Review: Skylanders Giants for PS3

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Title: Skylanders Giants
Price: $59.99 for Portal Owner Pack, $79.99 for the Starter Kit
System(s): PS3 (Also available for 3DS, Wii, Wii U and Xbox 360)
Release Date: October 21, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Activision (Toys for Bob)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Cartoon Violence
Pros: It features an all new story with more-often-than-not awesome voice acting. Wide assortment of Skylanders figures to use. Giants have new abilities and allow access to different areas. Skylander-specific areas now look more similar to the elements they are aligned with. Skylanders can level up to level 15. Skystones mini-game has been added. Skylanders can now enter houses. Central hub is a ship that’s easy to navigate and well organized. There are more difficulty levels.
Cons: Skylanders still can’t jump. Some of the new Light Core figures are unimpressive. Not much has changed from the original Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. You can’t carry over data, like unlocked hats, from the original Skylanders game. There’s only local multiplayer. Having a full stable of eight Skylanders so you’re prepared for any situation can be expensive. Series 1 figures have no new moves or abilities, while series 2 figures of the same characters do.
Overall Score: One thumb up and one thumb sideways, 88/100, B, * * * 1/2 out of 5

I happened upon Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure by accident. I was at Goodwill and discovered the 3DS version first for $18, then later the PS3 version for about $25. In the case of the first, I grabbed it out of idle curiousity, but the second I grabbed because I enjoyed the portable version so much that I wanted to experience the larger console version. Cue a near obsessive love for the series among my friends and myself that lead to the four of us coming together to acquire all of the Skylanders figures together.

Naturally, when Skylanders Giants appeared, I wanted in and this time I wasn’t willing to wait for Goodwill’s divine intervention. I grabbed a Skylanders Giants Portal Owner Pack as soon as possible, complete with game and Tree-Rex Giant and I was soon off to save the Skylands again. Fortunately, the adventure is just as much fun the second time around.

Kaos is back and he’s causing trouble Arkeyan style in the Skylands

You can’t begin a description of Skylanders Giants without some minor Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures, so brace yourself. In the original game, the player Portal Master and his or her legion of Skylanders won. They reclaimed all the elements, banished the darkness from the Skylands, defeated Kaos and his minions and then exiled Kaos to a toy store in the human world. It’s there that Skylanders Giants begins.

Because Kaos is also a Portal Master, he is able to overcome the spell binding him into figure form. He then realizes the store he’s in has a Skylanders display complete with a Portal of Power and hops on to it. This transports him back to the Skylands, where he immediately discovers a very large, very dangerous Arkeyan robot (voiced by George Takei) which he can climb inside for more mischief.

Fortunately, there is again someone to face Kaos – the player. Master Eon has declared the player a new Portal Master and, coincidentally enough, the Giant Skylanders that voluntarily exiled themselves from the Skylands during the fight to defeat the Arkeyan King and bring peace to the realm have been discovered in the human world as well. Players are tasked with joining familiar supporting characters like Flynn, Cali, Persephone in an airship (the appearance of which can be customized via collectibles) so Kaos and his Arkeyan Conquertron robot can be hunted down and stopped before they disrupt the peace of the Skylands.

More of the same with minor alterations and improvements

Skylander Giants plays just like Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, so people coming from one game to the other will know how to handle themselves. Players enter into a level with the goal of completing some kind of task, say finding a needed item or person. He or she will then place a Skylander figure on the Portal of Power to summon it into the game. The character then must fight through enemies, solve minor puzzles that may involve beams of light or pushing boxes and explore to collect various goodies. Defeating enemies earn experience that levels up the character, making him or her stronger, and collecting treasure earns coins that can be later used to purchase new skills or ability upgrades from Persephone or new hats, Skystones or powerups from Auric. At the end of each level, players can see how much they completed and collected, showing if there are extra goodies or level goals that may be available to come back and complete again later.

There are two kinds of improvements in Skylanders Giants, those that are major and minor. The minor ones are small, but will be appreciated by fans. For example, the players can now enter houses in levels, where extra items, Skystones opponents, puzzles or enemies could be found. It’s a small change, but it makes the game feel more realistic. The same can be said for the elemental areas that require specific Skylanders to enter. In Skylanders Giants, they look like the element they represent, rather than just being an area with an elemental gate. For example, using an undead Skylander to enter a special area could lead to that Skylander exploring a cemetary location to find an extra hat.

Other advancements are far more noticeable. The biggest is, naturally, the inclusion of Giants. Giant Skylanders are a little over twice the size of standard Skylanders in Skylanders Giants and, as such, have special abilities that make them invaluable. They can knock down walls that would normally require bombs, for one. They can also participate in Feats of Strength, like pulling a nearby island closer by yanking on a chain, that unlock new areas. Giants can also jump from a cliff to a fractured area below to provide access to a new path. They are also, naturally, stronger than a standard Skylander. Their sole downside is that they’re much slower than the typical Skylander, though characters like Swarm and Hothead get around this via special abilities that allow them to fly or transform into a motorcycle. Yes, Hothead the Giant Skylander can transform into a motorcycle, if you collect enough gold to purchase that ability.

There is also a brand new mini-game called Skystones. Think of it as a collectible stone game, as opposed to a collectible card game. After a certain point in Skylanders Giants, players get a “deck” of stones and can face off against NPCs both in levels and in the hub ship. Matches take place on a 3×3 grid and each player has five stones available in their hand to play. It’s a bit like Othello in that the player with the most claimed stones at the end of the match wins. Each stone has a character on it and blades along its edges. Your goal is to claim as many as possible by placing your stones so that its blades outnumber the number of blades on the side of the adjacent opposing stone. Say a Chompy stone has one blade on it’s right side – you would want to place to the left of a Drow Archer stone that has no blades on its left side so you could claim that Drow Archer stone. Though I feel the character animations were unnecessary for this mini-game and only serve to slow things down, the game itself can be quite fun and challenging.

What is disappointing is that the new abilities for characters/figures from the first game are limited to the new series 2 models of those figures. Say, if you have a series 1 model of Cynder, she will only have access to the moves and abilities from Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, but if you have a series 2 Cynder she will have additional abilities that the first model doesn’t have. It’s disappointing. Sure, you can use all of your old Skylanders and bring them up to level 15, but they won’t be able to do anything new. I suppose it has something to do with their Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures compatibility, but it’s still unfortunate.

Aside from that minor lesson in disparity, there aren’t too many things wrong with Skylanders Giants. The Skylanders still can’t jump, which remains annoying. You still need at least eight figures if you want to have access to every area. The inability to import Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure save data to restore my old hat collection was probably the thing that bothered me most, seeing as how I had almost every hat in the original game and now Skylanders Giants expected me to spend in-game gold on rebuying them, but there are new hats and I can get by just using those. Online multiplayer would have been a nice addition, but the local works well enough as it is.

Skylanders Giants is just as much fun as the original Skylanders and proof it can succeed as a series.

The original Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure could have been a fluke. Sure, the characters looked cool and the gameplay was strong, but other equally stable IPs have flopped when it came time to move forward. Toys for Bob and Activision have proven with Skylanders Giants that the Skylanders series has potential. The sequel doesn’t make any huge strides towards revolutionary greatness, but insteads moves incrementally forward with small changes that improve the overall feel of the game while also maintaining the gameplay players know and love. Skylanders Giants is as strong and reliable as the giants that give the game its name, with a well written story, good voice acting, a plethora of charming, playable characters and action RPG gameplay that works well. Both young and old gamers, just beginning or experienced, will enjoy the chance to prove themselves as Portal Masters again.

Site [Skylanders Giants]

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