Skylanders: Giants Review

Skylanders fever is back, baby! Get ready for round 2 of the multimillion-dollar “fad” that shook up the gaming community in ways that haven’t been felt since the original Pokémon games infected children and their parents back in the 90s. This means more figures to collect and less money in your wallet. Oh yeah, Skylander fever, baby!

Skylanders: Giants picks up right after where Spyro’s Adventure left off, with the evil Kaos stuck on earth after his previous plans fell through. It’s as generic of a “bad guy returns” story as you can get. Granted, the story never was Skylanders strong suit, but at least the original managed to remain coherent throughout. The story of Skylanders: Giants often contradicts itself and makes the player question the writer’s toxicity level when the story tries to get serious. I knew Kaos ended up on earth after the end of Spyro’s Adventure, but why is he a toy? Wait, now he’s not a toy. Why are the other Skylanders there? Why are they toys? I like that they are going with the whole “toys coming to life” angle, since that’s basically the premise of Skylanders, but it would have been nice if they did a better job explaining just what the hell is going on. To be fair, it is a kid’s game and it’s unfair of me to expect the writers to write a decent story that appeals to both child and adult.

Chill doing her thing.
You know you want him.

Luckily for us adults, Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Seinfeld) reprises his role as Captain Flynn, the conceited poon hound that managed to steal my heart the moment he first opened his mouth in Spyro’s Adventure. With him, most of the original cast returns, although some just make a brief cameo. Persephone (the upgrade fairy lady) now has a voice of her own, instead of the unknown and annoying dialect she spoke in the first game. Cali is just as useless as ever, simply filling in, as a “playing hard to get” love interest that “don’t need any man” for Flynn. It would be nice to see their relationship actually go someplace.

Flynn’s ship plays a huge role in Skylanders: Giants, serving as both a hub world and a way of transportation. I have to say, an upgradable ship that’s constantly on the move is much more appealing than a stationary island. It’s the perfect size to dick around in between levels. As you progress through the game, more friendly faces will join you on Flynn’s ship and offer special services, such as upgrades, card games and arena matches. Even some enemies end up joining your crew. When you beat Brock in an arena area, you unlock his arena fights from the ship. Beat a card-playing pirate at his own game and then you can brush up on your card skills anytime you feel the need to. Little additions like these go a long way and you can find yourself lost in the amount of fun on the ship after levels.

Legendary Bouncer giving the bad guys the finger.

Skylanders: Giants (3DS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 [Reviewed])
Developer: Toys For Bob (Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360) / n-Space (3DS)
Publisher: Activision
Release: October 21, 2012 (3DS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360) / November 18, 2012 (Wii U)
MSRP: $74.99 (Starter Kit) / $59.99 (Portal Owner Pack)
[Buy Now]

The gameplay of Skylanders: Giants remains the same. It plays like a top-down dungeon crawler with puzzles and platforming segments. Within each level there are hundreds of  gold pieces to be collected, giving players a valid excuse to bust open every breakable pot they find. Although some Skylanders are able to hover, there’s no dedicated jump button. If you can’t get up a ledge, you have to find a button or switch to lower something down to compensate for your short stature. Of course, one would figure that the newly added Giants would be able to step up and help the Skylanders out, but that’s often not the case. They can’t jump either. In fact, they feel almost useless compared to the regular-sized Skylanders. Giants move slow, too slow to properly enjoy. On top of that, they collect XP at a slower rate. With the exception of having to open a few areas, they aren’t worth playing as. I found myself only swapping off my Skylander for a Giant when I had no choice but to. For something featured in the title, the Giants sure feel underutilized.

Several new collectables have been introduced, most notably the Winged Sapphires, which give the player discounts on upgrades purchased from Persephone. All your favorite collectables and secrets from Spyro’s Adventure make their triumphant return, keeping those completionists busy and upping the replay value of Skylanders: Giants. Each level has hidden soul gems, legendary treasure, hats, story scrolls, winged sapphires and luck-o-tron wheels to hunt down and find. Of course, not everyone will be able to access all of the hidden areas if they don’t have own a full set of elemental Skylanders and their Giant counterparts. This is the part where you reach into your wallet and put your disposable income to use. Given the rarity of some Skylanders, you might find yourself paying more than double their cost on Amazon or simply giving up when you can’t easily find them at the stores closest to you.

