Console: Xbox 360
Reviewer: Jon

Pros

*  Very easy to pick up and play

*  Portal accessory is unique and works well

*  Option to add more characters provides players with a ton of replay value

Cons

*  Less appealing to older players

*  Expanding the game with additional characters could become pretty expensive and take up a lot of space

Walking through my local Wal-Mart or Target with my 3-year-old son is always an exciting experience.  Memories of being escorted by my older brother or parents through the toy aisles are always present and the joy of recreating this experience with my child is a blast.  On these trips, I frequently see new toy lines that I have never seen before.  This was my first introduction to Skylanders: Giants.  We have all seen the displays right?  I am sure there are some of you that know that Skylanders: Giants is actually a sequel to Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, but for us newcomers I had no idea what I would be getting into.  It didn’t take long to realize these toys I frequently seen in the toy aisles are linked to a Video Game Franchise that happened to be quite expansive.  I have taken notice briefly in the past, but with my initial impressions being that this game was for a younger audience I always managed to pass it over.  With the recent release of Skylanders: Giants, I decided to set aside my pre conceived notions and give this one an honest look.  Here goes a fresh take on the series…..

Presentation: A

Skylanders: Giants can be purchased two ways.  For those completely new to the series, you should be purchasing the Starter Pack.  This version comes with the Game, The Portal, and Three Skylanders Characters.  Each character included is beautifully sculpted, and seeing them for the first time serves as a great introduction to the world of Skylanders.  As a side note, this package also includes a few trading cards, collectors poster for tracking your collection, and stickers to import each character into separate online games for PC and Mobile Platforms.

Like I stated before, this is a complete sequel to Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure.  Both the Skylanders portal and characters are forward compatible meaning that you can use them with Skylanders: Giants.  For owners of the first game, you are able to purchase the Portal Owners Pack.  This includes a copy of the new game and making their first appearance in the series, one of the games Giants.

How does all of this work you may asking yourself?  That is the question I had never having experienced this world before.  While diving into this universe can be somewhat intimidating, breaking the seal on these packages is quite the excited experience.  Seeing the highly detailed figures for the first time is quite impressive.  After loading up the software, I plugged in the portal which immediately came to life.  Pulsating brilliant colors, this accessory was just begging for me to choose a character and start my journey.

Once I started the story mode, I was tasked with choosing a Skylander.  This was actually a tough choice, but I decided to choose Tree Rex which is the largest of three included characters and one of the series new Giants.  Once the figure was placed on the portal, he immediately lite up while I witnessed his digital persona come to life on my screen.  This process was a breeze and removing the figure brought me back to an empty portal screen allowing me to switch my choice instantly.  All of this is done without lag and tying the physical and digital realms together was an impressive seamless feat.

Yes, placing a different Skylander figure on the portal activates the playable character in the game.  This obviously increases the desire to purchase more Skylanders figures in an effort to expand your army and provide a greater selection of playable characters.  This is further fueled by the fact that each character can be named, upgraded and they all feature unique personalities and abilities.  The Starter Pack includes three Skylanders and will run you around $74.99.  There are a variety of character packs ranging from $9.99 to $14.99 for individual characters or $24.99 for battle packs or three character bundles.  With over 40 new characters being introduced for this entry, there is a ton of opportunity to expand upon the game.  This however could be seen as expensive depending on your point of view.  While this system could be compared to DLC, the additional purchase does provide you with highly detailed figures to put on display.  Cash cow perhaps?  Personally I don’t think so.  While you could argue collecting every figure hikes the price of the game to unimaginable levels, the experience of buying a collectible figure in combination with the ability to bring them to life on your home console seems like every kids dream.

Enough of the physical aspect, let us dive into the actual game.  After all, this is for nothing is the game isn’t fun right?

For fellow newcomers, you will be pleased to hear that Skylanders: Giants manages to create a complex world with a wide variety of unique characters.  Every friend or foe has a name and a separate personality that is sure to be remembered.  Worlds are colorful, voices are distinct and at times there can be a ton of action on-screen.  Heat waves coming off of pits of fire, the glow of my Giant’s cannon as I blast enemies, and the variety presented in the environments are all a sight to see.  Where else can you experience a Spooky Carnival put on by Sky Pirates?

