In 2009, Los Angeles based Activision gave developer Toys for Bob the opportunity to revive one of Vivendi’s old franchises. They chose Spyro the Dragon, and as anyone with gaming elementary school aged kids knows, the rest is history. After about six months of experimenting with a variety of ideas, the developer dusted off a previous idea of integrating technology with toys and games and went with it. Activision released the game at the end of 2011 and Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was the top selling console game for the first half of 2012. The games and accompanying toys are expected to generate over $500 million this year.
Fast forward to a year later and Activision now has a new Skylanders game out. Skylanders: Giants expands on the first game fairly significantly, and of course adds a load of new toys to accompany it.
The basic premise is that the villain, Kaos, has been transformed into a toy on Earth but, uses a portal to send himself back to Skylands. In the process, he awakens an ancient Arkeyan Conquertron, which Kaos takes control of and uses to search for the Glove of Arkus. The glove is a powerful object that allows Kaos to control these giant ancient robots. Luckily, the first Skylanders, the giants, have also returned. Via an airship, called the “Dreadyacht,” the Skylanders and returning characters Flynn and Cali undertake various quests to stop Kaos.
If you haven’t played the Skylanders games, you’re probably wondering what kind of games they are. For the most part Skylanders: Giants is an action adventure game with some RPG elements. The game offers an isometric top-down view of the action and the player controls whichever Skylander has been placed in the real-world portal (it comes in the starter kit). The original Skylanders can be used and the original portal can be used, but, the new portal is USB powered instead of requiring batteries. As for the new characters, there are now giants and “lightcore” figures that light up on the portal. Giants does support drop-in and -out local co-op. Just place another figure on the portal and press X.
Skylanders: Giants, like its predecessor, is definitely geared toward kids but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun for adults to play, too. There is quite a bit of depth to the game, but there are features missing that are standard in other games. Each character has its own skill tree that can be purchased and hats that are found or purchased add perks and stat increases. The controls are also simple. The left analog stick is used for movement and the buttons control attacks or abilities and can be configured. There is, however, no jumping. To get somewhere at a higher elevation, players must find and use jump portals. New in Giants is a selectable difficulty scale.
Giants may sound like just another cheap opportunity to lighten your wallet and sell more toys, and on some levels that’s true. There are new versions of the previous characters that feature different poses and of course the new “lightcore” figures, and there are some new characters as well. The truth is you don’t need any figures not included in the starter kit to complete the game. There will be inaccessible areas because some places are locked to all but one type of alignment. Each of the characters is aligned to one of eight elements; Magic, Water, Tech, Fire, Earth, Life, Air, and Undead. The giants, though slow in the game, are easily the most powerful and can do things other characters can’t, like removing obstacles.
The meat of Skylanders: Giants is the story mode but, there is also a battle mode. This mode lets two characters compete against each other in a variety of battle games. These matches are confined to only two characters and to those in your room. Sadly, there is no online functionality for Skylanders: Giants. This is a forgivable omission considering the intended audience and parents’ understandable wariness of their children’s online communication.
Skylander: Giants at first felt like some weird Toy Story and Starfox: Adventures mash-up but, after awhile I found a lot more to love. Kids will love the fact that they get to put toys into the videogame and either play the adventure or battle them against one another. Older kids and adults will love the collecting loot and being able to upgrade their Skylanders. That is not to say that grown-ups won’t think that some of the toys are pretty cool looking too, particularly the “lightcores.” Skylanders: Giants seems to have found a happy medium and fun formula for the whole family. I’m curious to see who else tries to implement the model. I imagine it might help sell Pokemon toys.
Skylanders: Giants is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on: Wii U and Xbox 360.