in the game.
What will keep kids playing is how much there is to find in each of the game’s levels. Myself and my fiance Shayla are both in our late 20s and we still didn’t find everything in level one, even though we visited that stage four times by the time this review was written.
I mention that both my fiance and myself were playing Skylanders: Giants because of another of the game’s killer apps, multiplayer. It should go without saying that most games to be released in this generation should include some form of multiplayer, but how many story-driven adventure games are there where you can actually have both players gaming on-screen at the same time? Off the top of my head, I can think of the New Super Mario Bros games as places where you can actually do this in modern gaming.
While this can create some annoying moments with the game’s tether system, which is in place to keep both players within a certain distance of each other, it’s never too frustrating to make the gameplay experience less entertaining. The only areas where multiplayer is not available is the heroic challenges and the card game during the actual missions. These modes are specifically designed to be player vs. computer, as the heroic challenges are designed to be played to a certain time limit and are a test of the player’s abilities, while the card game is designed to be one-on-one, so having two characters trying to win the card game over the computer wouldn’t work.
There is also a seperate set of gameplay options designed specifically for player vs player style gaming. There is an arena mode where one player can pit their Skylander against other players, which makes for loads of fun if you have friends collecting the figurines as well. There are other modes to compete against your friends in as well, such as Skygoals (outscore your opponent in a rugby-style game), Skygem Master (Collect five gems in a stage faster than your opponent can) or Ring Out (a Royal Rumble style battle, but with one-on-one gameplay.
My only issues with multiplayer is that only two players can play at a time (which makes sense, since the Portal of Power can only fit two giants on it at a time) and that there is no online multiplayer, so you can’t connect with other Skylanders fans around the world. However, I hear that online multiplayer is a feature that has been included in the Wii U version of Skylanders: Giants, utilizing the Nintendo Network feature. The fact that this option isn’t included in the XBox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions of the game is quite surprising though, given the numerous multiplayer games available for these systems.
As for overall complaints about the game itself, my only main issue is how Generation One Skylander figures are recognized by the game. You are allowed to use Generation One Skylanders toys with Skylanders: Giants, but they do not count towards how many Skylanders are registered to your game. Only new figures, giants or Generation two toys of original Skylanders, are included in that count.
From a gameplay element, this doesn’t affect much. To a collector of the toys however, this can come across as insulting. Imagine putting in the effort of collecting all of the season one Skylanders toys, only for those collectibles to not count towards this game’s records or to have these characters not able to unlock their respective heroic challenges in Giants. The best equivalent to that would be if you were allowed to transfer Pokemon from Pokemon Diamond or Pearl to the new Pokemon Black 2 or White 2 versions of the game, but that they did not count towards your Pokedex totals.
That element aside, you are still allowed to play Giants with the Generation One figures, which is great for people who have played Skylanders from the beginning. Overall, Skylanders: Giants is a great sequel and a welcome addition to the series. It has a child friendly story that rivals many afternoon cartoons and a solid cast of characters to keep you entertained as you make your way through the game’s levels.
For kids, you are definitely going to enjoy playing this game. For adults, be prepared to open your wallet if you are going to pick this game up for your kids for the holiday season.
Your initial investment in Skylanders: Giants is around $75-80 dollars, if this is your first foray into the series. That includes the game itself, the Portal of Power, two Skylanders figures and one Giant.
Every additional figurine is priced anywhere from 10-15 dollars, depending on whether you are picking up a single Skylander, a glow-in-the-dark figure or one of the hulking giants. You can also pick up figurine thre-packs, which prices around 25 dollars.
With a total of 48 characters available for this game and only three included with the game itself, that means there are 45 other figures available for purchase, which is going to cost you if you plan to collect every figure. It’s no wonder that Activision had reported over 30 million Skylander toys had been sold by March 31st of 2012.
That being said, how much money will you spend on toys for your kids on a regular basis throughout the year? And of those toys, how many offer the level of interactivity available with a Skylander? While the figurines themselves have no movable parts and are simply statues in real life, they gain a whole new layer of interactivity in-game and also have some online features available through the Skylanders website.
However deep kids (or those young at heart) dive into the Sky Lands, they are in for an entertaining adventure.
Overall score 4/5
Thanks goes out to Activision for providing GameNTrain with a review copy of Skylanders: Giants.