Toy Fair 2012: Skylanders Giants: Activision’s Other (Not-So) Secret Weapon For 2012

Despite all the skeptics (professional and otherwise) out there predicting all sorts of astronomical failure for the product, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures was a massive hit for Activision and veteran developer Toys for Bob across multiple platforms, transforming the gaming landscape with a crossover product that combined a solid, fun video game with collectible figures. At Toy Fair 2012, the next wave of Skylanders was rolled out to what looked like pretty positive overall response. Skylanders: Giants introduces eight new characters into the fold including four huge elemental hulks that change up the gameplay considerably.  If last year’s success caught Activision off guard, this year they’re loaded for bear and ready to rake in even more of your gaming and collecting dollars…

A brief (and rather nice looking) Wii demo of the new game was being shown off that featured part of a stage that put one of the new Giants to good use. Just like the original, you’ll use the portal base to pop a character onto and he or she will show us as your playable onscreen avatar. While you can play the new game as any Skylander (the game will remember your character stats from Spyro’s Adventure), the enemies in the demo stage were tougher and more numerous. At any time, you can remove the old character and drop a Giant into the fray and immediately, the game changes. Enemies that were fiercely attacking will back off as your big guy can crush or stomp them with little effort. smaller objects such as crates and barrels that took multiple hits to break now shatter merely by your Giant’s footsteps or a single blow. Your brute can also lift and throw boulders a regular Skylander can’t even budge, which is great for taking out enemy generators or overly cranky sub-bosses.

Additionally, your Giant can smash through shortcuts a normal Skylander can’t in order to locate clues or treasures socked away.. One of the coolest moments in the demo came at the end when the Giant grabbed a thick chain and pulled a humongous floating island right into the smaller area he was on in order to create a shortcut. A regular Skylander would have had to take a balloon flight that required a bit more work getting to through tougher enemies plus the extra flight time. As a gamer in a sea of non-gamers, it was pretty funny seeing buyers and other folks at the show who didn’t quite grasp the whole Skylanders concept get an education and end up being totally floored by the odd mixture on display. I missed out on reviewing the original game because I didn’t ask for a set from Activision’s PR and when I went to track one down later, I couldn’t find it in stock at the shops I poked around in.

New this year are lighted bases for the figures and yes, there will be a few newer versions of some of last year’s cast with the new lighting technology.  Activision is going to be rolling out Giants in at least two formats this fall: a complete set with the new game, base unit, a Giant and two new figures for $69.99 or for those who already have the base unit, the game and figures for $59.99. As the Giants are much larger than the standard Skylanders, no pricing has been revealed on them just yet or how they’ll be sold outside of the two units mentioned above. Show attendees who stayed through the demo got a super treat in the form of a Toy Fair exclusive Skylanders Cynder figure. Like a bunch of game swag I’ve gotten over the years, mine is sitting quietly on top of a stack of Nintendo DS games in the home office, but I understand a few given out at the show have turned up on eBay (eek!) and other collector’s sites where they’re fetching a small fortune. Ah well, there’s nothing like good ol’ capitalism, I guess…

As for the future of the franchise, as long as Activision, Toys For Bob and whatever other developers they’ll have working on Skylanders can continue to come up with new characters and worlds, the series will continue onwards and upwards. My only suggestion would be to perhaps add some movement to the figures or even better, expand the technology to where it’s something like what Bandai did back on the original PlayStation in Japan with the infamous ZXE-D Legend of Plasmatlite, a fighting game that used movable robot models with interchangeable body parts that plugged into the console. Granted, making smaller toys with removable parts that use the portal tech in Skylanders presents a huge set of challenges (and no doubt will draw some complaints from parents already forking out a premium for multiple figure packs). Nevertheless, you can’t stop the money or idea trains once they get rolling, so expect to be seeing a lot more of Skylanders in the future or even better, more Activision titles that use this technology in even better ways.

Heh, of course, a Call of Duty: Skylanders game would be the wild and crazy eventual mash-up out of all this, as it combines two huge cash cows into something that sounds crazy beyond belief, but just might work for some folks out there. I wouldn’t hold my breath for this, however…

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