Eruptor erupting his fluids all over some one-eyed goons.

To upgrade items, you need coins. Sadly, coins remain exclusive to the Skylander whom collected them. It’s bad enough having to grind XP for each addition to your Skylander collection, but having to collect money for each of their upgrades as well really makes the grind that much more intolerable. A dedicated bank that houses the earnings of each Skylander really would be a welcome addition to the game.

Skystones, a new card (or stone) based mini game manages to break up the flow of Skylanders by making players participate in a duel of sorts to unlock new areas. The game is almost played like a fusion of checkers and tic tac toe. Skystones is played by placing stones with arrows on them on the play surface. The arrows serve as a form of attack. If your opponent has less arrows on the side of their card that your stone’s arrows will be touching, their stone will turn into yours. Sound compacted? It’s really not. The player with the most stones at the end of a match wins. Some boards have block squares, where no stones can be placed on them, making it ideal to put your weaker cards exposed areas near them. There’s also Elemental Squares, which turn Skystones into blocks if they aren’t of the specified element. There’s some strategy involved and you won’t get very far without a decent deck, but it’s pretty boring to play.

Having to constantly swap Skylanders throughout each level brings on a level of aggravation I haven’t felt since playing some of the Wii’s gimmickiest peripheral-based titles. This could easily be solved if it was possible to form a party of Skylanders and swap between them on the fly. This would make sense and solve a lot of headaches. Since the portal can comfortably fit 2 Skylanders and a single Giant, I’m left wondering why this wasn’t a box-quoted feature.

Yeah, you didn’t want that money anyway.

Hardware:

As I’m sure you know, Skylanders: Giants isn’t just a game; it relies on physical hardware as well. I’ve noticed that some publications weren’t mentioning this fact and treating their reviews as a software only ordeal. I’m not. If Guitar Hero was a great game but the guitar peripheral fell apart during your solo, it would be unfair not to mention.

Contrary to popular belief, the portal included with Skylanders: Giants is not the same as the one included with Spyro’s Adventure. The basic usage is there, but the aesthetics are quite different. The plastic on the top of the Portal of Power feels slightly thinner, making it potentially easier to puncture if enough pressure is applied to it. Unlike the original, this Portal of Power does not have the green ring around the base. Where the original stayed lit up constantly, the new Portal turns itself off after a few seconds of inactivity. The sides of the portal are transparent, making the constantly changing colors shine through quite vividly.

Meet Tree Rex, the product of bad pun names.

The Giants figurines are twice the size of the normal Skylanders. At launch, there are eight of them, one for each element. Along with them, new and old regular-sized Skylanders were released. Series 2, as they are called, are updated versions of the original Skylanders. The cosmetics and their in-game skills are different than their Spyro’s Adventure counterparts. Another addition to the franchise is “lightcore” Skylanders, which feature special parts that light up when placed on the Portal of Power and they glow in the game.

All Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure figures are forward compatible with Skylanders: Giants, but not vice versa. Those that were remade for Giants feature all new skills and upgrades, making them the ideal Skylanders to play with. If you don’t want to upgrade to the new version of your favorite character, that’s fine, but just know you’re getting the short end of the stick.

Given the nature of Skylander figurines and how they change the game, I will be reviewing each individural Skylander as “physical DLC.” Be sure to follow the #Skylanders tag for all Skylander reviews.

Skylanders: Giants is more of the same. While that’s not a bad thing if you enjoyed the original, everyone else should pass this one up. It’s simple, goofy fun for the entire family that will end up costing die-hard fans hundreds of dollars in small collectable figures before the year is over. That’s the downside of being a Skylanders fan. If there’s the slightest bit of a collector inside you, you’re going to break down and buy every Skylander you can find. Enjoy that money while you have it, Portal Master. It’ll be gone soon.