The Skylanders franchise is a family game that is dear to my heart, given that it is a game I can sit and play with both of my children. We also love collecting Skylander figures. Sure, there are other family games out there, but last year’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure continues to get regular playtime in our household. When Activision announced a sequel was in development I have to say that my kids and I were excited as it meant more time gaming together. Not to mention the addition of the new Skylanders Giants. Well, I have finally had a chance to play the final retail version, with my kids of course, and it looks like families have yet another reason to game together again.
Skylanders Giants story takes place a short time after the end of Spyro’s Adventure. Kaos has been defeated and banished to Earth. The story picks up with Kaos on a shelf of a toy store. He becomes “unfrozen” and finds a portal to take him back to the world of Skylands. Bent on revenge for the events of the first game, Kaos plans to take control of a mysterious ancient species that the ancient Skylander Giants fought eons ago. Of course you are once again “The Portal Master” who has the ability to summon and use the Skylanders, as well the newly resurrected giants, to stop Kaos’ dastardly plan.
The biggest additions to this newest Skylanders game are the new giants. These characters are around two times the size of the regular sized Skylanders. They are also much more powerful, but they are also much slower and have their own set of disadvantages. What is really neat about them is that they add a new gameplay element as you can do certain things with the giants that cannot be done with any other regular sized Skylander. For example, the giants can pick up big boulders and smash them or they can crash through the ground at various points in some of the levels. There are a total of eight new Skylander giants, one for each element; however, you don’t need all the giants to complete the game, and it will be your choice whether or not you want to purchase all eight.
Speaking of figures, including the new giants there are a total of 48 new figures this time around; however, not all are new. When you look at the back of the box, there are a total of 12 brand new figures, 28 original figures reposed (called Series 2), and then the eight new giants. Within the non-giant figures are eight Lightcore figures (original and new characters) that light up when on the Portal. As with fellow Editor Trevor H, I am a bit disappointed that they “recycled” so many old characters from the first game. I would have been much happier to see a majority of new characters. It should also be noted that Series 2 figures do work with Spyro’s Adventure, but all the other characters made specifically for the new game, including the Lightcore figures and the Giants, do not work.
For those who are concerned that they have to buy all new figures to play you don’t. Skylanders Giants can be played with your original figures from Spyro’s Adventure. As an added bonus, if you have leveled up any original figures from the first game, the level cap has been raised to 15, both for the original figures and the ones that have been released for the new game. Of course a Skylander giant is included in the Starter Pack along with a Portal, a series 2 figure, and an all-new Skylander named Jet-Vac. If you already have a portal from the original game you can buy the Portal Owners Pack, which has the game and a Skylander Giant only. Regardless, the choice is yours whether or not you want to buy a few, a lot, or none of the new figures that have just been released. Kudos to Activision for making the choice optional too, as I am sure many parents out there were worried they would have to buy new figures all over again.
Just like last year’s game, the figures are all cross platform compatible too, so if you are playing the Wii game, as me and my kids did for this review, you can take your figures over to your friends house, and if they have the PS3 or Xbox 360 version, you can pop your figure on their portal and all the stats and collectibles you have earned at home will be available in your friends game. A pretty neat feature and something I think is a HUGE selling point for this franchise.
The actual gameplay in Spyro’s Adventure is very similar to the original game, but there are some additions that make it even better. In regards to the similarities, you once again go through the game’s numerous chapters fighting enemies, solving puzzles, collecting items, and eventually fighting a boss character at the end. The bosses are quite unique. One such boss was a robot with drills for his arms and hands, and when he spoke he did it by singing with words that rhyme. Collecting stuff also makes a return including in-game currency, treasures, soul gems, keys, luck o’ tron wheels, and hats to name a few. The hats were a big thing last year and they are just as big this year, adding bonuses to characters who wear them, such as increased armour, quicker speed, or more critical damage to name a few.
Skylanders Giants has multiple skill settings. Spyro’s Adventure only had one skill setting and many fans complained about his fact. Now there are three skill settings allowing for what equates to easy, medium and hard. If it is any gauge, my six-year-old son is playing the game on medium and he can definitely hold his own against the AI, but he does have issues now and then.
One of the bigger additions to the gameplay is the new Skystones game. It is a strategy card game where you try to take control of your opponent’s cards. Cards have a numerical value on each edge of your card, and if your value is larger when it lines up with your opponents card, then their card becomes yours. You can take over multiple cards at one time too. While it is a simple game it is not always a cakewalk. My son was able to do it, but on occasion he had to try a couple of times before being successful.
