Skylanders is ‘the new thing.’ It’s a cultural phenomenon and, dare I say it, the new Pokémon – it’s definitely a ‘giant’ franchise. Activision recently released Skylanders: Giants, the sequel to the successful Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, and it’s bigger and better in almost every way than its predecessor.
Skylanders is a crossover toy / action adventure videogame where you select a physical toy character which is frozen in our world, but when you place the toy on the ‘Portal of Power,’ they come to life in their world. In this new game you embark on an all new adventure to prevent the evil Kaos from taking control of an ancient robot army and save Skylands!
Once Skylanders: Giants begins, you (the new portal master) are greeted by Master Eon. He explains about the world of Skylands and the history of the Giants, which is where we learn about the original Skylanders who fought against the tyrannical Arkeyans for the freedom of Skylands. An epic battle occurred as the Giants defeated the Arkeyan King and removed the source of his power, the Iron Fist of Arkus, in order to fully stop the Arkeyan Empire. As a form of sacrifice the Giants were swept from Skylands and have not been seen since… until a Giant was recovered by you the new Portal Master.
This new game in the series features the new giant characters together with some new and familiar faces. In total there are 40 characters to collect in the Skylanders series, excluding special edition variations. There are eight giants to collect, one for each of the elemental classes which consist of magic, fire, water, life, earth, air, tech and undead. Characters of the various elements are stronger in certain levels of the game giving you an advantage in that part of the world, but it’s not a requirement for you to be able to complete the chapter. Giants, however, are a game changer and allow you to easily smash through barricaded walls, but again are not required to complete a level, although they do give you an advantage. You can always use a normal character, for example, and with a few extra steps unlock a bomb to destroy the same barricade.
Of the 32 non-giant characters there are a few familiar faces, but people with a keen eye for detail will notice the characters do look different. They are what is referred to as a ‘series two’ character and have new skills, abilities and unlocks. There are also new ‘lightcore’ characters which light up once you place them on the Portal of Power. New special edition figurines have different abilities, too, while legendary figurines have higher armour and critical hit stats. The unique feature about all Skylanders characters is that all progression, experience, money and hats are saved onto each physical character, so you can take your characters to your friend’s house and not lose any experience you have already earned in the game. The other great feature is your characters can also be used on any platform Skylanders: Giants is available on, be it Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3 or even the 3DS.
Gameplay in Skylanders: Giants is a bit more difficult that the previous game – battles last longer and include more enemies to kill, for example. This definitely keeps you busier during chapters and makes it more entertaining. There are also heroic and arena challenges where you have to survive wave after wave of enemies to complete the objective. This is a great way to level up your Skylander as these missions can be performed between chapters.
Skylanders: Giants is shorter in length than Spyro’s Adventure, however, which had twenty-two chapters, while Giants only has sixteen. Overall, Giants does feel a lot more polished than its predecessor, as the graphics are better and the Skylanders world is more visually impressive. The game feels more refined, too, encouraging you to do a lot more during chapters.
Once you have earned money while playing Skylanders: Giants, you can go to a shop where a character called ‘Persephone’ will sell you all kind of things, like keys to solve puzzle locks, as well as hats and upgrades for your characters abilities, making them stronger and allowing you to level them up faster. There are also stores located in chapters where you can buy those much needed extras to help your character through the level. This is particularly great for the older characters from Spyro’s Adventure which by now have large reserves of money left over which you can immediately use in Giants to buy extra upgrades. This gives you even more reason to play Giants with old characters as well as the new Giants characters. The level cap for characters has also been raised from ten to level fifteen.
There are a lot more hats to collect, too, which give your characters extra skills like extra speed for slower giants, or extra armour that could help the normal characters. There are also extra treasures, collectables and artefacts to collect. Another new feature in Skylanders: Giants are the winged sapphires that you can collect which will give you a two percent discount in the store, while extra puzzles in the game will even make grown-ups think a little with a new gameplay feature, Skystones. This is a game where you try to fill a board with Skystones, the aim being to have more Skystones on the board than your opponent by the time the board is filled up. If you win, you will earn one of your opponent’s favourite stones.
There is still no jumping in the Xbox version of the game, which is a huge disappointment. In Spyro’s Adventures, the lack of a jump action made the game very linear and you had to rely on the level design to get you to higher or lower areas in the level. Activision and developer Toys For Bob should have solved this by now as it would have made for a new dimension and skill in the game. Giants is very much a sequence of events which isn’t a problem seeing that it’s aimed at kids, but to appeal to larger audiences it would make sense to add jumping. The irony is that the 3DS version of the game has jumping, adding a new level of difficulty to the game.
Skylanders: Giants is a step forward from the first version and is very fun to play. I do feel this game could grow up a bit more to cater more for players of all ages, though, and I think that as the target audience of this game matures so will the game, but we might have to wait a bit. In addition, there is currently only a two player co-operative option, and no online play or multiplayer. There is one-on-one PvP (player versus player) but this can become very boring after only a few matchers. I would definitely like to see four player co-op together with online play. Also, should they grow to 3v3 or 5v5 PvP, we could see an amazing online game born like the next League of Legends where teams compete with their Skylanders against each other (That’s an incredible idea! – Ed)
Skylanders: Giants is great for both adults and kids alike. It doesn’t ask for a lot of skill but still allows for some learning to be done before jumping into more difficult levels. Together with challenging puzzles, levelling up your characters, treasure and those magic hats to be found, this game has a similar level of entertainment compared to the LEGO franchise with the benefit of collecting the awesome Skylanders figurines.
Activision and Toys For Bob have improved the formula, while the addition of the Giants (as well as the skills they bring) and the number of old and new Skylanders one can collect bring endless fun to the game for both young and old. The co-operative option is great, too, acting as an enjoyable party game, while the figurines would make great Christmas stocking fillers especially for those who have already invested in Skylanders.