2012 has been an interesting year for me as a gamer; I've gone out of my way to play new genres and games I normally would avoid with a ten foot pole in order to broaden my horizons. When Ben asked me to tag along to see Activision's Skylanders Giants I jumped at the chance, and I was more than surprised by what I was shown.
I'd like to mention that before yesterday I had never actually played Skylanders. I was aware of the franchise, I knew how it worked, but I had never seen the game in action. What I didn't know is that last year Skylanders figurines outsold all other action figures, including those from the Star Wars an Transfromes line which are always insanely popular with the kids. What's even more impressive is that Skylanders managed this feat in only six months, while the other franchises had been selling all year.
Skylanders is a big deal, and after spending time with Skylanders Giants I finally understand why.
For those who don't know how the series works, the game comes with the a USB peripheral called The Portal of Power and a set of action figures. Players place their action figures on the portal of power, and their figurine comes to life on the screen. Players move throughout the universe, collecting items and XP, levelling up their character, with all stats and attributes actually stored on the player's figurine. Going to a friend's house? Take your figurine and battle away knowing all your hard work done at home will carry over onto their game.
Good news for previous Skylanders collectors; all of your figurines from last year will be compatible with the new game and will retain their XP. This is great news considering collecting the figurines and levelling them up is half the fun. Activision stated that his year there will be 16 new characters, eight regular characters and eight giants, to collect for the new adventure. This brings the total number of figurines up to 45, meaning that hardcore fans will need to clear some shelf space if they want to collect them all.
So after an hour with the game what are my thoughts? I wish I was a kid again, or I had a younger brother so I could make excuses for playing this game."
Skylanders Giants will ship with three starting figurines; Jet Vac who is powered by the air element and has an impressive vacuum that can suck and shoot bubbles of air at enemies, Cynder who is Spyro's little cousin and can shoot lightning and disappear for shot periods of time and finally Tree Rex, a giant tree who is very powerful and powered by the Earth elements. At release there will be two configurations, one with the characters and disc only for those who played last year and another with the characters and the Portal of Power for those new to the series.
Ben and I jumped straight into the action, I was playing as the very awesome Jet Vac while he was the monstrous Tree Rex as we chased down an evil goblin named Brock who wanted to hurt us for some reason. Along the way we faced off against a number of his goons, ranging from ankle biting blobs with vicious teeth to archers who were firing arrows of fire at us. The gameplay was filled with satisfying hack and slash combat, and using a combination of my vacuum's air bullets and sucking up treasure, I was immediately hooked as my XP slowly climbed. While the original game capped figurines at level 10, Skylanders Giants raises that to level 15, meaning you have a reason to bring your old characters to the fight.
Tree Rex was throwing his weight around as we had to solve a number of puzzles that involved us moving blocks to create makeshift bridges to other areas. That's when we accidentally moved the block the wrong way, which revealed a hidden cave for us to explore.
Interior ares are a new feature of Skylanders Giants and they act almost like a mini-dungeon from Diablo 3. Inside you'll find a series of enemies, some impressive loot and some items that will raise you XP greatly. They seem to be hidden quite well, promoting exploration rather than following a linear path to the end of the level.
We headed back out into the open and started smashing our way towards evil Brock, throwing his minions left and right. That's when I fell down off our makeshift bridge and we realised that the lack of a jump button seemed like the worst design flaw of all time as we had to backtrack all the way back to the beginning just so I could catch up and we could move forward.
We finally made it to the end where we were locked into gladiator-style arena and we faced off against waves of Brock's goons. After we dispatched them with ease we fought against Brock himself and emerged victorious, with shiny pieces of loot as a fancy footnote on a fun adventure.
The gameplay is fairly stock standard, attacking enemies, finding keys, stealing loot and moving blocks all seem to be the order of the day, however it's the figurines that really change the experience.
Taking Jet-Vac from the Portal of Power and replacing him with Cynder literally took seconds, there was no lengthy loading times, and I was placed back in the thick of the action with a new character. Considering that some areas of the game can only be accessed by figurines from a certain element, the fact that there is no loading time is a blessing, keeping the action constantly flowing with ease.
The art style is just as you would expect from a children's game, bright and colourful environments spring to life as you make your way through the levels. The Xbox 360 version seems to be just a tiny bit sharper than the PS3 version, with the Wii version lagging behind but still putting up an admirable fight. Regardless of what platform you currently own, Skylanders Giants is a great looking game that plays to the system's strengths.
So after an hour with the game what are my thoughts? I wish I was a kid again, or I had a younger brother so I could make excuses for playing this game. It's Diablo for kids, a thrilling loot filled adventure that has secrets galore and the best action figure collection I have ever seen. It's fun, it's exciting, it's new and I loved it. It's a kids game that adults can genuinely enjoy, which makes it fun for families. I think anybody would be hard pressed to hate Skylanders Giants and I can't wait until the full release is here so I can pla....I mean professionally review it this October.
By Stephen Heller