Genre: Adventure Developer: Publisher: Classification: G Release Date: 17th Oct 2012 Platforms:
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It might not say it on the box, but Skylanders are at least 7% actual magic.
It's the only logical reason for why this game has dominated consoles and toy shelves since it released in late 2011. If you aren't familiar with Skylanders that's okay, I'll break it down for you. Skylanders are colourful characters with their own unique abilities and personalities. Placing your Skylander figure on a device connected to your console - "the Portal" - causes the corresponding character to appear on your TV, not unlike Mike TeaVee. Like I said, magic.
That moment where you first activate a Skylander and witness a three inch plastic figure come to life brings a twinkle to the eye of even the most most cynical gamer.
The first Skylanders game Spyro’s Adventure was not only a commercial success but also a fantastic adventure game made with love, humour and attention to detail commonly associated with classic console adventure/platforming games like Banjo Kazooie. Much like the Rare adventure/platformers of old, the core market for Skylanders is kids.
Given the video game industry's track record for shoveling out annual sequels just in time for Christmas, will Giants be nothing more than a roster update or can developers Toys For Bob take this opportunity to create further distance between themselves and the rest of the market?
The plot for Skylanders Giants focuses on the history of Skylands itself, providing players with their first look at the long dead Arkeyan empire and the ancestors of the Skylanders, the Giants. The new Giants are roughly three times the size of normal Skylanders and are able to interact with the environment to perform feats of strength including destroying walls, hurling boulders and pulling entire islands across the sky. Toys for Bob has ensured the abilities of the Giants are finely balanced with the other Skylanders to guarantee players have incentive to utilise the full range of characters.
Toys For Bob has created a new storyline for Giants that is a clear departure from Skylanders: Spyros Adventure. Not content to add a swag of new figures and a handful of new abilities (which you'd argue the developers could have done and the game would have sold just as well), Toys for Bob has written something more akin to a classic road movie for Giants that bucks the formula of homogeneous level design to be its own beast.
Giants will send the player on a quest for a forgotten treasure before the evil villain Kaos can claim it. Along the way you'll reconnect with some fantastic characters featured in Spyro’s Adventure including Flynn (voiced superbly by the dulcet tones of Patrick "Puddy" Warburton) and his love interest Cali. Thankfully the supporting cast play much more of a prominent role in the narrative than they did in Spyros Adventures, serving as the crew on Flynn's flying ship that is your hub world and transportation between different chapters in the game.
What really separates Giants from Spyro's Adventure is the attention to detail in the character design of the Skylanders themselves. Each new character has been charged with an individual personality that was lacking in the first game. Small touches like these really bring your Skylanders to life in Giants.
Toys For Bob has written a ton of dialogue for each Skylanders as they will use different phrases depending on their new abilities and the hat they are wearing. It keeps it feeling fresh and is the attention to detail that made me fall in love with Skylanders in the first place.
In Giants all my existing Skylanders now have their own dialogue. Special mentions for writing should go to Drobot who sounds like Davros from Doctor Who and newcomer Giant Crusher who looks like the big brother of Prism Break and sounds like a mixture of Marvel's Thing and High Tower from Police Academy. There is more than a healthy dollop of vintage catch phrases aimed squarely at children of the 1980s that are just different enough to avoid copyright issues. The only thing better than a Skylander cracking wise is one that is mimicking catch phrases from 80s wrestling and action movies. .
At points during the game I felt more attached to specific characters due to their charming quirks and verbal quips - quite a significant change from the way I played Spyro’s Adventure considering what should be driving my decision to swap out my figures is the temptation of unlocking a new ability on my Skylanders games upgrade path.
I won't go into the 45+ new figures available in Giants, but you can get by with a combination of season one figures and some of the new season two figures. The good news is any currency left on those season one figures can be spent in the new in game store, managed by Skylands own version of Tom Nook, Auric. Players can purchase hats, battle arenas for multiplayer mode, keys to bypass difficult lock puzzles and in game items that affect the chance to find better items.
Aside from the comprehensive adventure mode (which is substantially longer than that of Spyro’s Adventure) players will unlock new stores stores and repeatable activities during the adventure mode that are accessible on Flynn's ship between chapters.
You'll also unlock battle arenas where players earn experience and in game currency by defeating waves of enemies of increasing difficulty with different stipulations including environmental hazards such as flame pits. Battle arenas are a great way to test out new abilities and to earn experience and currency without leaving adventure mode.
Building on the upgrade system from Spyro’s Adventure, players can spend in game currency to upgrade their figures and buy new abilities. The level cap has been increased from 10 to 15 and once a base level of abilities have been purchased players can choose between divergent upgrade paths for their Skylanders (one path typically being offensive - the other defensive). Season two figures have exclusive access to new upgrade abilities not available to season one figures, providing players with an incentive to buy the new range even if they already own the character.
Character models for Skylanders returning as season two figures have been reposed and the level of detail in the new figures is substantially improved. These are some great looking toys.
One important thing for players bringing in their season one figures to Giants - remember to associate each of your season one figs with the Giants game via Ownership settings If you don't, they will only be listed as visiting - meaning you won’t get the stat bonuses owning multiple figures of the same element. Once the ownership of your season one fig is transferred to your Giants save game they will be included in your collection - season two figures will be highlighted in orange outlines and season one figures with green outlines.
Giants also recognised my level figures and item figures from Spyro’s Adventure - top marks for backwards and forward compatibility, Toys for Bob. It's a small detraction, but on this note I didn't encounter any information on this in the menus - it would have been helpful to make all of this clear within the game itself.
The bulk of the Skylanders fan base is decidedly younger than me and for them the multiplayer modes are where it is at for Skylanders. Giants improves on the existing formula with the return of Skygoal (think Speedball), standard 1 v 1 death matches as well as two new modes, Skygem Master (a collect-a-thon with the winner reaching the goal of collecting five gems) and new Ring Out.
Ring Out is the highlight where players must deal sufficient damage to their opponent to knock them out of the arena, forcing them across a yellow line that I can only hope is a direct reference to Christopher Lambert’s Fortress. Ring out makes for some frantic play and is a nice addition to a solid multiplayer offering.
Giants’ multiplayer is at its best when players have their own favourite figures and understand the nuances of play. The distinct move sets and abilities of each Skylander provides a deep roster for a 3D brawler not seen since the heyday of Powerstone. The wins and losses in mulitplayer modes also contribute towards the leveling of your figures, as characters can be levelled up and accumulate currency for wins - a great way to level up new figures outside of playing Adventure mode.
Even big kids will find something to like here. If it does make you feel better to dismiss Skylanders as a kids game, do so in the knowledge that macho bravado is all that is keeping you from experiencing a fantastic adventure game with solid combat, character progression, good puzzles and dungeon crawling.
Skylanders is an important game for many reasons. It signifies the marriage of video games and figurines - something that I desperately wish I could go back in time and tell my five year old self that his wishes will come true in the future. It shows us that a publisher can resist the temptation to extort an addicted youth for money - demonstrated by the addition of the forwards and backwards compatibility of their charming collectibles.
Most importantly, what Skylanders Giants achieves is a superior sequel to a hugely successful first game and demonstrates that developers and publishers are capable of innovation in a period where all we've come to expect are carbon copy sequels.