When Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure debuted in 2011 for just about every current-generation system, I figured that it took a lot of time for someone to come up with physical add-on content and think of a way to get people to buy it. My reaction was a little unfair; I thought this was an attempt to fleece an often-overlooked age group in video games, the 10-and-under crowd that's usually fed subpar movie-licensed titles that nobody wants to play. Toss in the fact that the developer for the Skylanders series is Toys for Bob, who is responsible for titles like Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure and a couple of Madagascar games, and I felt that I had correctly pegged this experiment.
When I actually sat down to play the game and had a chance to check out the figures included with the starter kit, I was pleasantly surprised. The gameplay, reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers and action role-playing games, was fleshed out and engaging regardless of your age group. Granted, the mechanics were simple, and it's clear that the game is geared toward kids, but as an adult male, I had a fair amount of fun with it. I never bought into the collecting aspect, but clearly a lot of people did, and the original title was a success.
Naturally, a sequel was made, which released in October 2012 and dubbed Skylanders: Giants. Dropping the Spyro name altogether — a move that makes sense since the game has nothing to tie it back to the original Spyro titles — this sequel opted to introduce larger Skylander figures to the expanded base of available toys. Along with these appropriately named Giants, which are essentially double the mass of a standard figure, a host of new regular-sized Skylanders also debuted, including new poses and paint jobs for existing characters. It's interesting to note that as of this writing, there are over 40 figures available under the Giants branding alone, not factoring in the original Skylanders that are also playable with the sequel. There are also a hefty number of variants, like Lightcore models that light up and glow when placed on the Portal of Power, which is necessary to introduce a figure into the game. There are Legendary variants as well, so if you like collecting things, you'll have your work cut out for you.
The starter pack of Skylanders: Giants gives you access to one Giant figure, Tree Rex, and two regular Skylanders, Cynder and Jet-Vac. These pack-in figures are the same across all home console versions, with the only variant being the Nintendo 3DS iteration, which swaps out a single figure. The figures carry over their stats and levels across any version of the game, and you can use your original Skylanders with Skylanders: Giants.
The gameplay featured in Skylanders: Giants hasn't deviated much from what was established in the original game. There's still a heavy dungeon-crawling style design, reliant on using a Skylander to advance through individual stages, which are filled with disposable enemies that drop experience orbs to level up your selected Skylander. As a Skylander levels up, it increases its basic stats, making it quicker, more powerful, with health increases, and so on. Leveling up your Skylanders is handled automatically, so you won't be babysitting stat upgrades or customizing much outside of a few optional abilities that branch into different selections, making this easy enough for kids to grasp. The lack of real customization is a bit of a turn-off to older players, and I wish for an option to unlock a more adult-oriented feature set for experienced players.
To their benefit, the stages are filled with optional material, some of which can be accessed with your starter Skylander figures, while other sections are cordoned off unless you have the appropriate Skylander with matching element. It's worth mentioning for newcomers that each Skylander is assigned a particular element. Certain areas found in each level either grant bonuses for using the element displayed in the left corner of your screen, while other areas block access. You'll never hit a point in the game where you can't advance the primary story without a particular type of Skylander, but you'll definitely miss out on a lot of content if you don't have a selection that covers every element. This is where the big money-grab comes into play; if you want to see everything Giants has to offer, you'll have to spend around $60 bucks in addition to the game to make sure you've got every element covered.
The addition of Giants to the world of Skylanders doesn't bring a lot to the table. They're primarily useful for knocking down walls that can otherwise be blown apart by timed bombs, and they're also good for the occasional Giant-specific "Feat of Strength," which usually blocks a path to optional treasure or additional areas. They're clearly more powerful than your run-of-the-mill Skylander, but the power is neutered by their slow speed, making them sort of cumbersome to use in an entire level. The figures look nice, and while lacking any sort of articulation like their smaller brethren, the amount of detail etched into the plastic and some really solid paint jobs make them stand out a little more than the regular figures. They also implement some light-up features similar to Lightcore variants, often at multiple points on their bodies, so they just look neat standing on the Portal of Power.
My biggest complaint about Skylanders: Giants is that it doesn't do enough to improve upon the original. There's definitely more content, but much of that content is identical to the original game. Granted, the original wasn't bad, and as I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I hardly want to play the same game over and over again, and I'm not sure that the concept of Giants alone is enough to warrant a sequel. Sure, this is a game aimed at kids, and I imagine that most won't mind more of what they enjoyed the first time around, but as an adult, I'm already a little bored with the novelty. I imagine you'll be more drawn in if you enjoy collecting the figures, but even then, I doubt that you'll revisit the game once you've run through the story mode. The lack of meaningful additional content makes for a short-lived experience on your console of choice.
The game could've made better use of the console hardware. This review was written after playing through the PS3 version of the game, but I also had a chance to check out the Xbox 360 version for a short amount of time, and I could see no significant difference. That's not surprising considering that the visuals can't be that taxing to current consoles. Texture work often looks low-res, and it's evident in most buildings and character models. There's not a lot of oomph to anything on-screen, and while the individual design of each Skylander is thought-out and unique, the world design is significantly less so. There are a handful of levels that feel unique, but there are a lot of cookie-cutter designs, too, with the smaller interior areas often being identical to one another, aside from the placement of breakable items.
The soundtrack is largely forgettable, despite repeating what sounds like the same theme on an infinite loop. Voice-over work from the cast, some of which return from the original game, is also sort of lifeless and out of sync. If there was ever a case to be made against actors recording lines in separate locations, this is it. There are a couple of exceptions — at least the actor voicing antagonist Kaos seems to enjoy what he's doing — but by and large, I wanted to skip ahead whenever a dialogue box popped up.
While the original Skylanders was appropriately lauded for being a unique, quality title for all ages, Skylanders: Giants seems to be riding on the coattails of the original title's good will. It's not bad, and it's really similar to the first game, but its limited innovation is largely unnecessary (Giant Skylanders). While this year's sequel has already been announced, Skylanders: Swap Force, I hope that there's a plan to emphasize the game attached to the toys, instead of the other way around.
More articles about Skylanders Giants