Skylanders Giants Review 0

Activision proves bigger really is better

Developed by: Toys for Bob
Published by: Activision
Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii
What works: Fun and distinctive characters | Plenty of levels full of treasure to find | Excellent action for young and older gamers
What doesn’t work: Playing could be a costly adventure | Still can’t jump
★★★★☆

When Activision acquired the rights to the original PlayStation series, Spyro the Dragon, they had their work cut out for them. First released by Sony for the original PlayStation in 1998, Spyro the Dragon was a great game with charming characters, settings, and music. The next couple of sequels from original developers were quite good as well, but the game never found its footing on any of the consoles that came next and soon became mired down in bad sequels and obscurity.

When Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was announced, it was met with perplexed confusion and doubt. Barely related to the original series, the game used actual toys as characters in its virtual world and seemed like both a parental and marketing nightmare. Not only did players have to buy an expensive starter set that came with the game, a couple figures, and the battery-powered portal of power, but the game was built with the idea that to access everything on a level, players would have to buy new characters. Since the figures cost between eight and ten bucks a pop, getting into Skylanders can be an expensive prospect.

Shockingly, Spyro’s Adventure was a huge success. One of the biggest games of 2011, Skylanders was a compelling proof of concept and one of the most distinctive and devilish releases in years. Get past the cynicism of how much extra money you’ll likely be spending for the array of admittedly creative and cool little figures and the truth is that Skylanders was a fun game. It wasn’t great, but the mix of all-ages action, colorful and quaint graphics, and variety of levels made it worth playing. The two-player cooperative nature of the main adventure added a lot of play value as well, and the battle mode added a simple, but entertaining competitive option.

A quick turnaround for a sequel was inevitable. Thankfully, while Skylanders Giant certainly isn’t flawless, developer Toys for Bob understood what to focus on to make Skylanders worth a second trip. Giants takes all the elements from the first game and expands on them, making sure players have not just super-sized figures to collect, but more of everything. This bigger-is-better philosophy works well. Giants is a better game than the original, largely because there’s so much more to discover across the expansive levels.

One of the biggest complaints with the first game was the need to constantly acquire more treasure to upgrade characters. Earning wealth inevitably meant replaying a few particularly generous levels over and over. While collecting gold is still key to upgrading characters, Giants provides far more options for earning wealth and other goodies.

The hub of the game is a floating airship, which can be customized with treasures found in the levels. As the adventure progresses, new crew are added, enabling players to fight in profitable battle arenas or play sky stones–the game’s simple, yet engaging card game. There are special missions for each skylander, which task players with performing specific goals while under a tight time limit, and a target shooting mini game. There’s also easy access to treasure all around the ship, ensuring that players won’t have to struggle to upgrade a character’s attack skills.

The overall game play remains almost identical to the original game. One or two players journey across a variety of levels utilizing up to three different attack buttons to bash enemies. There are plenty of block-moving puzzles throughout and the door lock puzzles return as well. The door lock puzzles involve rotating a maze with a strange creature inside who must touch all the lighted spots in the lock to open the door. In Giants, the mandatory locks are kept easy, while the locks to bonus goodies are much harder.

There’s still no jump button in the game–all jumping is done with special jump spots spread around the levels. It’s an odd omission, but keeps the focus clearly on combat and leveling. Finally, the stars of the game are the giants. These double-sized figures allow access to the newly added array of giants-only locations, but can be used to knock down doors and walls that normal skylanders would need a bomb for. Many of these secret areas involve a brief button-mashing mini game, and the hefty giants are actually a lot of fun to use.

If you’re already on board the Skylanders train, Giants is an easy recommendation. It’s bigger and better than the first game, and chock full of secrets to discover. The new characters (eight giants and eight new small figures) are surprisingly creative, and the game is an amazingly fun adventure for gaming families. While we can’t quite get behind the potentially massive investment for die-hard collectors, Skylanders Giants is a solid game with a distinctive, if expensive gimmick.

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