Developer: Toys for Bob / Publisher: Activision / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: E10+ [Cartoon Violence]
Last year’s release of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure surprised everyone with its ridiculously successful fusion of toys and video games. With this success it was inevitable that Activision would make a sequel, and here we are one year later with Skylanders: Giants. Taking the best parts of the first game and expanding them to new heights, Giants is everything you’d want in a sequel and is possibly this generation’s Pokemon.
The core gameplay of Giants carries over from Spyro’s Adventure: you control one of dozens of warriors in a hack-and-slash romp through 16 stages. As you fight enemies like tiny Chompies, arrow flinging archers, and huge singing robots you’ll gain experience to level up your Skylander, gold to buy items and powerups, and discover over 80 different hats to don and improve your skills. The RPG elements give the game a Diablo-esque feel, allowing for addictive gameplay that is accessible enough for newcomers yet deep enough for the hardcore. Each stage has hidden treasure chests, gold, items, and other goodies to find that will likely take multiple playthroughs to uncover. The only fault to the gameplay that carries over from the first game is the inability to jump. Why Skylanders cannot jump is a question that haunts me to this day, but alas there are plenty of bouncy pads spread throughout the world to utilize.
While the basis of gameplay hasn’t changed, there are a handful of new additions that make this game stand out from its predecessor, not the least of which being the inclusion of Giants. These ancient Skylanders were thought to be lost to time, but have reemerged to help protect Skylands from a new threat. There are eight total Giants, one for each element, and they lend their unique skills to your team that regular Skylanders can only dream of. For example, Giants start with higher base stats than a regular Skylander, they can break walls that would be otherwise unbreakable, and they can perform feats of strength like pulling a massive chain to bring a floating island closer, thus allowing more progress, or crash though floors to reveal hidden areas to explore. Much like how the game has sections that only a Skylander of a specific elemental type can access, there are areas only Giants to reach.
The other changes start with character progression. Now each Skylander can be raised to level 15, five more levels than the original game’s 10. There’s dozens of new hats to collect, as well as the brand new Luck-O-Tron which grants boosts to strength, health, and treasure drops to name a few. A new card game minigame called Skystones is introduced, and it feels a lot like Final Fantasy IX’s Tetra Master. In the minigames you place a card on a 3×3 grid, and so long as your card has more arrows on one side than your opponents, you claim their card as well. It’s a fun diversion that adds some depth to the game world. Heroic challenges make a return appearance, giving players an opportunity to increase their stats permanently by completing special missions. A new arena mode tasks you with defeating an onslaught of enemies under specific conditions, like not taking any damage or only defeating enemies by pushing them off the stage. In short there is a ton to do in this game, and with each activity giving you more gold, experience, or further enhancements, you always feel like you’re accomplishing something no matter what you’re doing. All of these modes and an unlockable nightmare difficulty setting after completing the game means you’ll be playing Giants for a long, long time.
A big draw to the first game was the physical Skylander toys, and on top of the eight new Giant figures to collect, there’s also eight brand new Skylanders exclusive to Giants. Add on to those 16 new toys another 24 toys that are special re-releases of Skylanders from the original series with a new pose and new in-game abilities, and the amount of toys you’re going to see at GameStop has grown exponentially. Thankfully, all toys from the first game are compatible with Giants, and since your character’s progress saves to the toy itself, you can hop right into Giants with your Skylanders from the first game. Skylanders: Giants gives everything you’d want from a sequel: more gameplay options, more characters, and a heck of a lot to do.
The only fault the game may have for some players will be money. The Starter Pack that comes with the game, Portal of Power, has a few Skylander figures to play with, but additional figures will cost anywhere between $10 to $15 a piece. If you want to get the most out of the game you’ll need at least one of each of the eight elemental types, so expect to pay a lot more than the initial package’s price if you want to explore the entirety of the game.
Tackling each of the game modes can be done solo or with a friend, and playing as a pair is just as fun as it was in the first Skylanders. Drop in/drop out multiplayer means you can have a buddy join or leave whenever you wish, not having to halt or stop your session in progress. Just like last time you can only have two Skylanders on the Port of Power (the device you use to transfer your physical toy’s data to the game) at any given time. And yes, you can use two Giants at once. Outside of the aforementioned game modes, there’s also battle mode which has up to four players battling it out against one another to see who is strongest. Unfortunately this mode doesn’t have the same appeal as the rest of the game, namely because there’s no real point in playing it unless you want to see who would win in a fight, and a more fleshed out versus mode would have been appreciated. Also lacking is any form of online support. Skylanders would benefit tremendously with Xbox Live integration, but as it stands only local multiplayer is available.
As with the first game, Giants features a rich color palette that’s used to create vibrant worlds. I was impressed with the amount of detail that went into every stage and character. Each world is brightly colored and different from the last. One stage has you navigating through a haunted carnival with werewolf employees while another has you exploring a town inhabited by wooden dolls. Each Skylander looks great as well, with lots of color and variety. Small touches make the game feel polished, like water dripping from your characters blaster after use, or smoke rising from your flame sword. As their names suggest, the Giants are noticeably larger than their standard allies, giving credence to their increased damage dealing capabilities. Giants looks fantastic every way you look at it.
Skylanders: Giants sounds as good as it looks, sporting a great soundtrack befitting of each moment you come across. The music is cheery and joyful while exploring the lush forests and rivers in the first few chapters, and it shifts slowly towards a more dire tone with the ensuing chapters, culminating in an epic fanfare for the final chapter. Character voices are also well done, with many voice actors from the first game reprising their roles in this game. Patrick Warburton does an excellent job in the role of the dimwitted-yet-fearless Captain Flynn, while Richard Horvitz’ Kaos also stands out as a particularly well voiced character.
The Skylanders themselves also ramble off a few lines while fighting. Although it is fine to hear Spyro say “every bit helps” each time you collect a treasure, it gets on your nerves rather quickly. But that is just a small scuff to an otherwise fantastic sounding game.
Skylanders: Giants takes everything that made the first Skylanders a success and grows upon it. With a brand new story, more game modes, extra levels to gain for your old and new toys, and enough content and replay value to keep you entertained for weeks, Giants is an easy recommendation to any gamer looking for a fun and approachable RPG. It might be easy to pass this one off as a kid’s game, but you’d be missing out on one of the better co-op RPGs this year.
+ All your old Skylander toys are compatible with this game
- Purchasing extra figurines can be a pricy hobby
+ Tons of modes and extras to keep you entertained well after the credits roll
8.5 / 10