Skylanders Giants: Bigger, brighter, better?

November 7, 2012

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was groundbreaking in its combination of add-on content through collectible figures. The gamble paid off, with Skylanders claiming honors as the most profitable game of 2012 to date. Not resting on their laurels and simply releasing new characters, Activision and Toys for Bob pushed the envelope again by introducing new types of characters in Skylanders Giants. Will it be enough to convince gamers to pick up a new game with accompanying characters?

After being banished to Earth at the end of the first game, pint-sized villain Kaos finds his way back to Skylands. In the process, he’s hot on the trail of an Arkeyan secret weapon that will put Skylands under his control. The Skylanders’ only hope is to join forces with the original Skylanders, a set of Giants who sacrificed themselves more than 10,000 years ago during a battle with the Arkeyan warriors. I’ll leave the rest of the plot for you to discover as you play through the game, but if the original plot kept you intrigued, then you won’t be disappointed with this go-around.

There are some minor differences between the original and Giants, but the thing that sets this title apart the most is the scale of the characters. The Giant figures are significantly larger than the normal-sized characters, a fact that is true in real life as well as in the game. Giants also brings a few additional character sets to your living room. Series 2 characters are remakes from the first game in a different pose with different powers. LightCore characters light up when placed on the portal, as do all of the Giants. There will also be a series of all new characters released in various waves, some as regular and some with LightCore powers.

After collecting all of the characters in the first game, I’ve noticed that there isn’t quite the same frenzy around these new characters. I’m not sure if maybe the craze hasn’t started yet, or if maybe Activision released too many too quickly. Either way, it feels different this time around, and I don’t have the same compulsion to buy everything immediately. That said, I’ve sunk a pretty penny into this game already thanks to the pricing of the figures. (More on that in podcast episode 240.)

Giants is very similar to the original title. Since each game comes equipped with at least one Giant, a figure you’ll use often, you can rest assured you’ll run into similarly sized enemies. This new scale factor uncovers the only tangible complaint I have with the game itself, and that’s the advantage the Giants have. Though they move a bit more slowly, the Giants are more powerful and have much more life than even your highly upgraded standard characters. This significant advantage means you can play through most of the game only as the Giants. I prefer the variety of switching characters in different areas, but it’ll leave you wondering why you should put forth the effort of playing as anyone else when the Giants have such a head start. Nevertheless, the game was designed with variety in mind, and so that’s how we play in my household.

There are some neat gameplay additions that are worth mentioning and make the game feel a bit different. The first is related to character switching. There’s no doubt the game’s variety comes from its character set and the first game did an average job of taking advantage of this by suggesting that a particular type of Skylander was more powerful in some areas. This time around, virtually every level suggests a different type of character and really plays on the vastness of the character set. This is by no means required, but it makes you feel like you are constantly switching figures. The original game also featured a moderate use of things like keys or bombs to advance through levels. This is still present, although Giants characters can replace the need for bombs by smashing through walls, a welcome addition for folks not interested in looking for the necessary bomb to move on.

Another new feature is the addition of Skystones, a minigame that is integrated into the storyline. In Skystones, you fill a board with stones, and the objective is to have more stones on the board than your opponent by the time the board is full. Each skystone has a character and a certain number of “blades” on each side. These blades represent the strength of the stone, and when you play a stone, if the number of blades facing an opposing player’s stone is higher than the number facing your stone, then you overtake their stone and it becomes yours. New stones can overtake any existing stone, but existing stones cannot have an impact on newly played stones. Each player must select their top five stones before the game, based on a preview of the board and the location of any special squares such as blocked or elemental squares. It’s quite a fun game, and you’ll have the opportunity to win and purchase stronger stones as the game goes on.

Worth mentioning is the length of the game. The original title felt significantly longer than this one. That may be related to the steady and slow stream of characters and adventures packs we picked up over the last year that kept us playing, or it may just be perception based on how quickly we plowed through the story this time around. Either way, after beating the first playthrough in under a week, I’m left wondering if I’ll pick up any of the later characters (we both know I’ll want to) or if I’m already done with Giants. For the sake of the series, which I’ve enjoyed tremendously, I sure hope Activision gets some new levels out the door soon.

Skylanders Giants is great game, with a lot of diversity thanks to the massive number of characters available to it. The core gameplay is very similar to the first game, which will leave some gamers feeling like this was a cash grab without enough innovation. It’s clear to me that, for the time being, the innovation will be in the character figures themselves, as that’s where we see the largest changes.

Wherever you land on that discussion, Giants is a solid gaming experience that lets you reuse your old figures and encourages you to expand that collection, for a fee. It can also easily serve as an entry point for someone new to the series that didn’t want to go back and play the first game, which has limited compatibility with the extended character collection.

Pros: Can use your existing figures, lots of new figures
Cons: Lots of new figures, new figures don’t all work in the old game, $$$

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.