Review: Skylanders Giants

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I often joke about how diabolical Skylanders is, being a heartless fusion of toys and video games that encourages you to purchase more toys to play in your video game which then encourages you to purchase more toys. Skylanders Giants is essentially a repeat of the first Spyro spin-off title, drawing even further away from the dragon’s legacy by dropping his name completely in favor of advertising these slightly larger toys you can acquire to lift and smash slightly larger objects within the game.

Despite how inherently evil this ploy is, I am inclined to say that Skylanders Giants is not some haphazardly thrown together piece of gaming “sequel-itis” as Activision is known for producing just to make a quick buck, but is instead another enjoyable action platforming romp through Skylands with the titular motley crew of beasts, dragons, monsters, and oddities.

If you’re already familiar with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, you are already familiar with the bulk of what Skylanders Giants has to offer—you’ll once again take to the sky, level up your little dudes, take part in local battle modes and multiplayer, have your friend steal all the loot (I experienced this one far too much, honestly), and take part in a grand adventure more suited for younger players, but well-written enough to be appreciated by an older audience.

Though, I find some of the cultural references to be troubling, mostly because referencing something in popular culture does not equate comedy. Overall, the attempts at circumventing actual humor can be overlooked by taking into account how seriously Skylanders as a whole takes itself, which is a “not very.”

Skylanders Giants 2 Review: Skylanders Giants

Jet-Vac, one of the new Skylanders, has an air gun that is anything but “soft.”

I suppose I can forgo any semblance of explaining the exposition, because largely you already know what you’re in for—another hare-brained scheme from Kaos (with Richard Steven Horvitz reprising his role), this time involving a giant robot something-or-other and a several baddies to keep you from doing so. What’s most important are the new additions to the Skylanders series.

There are new Skylanders to acquire this time around, with 48 of the little (and not so little) critters to collect for a complete set. Thankfully. like the first game, you don’t have to purchase all of the Skylanders to complete the game in its entirety, but even I have to admit the addictive nature of “catching them all.” Only one of each in-game element is required to see the title to completion in every aspect, but you must have at least one Skylander capable of moving quickly, and at least one Giant Skylander.

Fortunately, if you already have a full set from before, either Starter Pack is going to serve you well, whether you snag the Portal Owners Pack or go the distance and get a brand new starter pack complete with one Giant Skylander, Tree Rex, a brand new Skylander named Jet-Vac (or a red-colored Pop Fizz if you’re playing on 3DS), and a new Series 2 version of Cynder.

Whoa, wait—Series 2? Yes. Despite all your original figures being forward compatible with the new title, someone, somewhere still thought it a good idea to slightly tweak a handful of the original characters and provide them with different skill paths to purchase with hard-earned in-game gold, but not before you give Activision some of your hard-earned real-life money to take them home. Not surprisingly, all Series 2 Skylanders come at the same premium price point of $9.99, the same cost as any of the new characters only compatible with Giants. Probably the one saving grace for the Series 2 characters is that they are not only compatible with Giants, but Spyro’s Adventure as well, so late adopters that want to enjoy both titles can do so with newer figures.

In addition to the Series 2 characters come Lightcore characters, which are essentially re-skins of characters both old and new. They glow with some cool lights when placed on the Portal and even have an in-game ability that could save a player’s hide. When placed on the Portal of Power, a Lightcore character dropped into the game will create a sort of energy shockwave heavily damaging enemies and giving players some breathing room. These Lightcore critters, too, come at an even higher premium price point of $11.99 and are only compatible with Skylanders Giants.

And finally, the most important aspect of this new title, we come to the actual Giants themselves. As previously stated, included with either the Portal Owners Pack or a new Starter Pack, you’ll be treated to one Giant character, Tree Rex, launching alongside three others, Swarm (Wind), Bouncer (Tech), and Crusher (Earth). The four other Giant characters will be launching at a later, unspecified-as-of-right-now time.

Now, the cool thing about Giant characters is that not only are they several times larger than your average Skylander, they’re also several times stronger, having largely boosted stat categories (save for speed) and strength-based abilities far beyond any typical, run-of-the-mill Skylander. Giant characters have the advantage of being able to perform feats of strength (actually called Feats of Strength within the game) by moving large piles of lumber or literally grabbing chained floating isles and dragging them closer to mainlands.

Giants introduce an interesting and new dynamic to Skylanders by providing the muscle to allow players access to new regions, and because of their strength, can often circumvent puzzles requiring explosives for normal-sized Skylanders, often saving time in both single-player and multiplayer modes by simply running down a brick wall blocking your path instead. In multiplayer cooperative, pairing a Giant with a normal Skylander is often a winning combination, having a speedier character able to distract enemies while the Giant lays down the hurt.

Skylanders Giants sequoia smash Review: Skylanders Giants

Be afraid of the bark!

Still, the one main detractor again lies in price point. The Giant Skylanders come at an even higher price than any of the other single characters available. At $14.99 a pop, eventually getting an entire set of Giants will cost you nearly $105, not including taxes. That is simply rounding out your collection to a full eight Giants and nothing else, and that’s taking into consideration that you’ve already paid for one of the starter packs with Tree Rex.

The Triple Packs and Battle Packs, including three figures to use on your Portal of Power, come at an increased price point as well, costing $24.99, a five dollar increase from originals. The Triple Packs aren’t really a huge advantage, often coming with two Series 2 characters and one of the newer Skylanders, and the Battle Pack simply comes with two characters (Series 2 Chop-Chop and Shroomboom) and a Battle Arena, the Dragonfire Cannon, which I feel adds very little to the overall experience. Still, it seems kind of to the point where it’s like “Hey, let’s make similar stuff and slap a higher price tag on it, SOMEONE WILL SURELY BUY IT.”

Skylanders, like most hobbies, is expensive. In fact, it would be easy to spend several hundred dollars to get all of the real life DLC to round out your collection. Even making sure you have access to all the areas in the game can get a bit costly, requiring at least one Skylander of each in-game element to fully explore Giants.

But if you’ve got the scratch, it’s hard to deny that there’s some unspoken and addictive element to the followup to Spyro’s Adventure. There’s something special about taking your little inanimate toy, placing them on a glowing disc, and seeing them come to life inside the game that just makes the child inside of you leap with joy. Or an actual child leap with joy, as often the case is with something like this.

Skylanders Giants is more of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s enough clever attitude here to merit this full sequel and not make it feel like a cheap cash-in, despite the fact that every new figure available comes at a higher price point than before. If you in any way enjoyed the first title, Giants is a great continuation of the franchise, offering more goofy scenarios, comical writing that anyone of any age can enjoy, and definitely some good bonding time among friends, parents and children, or kids playing together.

A higher level cap (up to 20, so your old characters don’t feel useless), a slightly updated graphical appearance, a great soundtrack courtesy of Lorne Balfe (and theme music by the very acclaimed Hans Zimmer), and even added difficulty modes to welcome players of all skill levels make this something worthy of your time.

The idea is diabolical, but saying the game isn’t fun would be an outright lie.

Skylanders Giants is currently available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo 3DS for $74.99 for a full Starter Pack or $59.99 for the Portal Owners pack on your platform of choice. This title will also be available for the Nintendo Wii U at launch at similar price points come November 18th. Individual figures start at $9.99 and range up to $14.99, with multi-pack character products averaging around $24.99 per set.

Disclaimer: A PlayStation 3 Starter Pack, including the game, three Skylanders figures, and a Portal interface, was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This article was originally posted on The Gaming Vault.