Developer: Toys for Bob
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
Score: B+ (85%)
As a sequel to the last year’s hugely successful Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, Skylanders Giants does exactly what it should and well enough that the kids it’s aimed squarely at won’t even notice its handful of mostly minor flaws. The goal of the game is to get kids to bug the heck out of their parental units to buy more Skylanders figures to use on that now USB-connected Portal of Power and the gameplay is fun enough to get you to plunk down those hard-earned dollars even if you don’t have kids and happen to be interested in trying this one out just for fun. Despite the still sluggish economy in some sectors, Activision and Toys for Bob have more of a cash calf to the original’s cash cow status that’s well worth a play.
Feel free to pay not so much attention to the story, as it’s pretty generic stuff and yes indeed, another excuse to get your wallet popping out of your pocket along with a device with a notepad function (or an actual notepad and pen) so you can keep track of those new figures as they pop up in brief clips as the game progresses. If you do decide to check out the cinemas and not skip through the dialog sections, you’ll get a laugh every so often thanks to some fun writing that may or may not go over the heads of the kids the game is targeted to. Visually, the game is a bit more detailed here and there, but retains that cartoony 3D look from the first game across all the platforms it’s on.
The gameplay, however is great action-heavy running about and destroying stuff, beating up on baddies and collecting all sorts of goodies. As with the first game, swapping out figures is simple and the new characters are quite fun to use. Those new Giants are slower, but pack a mighty punch and can defeat enemies and bosses much quicker than the regular Skylanders. The game’s tutorial prompts you at some point when to swap in a new character, but it’s really up to you right from the beginning when it comes to who you want to play as.You won’t find certain secrets unless you experiment and thankfully, the game keeps track of what you’ve found after you complete a stage, meaning you won’t merely blow through the game fast and sock the whole set away in a closet or under the TV for a while (if at all if you end up getting hooked into buying new figures).
With its quick pace and mostly straightforward level design, the game almost feels like a light action/RPG and makes me wonder what Activison could do with a more adult license and the same “gotta have ’em all” collection mania Skylanders provides. I’m gathering they don’t want to go through a Guitar Hero phase with the idea and milk it until the market is over saturated with Skylanders-styled games in a few genres (imagine a Call of Duty game with figures or even better, a Call of the Dead or CoD Zombies-themed action game? Cha-ching!). Of course, I’m sure the brainpower behind the franchise has considered this stuff already – we’ll all just have to see if they make it so over time before the craze eventually dies down.
While you get three new figures in the Starter Kit, you can use your older figures here and they get a new level cap of 15, making the chances to get them even more powerful a must if you have a box or three of them lying around. Of course, you can’t use the new Giants characters in the older games, but this isn’t really going to be a problem for kids if you explain to them the difference between the original game and this sequel. Granted, I’m betting a lot of kids are savvy to the “newer is better!” vibe Giants gets out at every turn, so it should be an issue at all, really. The new heroes also get a nice and wild assortment of hats to don that grant various stat boosts, so yes, that’s even more stuff to collect in-game. Again, it feels closer to a simplified action/RPG and I’m gathering will be expanded should there be a third game. I’m sure Activision is thinking hard about how to keep Skylanders on top with players as they grow into their early teens as well as how to capture new younger players.
There are some occasional glitches that can force you to replay a stage from a checkpoint or from the beginning, but I didn’t encounter anything that wrecked a save file or required a complete game restart. Levels could be a bit more open, as there are some lovely backgrounds or other areas that would be quite nice to explore than can’t be reached no matter which character you select. Perhaps we’ll see a more open world adventure next time, as it would be great to just cut loose and explore maps without borders for fun and loot. It might even be cool to have some sort of ability to build or own a home base where all the Skylanders you own can hang out as playable characters based on a save file. As always, no charge for the ideas – but I should stop giving them all away…
Oddly enough, Giants seems shorter than the first game, but in fact, there are a number of secret areas only accessible by certain new characters and their new powers, so you won’t nab every goodie unless you do some real world shopping. Of course, some retailers such as Toys ‘R Us have exclusive Giants figures you can’t nab elsewhere (save for on eBay, Craigslist or other online trading grounds at slightly to very inflated prices), but that’s all part of the draw. Amusingly enough, I’d planned a more in-depth review of the game proper, but it’s a case where fans don’t really need to know what’s what because they’re already on the train and those new to the series will just want to know if it’s worth the money to snap up a Starter Kit. The answer is a definite yes as long as you know you’ll more likely than not be making return trips to your favorite retailer to buy a new figure pack. Once you’re hooked on Skylanders, it’s kind of hard to stop – and of course, that’s just how Activision wants it.