Single Player: A

What kind of game is this?  Well, imagine a kid friendly version of Gauntlet, Baldur’s Gate or any other dungeon crawler.  Yes, I said kid friendly.  This is the aspect that will turn a few of us older gamers off from the experience.  The controls are extremely simple, requiring only a few buttons to perform all of the attacks.  There is not even a jump button to worry about.  First glance, it almost seems too simple and reminds me of other games geared towards younger players.  However, once you start leveling up your character you are able to introduce new attacks and provide a slightly more expansive experience.

Each chapter presents you with a different locale.  These environments typically include simplistic puzzles, treasures to find, gems to collect, and enemies to battle.  As you progress things do get slightly tougher and at times the battles can be challenging depending on which character type you are currently using.  The newly introduced Giants move like tanks.  It takes a lot for these Skylanders to go down, but they are also a lot slower than the smaller characters.  This brings me to another aspect of the game.  Once you do run out of health, you are prompted with a screen that states your Skylander needs to rest requiring you to place a different figure on the portal in order to continue.  If you choose a different Skylander, you pick up right where you left off.  If you continue to run your next character out of health, the same scenario presents itself.  Placing the original Skylander on the portal will only inform you that your fallen character still needs to rest.  What does this mean?  The more Skylanders you own, the more “Lives” you get.  Once you run through all of your Skylanders, you only option is to start to chapter over.  Cleaver huh?

Sure the level designs are simple, the characters are laughable, and the experience is a youth’s paradise.  Does that mean this doesn’t have appeal to older gamers?  Not necessarily, but be sure to do your research if you plan on giving this one a try.  There are a ton of items to collect, every Skylander has their own abilities, upgrades and level up independently.  Bringing unique chapters helps to provide some variety to the levels aesthetically, but the gameplay remains the same throughout and could be seen as too simplistic for some.

Thankfully, my 3-year-old has appreciation for video games.  In the past, I would hand him a controller from time to time but mostly this generation’s games are still a little too complex for him.  That is not to say he doesn’t beg for me to “play that Batman game”, or to give him the controller so he can swing over the streets of New York as Spiderman.  He typically does pretty good and highly enjoys the experience, so it was no surprise to see his excitement once I loaded up Skylanders: Giants.  I immediately heard the phrase “I wanna make him walk”.  After my initial sigh realizing I lost my turn, I handed over the controller.  Let me just say….. He is hooked.  He now begs to play “Daddy’s New Game!” and is content to play for hours.  Why mention this?  Simply put, this is geared towards the young audience and I was able to see first hand the excitement that this world brings.  With easy to learn controls and Giants that are nearly indestructible, this game is easy to pick up at nearly any age.  Letting him place the figures on the portal and seeing them display on the screen led to a moment of excitement that had to be seen to fully appreciate.

Multiplayer: A

Does this game include a multiplayer component too?  It sure does, featuring Offline Co-op and a Battle Mode for Two Players.  This is executing by placing Two Skylanders Figures on the Portal at the same time.  The Battle Mode is accessed through the main menu and consists of a few different battle types.  This ranges from dueling until one player runs out of energy, to racing towards a football and launching it through your goal to score points.  Options are simplistic and feature a few different types of gameplay to help things up.  While none of this is terribly expansive, it does serve the flesh out the package and provide a welcome mix of gameplay.

Replay Value: A

As I mentioned there are a ton of things to collect, upgrade and experience.  The ability to purchase more Skylanders figures, along with the compatibility of figures from the first game gives this title a ton of replay value.  Multiplayer aspects are a welcome feature, but I would love to see this expanded to support more players in the future.  Online features are missing and this also seems like a missed opportunity.

Bottom line, this is great for younger players and I would have loved this a child.  Luckily, I have a son and are able to relive a lot of those experiences with him.  This is a great family game that is simple to pick up and play.  If you are a hardcore gamer, be cautious and do your homework before diving into this one.  If you are looking for simplistic experience that has appeal for younger and older gamers alike, this is a wonderful world to dive into.

————

OVERALL: A

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