There are 16 chapters in Skylanders Giants and they are quite long in length. You don’t need to use all the different Skylanders that exist to play the game and you can play with only those you wish, from using the brute force of a giant to using the speed and magic powers of the smaller sized regular Skylanders. You make what you want out of the game. You can race through and just finish the each level’s main objectives or you can search the level high and low for all the collectibles and special items as well as complete secondary objectives. You earn up to three stars for your completion rating and the less you do the lower the final rating.
Also new this time around is that during your adventure you unlock new battle arenas where you can earn experience for your character as well as in game currency. It is like a survival mode so to speak where you battle wave after wave of enemies and these waves increase in difficulty the longer you last. You will also find that the rules change, such as having to defeat enemies to gain health to survive or keep a stack of presents from getting destroyed. There are seven challenges per arena. A great little diversion and something fans should enjoy.
Of course Skylanders Giants allows for up to two players to play at the same time. Even though the new giants are quite larger then the regular Skylanders, two giants can fit on one portal at the same time, so feel free to use two giants or one giant and one regular Skylander for your multiplayer session. Some people have complained about the lack of online support in the past, but Toys for Bob has clearly stated they know who there target audience is and they are mindful of having young kids online. In the end I don’t have an issue with the lack of online play given that family members can sit in the same room and play together, and that makes the multiplayer all the more enjoyable.
Along with cooperative multiplayer, Battle Mode also returns. This allows for up to two players to enter an arena for one on one combat. My kids have always enjoyed this mode, as they compete for Skylander supremacy. I wish that there could have been more players in the arena at once, however the portal only allows for two figures at the same time, so I understand the limit. Regardless it is fun and a nice distraction.
Visually, the Wii version looks pretty good. Granted, the Wii is the lesser of the current generation of consoles so it does lack the HD look. I plugged in Spyro’s Adventure and checked out Cynder (Series 2) in the game. After running around and checking out the landscape I then put in Skylanders Giants and I was immediately hit with how different things looked. The visuals were cleaner, smoother, and better looking. It was very evident on Cynder herself as she was less jaggy and seemed to move around with more grace. The overall environments seem ‘punchier’ and more vibrant and detailed too, and this comes from someone who thought that Spyro’s Adventure’s graphics weren’t half bad. Cutscenes are also better quality and you can tell that Toys for Bob spent more time creating them as they have a much more professional look this time around. I didn’t find too many technical issues either, as clipping and slowdown was not prevalent during my play through. Of course my kids just loved the look and at the end of the day that is what is important as the game geared more for kids, but bigger kids and adults alike won’t find anything disappointing here. If I had one complaint it is that the regular sized Skylanders can get lost on screen as the larger ones occasional block the view of the player using the smaller ones. More then a few times my daughter asked my son to move the giant he was using, as he was so big that she could not see her own smaller Skylander on screen.
In regards to the game’s audio, again I found myself somewhat impressed by the improvements. First off is the game’s voice acting. Although it is by no means an academy award type of scale, it is pretty well done. There is a nice selection of voice actors, including some very well recognized ones such as Bobcat Goldthwait, George Takei, Kevin Sorbo, and Nolan North to name a few. Along with other lesser-known voice cast members the dialog is pretty impressive and there is some good humour too. I for one noted there is a lot more voice chatter during gameplay from both new and old characters alike. It brings the Skylanders and whole game to life. The soundtrack is once again produced by Hans Zimmer, who is known for producing music for such big name movies as The Lion King, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Simpsons Movie and The Dark Knight Rises to name just a few. In Skylanders Giants the music it works very well, and blends in with everything so it is not overbearing while at the same time letting you know it’s there. Finally, the game’s sound effects wrap up a solid sound package. From the sound of rivers running, characters fighting, using their special or magic powers, to the sound of enemy’s grunting and environmental items exploding leaving orbs, jewels, or anything else that might have been inside, all is well characterized by their representative noises.
What really struck me as I wrap up this review was how much fun my kids and I had playing Skylanders Giants together. Toys for Bob has taken the Skylanders franchise and pushed it forward just enough while making sure fans of the original don’t feel that it strays too much away from what first made the original so enjoyable in the first place. It was also a smart decision to make the first batch of figures compatible for the new game too. With improved visuals, solid sound, and some very addictive gameplay that has just the right number of changes when compared to the original, kids and adults alike will fully enjoy this sequel.