By Aud Traher
With fun, accessible platforming, rpg elements, fun writing and great level design, Skylanders Giants is fun for gamers of all ages.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3,Wii,3DS
Reviewed here: Wii
When the first in the Skylanders series appeared on store shelves at my local Wal-Mart in 2011 I was intrigued and amused by the clever idea of bringing toys to life in a video game using NFC (near field communication) technology. People have been trying to “bring toys to life” for decades, ranging from Teddy Ruxpin and his video tapes, to the horror that was the great Furby plague of 1998. The figurines were cool, and I wasted some time swapping them on and off the displays “portal of power” and watching each one’s little clip while I waited for my car to be done over at the auto center.
My partner however was enamored with them. From then on nearly every trip to Wal-Mart we had to go and look at “the little dudes” as they came to be called. This went on for over a year and then we finally bought Skylanders Giants as a birthday present, figuring it would be good for 2-3 hours of game play and some “little dudes” to decorate the TV stand with.
Dearest readers, I have never been so wrong in my entire life about a game.
The gameplay is hybrid of traditional platforming and puzzle solving mixed with classic beat-em up and light RPG elements, such as stat boosting hats and buyable upgrades for each character.
The game is an amazingly smooth, and visually enjoyable experience. Above all it is incredibly fun, both in the co-op mode and single player. It has just enough difficulty to it to make it challenging at times, but never out-right frustrating. On the Wii, the controls are solid, using the nun chucks analog stick to move the character, and the various other buttons to attack. Motion controls are used occasionally, mostly in treasure grab mini games called “feats of strength”.
Each Skylander figure is unique and well designed as well, on top of having their own unique upgrades,attacks and look. At this time there is around 44 figures released, including the Giants figures debuted in this game. That means, essentially that there are 44+ different ways to play the game. Each character’s unique abilities and attacks can drastically change game play. As one of the lumbering and super powerful Giant’s characters you can destroy enemies with a single attack and break through walls into areas other characters can not. But your massive size makes platforming areas difficult to do, making the swap to a more agile Skylander character a must. In co-op mode you can spend hours thinking up the best teams for certain levels, in some one character being a say, the Life Element Giant Tree-Rex paired up with a AOE(Area of Effect)/Ranged Character like Flameslinger would be much better then two air element Skylanders. This gives the game, and the toy collecting side, an element of over all strategy that I wasn’t expecting from a kid’s game.
The story isn’t on the same level as say, Mass Effect’s but it is clever and well told. Evil villain Lord Kaos (voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz, basically reprising his Invader Zim role of bumbling would be overlord) is trying to take over Skylands again, this time by locating the giant robotic hand of Arkus and reviving it’s unstoppable army of robots. You the player are tasked with helping stop him of course.
You are helped by other NPC’s such as Captain Flynn (voiced hilariously by Patrick Warburton here) and Kali, a fellow adventurer. Your main hub and upgrade station is Flynn’s flying airship, which can be customized as well using hidden “legendary loot” items. There were moments where I laughed pretty hard, such as when you find out that the “mystical hermit” who will help you is, in fact a gnome named Ermit who is convinced clouds are evil. There were moments where I did feel sad, such as when the funny and lovable Machine Ghost sacrifices his life (unlife?) to save yours. The story is never dull and keeps the pace and level transitions moving along.
The musical score is actually really great, surprising for a game aimed at kids. Eschewing the candy sweet synths and repeating beeps and boops, it goes for a much grander almost cinematic approach. Suitably grand at times, spooky and whimsical at others, but never grating or annoying. I found myself leaving levels paused long after I needed, to just to sit and enjoy a certain tune.
The toys themselves look and feel great. The peripheral “portal of power” you place them on to bring the character into the game stay lit as long as it is plugged into your console, meaning that your new light core (characters that have sections that light up) can be displayed nicely or used as a quasi night light. I found myself drawn to the dragon and griffin Skylanders toys, while my partner has mostly chivalrous nights and ents ( anthropomorphic living trees) on his team. Yes, we now have “teams” and we talk about par-ups, stats and upgrade paths like some people do Pokemon or fantasy football.
Along with the basic story mode there are things like the versus arena, where you and another player can have your Skylanders fight against each other, or Arena battles where you can team up to fight hordes of enemies in various changing environments that become progressively more difficult as you beat them.
One of the most frustrating things about the game is during the last few levels if you are playing co-op.
One player is assigned the ability to fly and steer a ship, while the other player mans the gun turrets and shoots down enemies. The annoying part is that the game randomly assigns and changes these roles after each time you land. You land frequently. This causes more confusion and deaths then anything else in the whole game. Thankfully this only happens in co-op and not on the single player mode.
The versus battles can become patently unfair at times as well. If one player uses one of the uber-powered Giant characters, not even a normal character at max level stands a chance against them. While as an adult I could see this and agree to a “No-Giants-in-VS-Mode” rule, the game’s target audience might not, leading to frustration and fights. The developers should have seen this problem and put in place measures to stop it, such as Giant vs Giant battles and from barring Giants vs Regulars in the versus arena mode.
While fun on its own, the Skystones mini-game is often mandatory to complete quests lines and levels. To win these you need a good deck of Skystones, something you can only get by playing optional Skystones games or buying stones with your in-game currency. If you play like I do and care more about unlocking newer and cooler powers for your characters with that money, you will likely bypass them in the store and bypass the option matches. This sets you up for some nearly insurmountable matches later on in the game. As a kids’ game, I am willing to bet that many children play like I do and were very unhappy with the last few obligatory matches.
Conclusion: Skylanders Giants is an incredibly fun game that manages to bring toys to life and be a fun, engaging game for players of all ages. With insane amounts of replay value and hours of unlockables and new arena and versus modes, Skylanders Giants has turned this skeptic into a true believer who just per-ordered the sequel.
LGBT Content: 0/10
Replay Ability: 10/10
Game Play: 9/10