Last year, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure came almost out of nowhere to sell 30 million games. The action figures became instantly collectible. Now Activision has released Skylanders: Giants. And guess what? I’m happy to report that Giants is excellent, as well as a bit more challenging than the first version — especially when you play it on Heavy Hitter (Hard) Mode.
(Activision for PS3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, 3DS)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 9.0
Pros: Good game design. Giants are genius. Secret places.
Cons: Unplayable characters can be cliché. Still no online play. Characters can’t jump.
With Skylanders: Giants, you get a game for your console, plus action figures, plus a Portal of Power to put those toys into the game. Plug the Portal into your console, and it glows in many colors. Stand a figure on it and whoosh! — like magic, your toy appears as a character in the game.
You level him up and find all sorts of useful powerups and weird hats for your Skylander to wear to become stronger.
But you had all this good stuff in the last game. What makes Giants better?
WHY GIANTS IS BETTER
With all the things to do, Skylanders: Giants is longer. And it’s more wondrous. In this version, a Giant is one of the three figures you receive in your game package. The Giant Tree Rex is kind of a redwood with the attitude and strength of a T-Rex dinosaur.
Why is a bigger Skylanders so excellent? For the same reason it’s fun to play as the large Mario or a Transformer or the Hulk. A big dude like Tree Rex is as huge and strong as you’ll ever dream of being. Just walk him over certain weaker enemies like Chompies (which look like green Pac-Men with sharp teeth) and, splat, they’re gone. He can lift and throw massive boulders. He can pound a hole in rock, too. It’s really kind of empowering.
BIG IS FUN, BUT NOT ALWAYS BETTER
Yet your Giant is also slow and lumbering, at least when you start out. You can win the some of game’s many upgrades to move faster. He’s still not as quick and agile as, say, the purple-winged dragon, Cynder. At one point early on as Tree-Rex, I was ambushed by fire-arrow-wielding enemies called Drow Archers. I just couldn’t move out of the way fast enough. My health went to nothing in seconds, and I had to play the chapter all over again.
The lesson? Big is fun, but it isn’t always better in Giants. That’s why you have two other characters to switch in and out on the Portal.
Even though it isn’t the most creative plot in the world, the tale overall is a worthy one. KAOS, the skull-headed meanie with the black eye tattoos, has broken free of his magical bonds. It’s up to the ancient Giants to help the Skylanders save their world from destruction.
Although they’re sometimes a little too long, I like the scenes that move the story forward after you complete a chapter. The animation isn’t as detailed as in a Pixar movie like “Toy Story 3.” But it’s believable. And the dialog is almost as well written as a Toy Story movie. Sometimes the humor falls flat because it’s corny.
Gamewise, there’s so much to do this time around. Beyond customizing your character with crazy hats that give you a little extra oomph, you’ll find gem-filled butterflies that give you discounts on accessories in the store.
Plus, you’ll play Skystones against the characters you meet. It’s a fast-paced board game that takes a few minutes for a full game. If you win, you get a Skystone for your collection. I found it so much fun that I played for over an hour against a pirate.
There’s a semi-secret way to level up without playing Story Mode. Once you defeat the big blue bruiser Brock, he becomes your friend. On the flying ship that moves you to various lands in the sky, you can try your luck in a series of battles featuring wave after wave of enemies.
You might be defeated here. (I had a really hard time with the fourth wave of Brock’s Rump Roaster Ruckus.) But the bonus is that each enemy you defeat, even the weak ones, adds points to your level-up bar.
SIMPLY ONE OF THE BEST
The Skylanders characters are cooler than ever. Tree Rex, for example, is twice the size of a non-Giant. He lights up in two spots when you place him on the Portal of Power. His eyes are deep royal blue, and he holds a photosynthesis laser that lights up green. He looks even more intense in a darkened room.
However, some of the characters in Skylanders are too similar to the characters in Toy Story. For instance, goofy Cap’n Flynn might remind you of the swaggering Buzz Lightyear and Woody. But Flynn is not a character you play, so you have to deal with him only in scenes that propel the story.
Despite a few glitches and omissions (Skylanders can’t jump), Giants is even more wide-ranging than Spyro’s Adventure. There’s no doubt about it: It’s one of the year’s best games for kids. And if your parents are young at heart, they’ll really enjoy it, too.