Skylanders really took off, didn’t it? Set in the same universe as Spyro, it had all the promise of purple dragon platform awesomeness, but in reality, had naff all to do with orb guzzling, and everything to do with action figures and portals with power. That’s ok, though; it still turned out alright, and even got itself endorsed by Mr Boyfriend himself, Justin Biebzebub, via his Twitter feed. Really, there is no better place to get your gaming reviews… (Apart from here. Obviously. - Ed.)
As with all things, Activision were quick to capitalise on the success and make a sequel; this time taking advice from the mantra, ‘bigger is better’. Introducing, Skylanders Giants.
While the Skylanders are seen as legendary guardians and protectors of Skylands, eons ago, the Giants were the ones who ruled with an iron fist. The giants immersed themselves in full-scale war, protecting the revered haven of Skylands from atrocious, ancient, evil. However, much like the Skylanders after them, when the war was won, the Giants were banished to Earth, never heard from again.
However, with the Skylands once again under threat from the maniacal, Kaos, who has freed himself from Earthly prison, as Portal Master, you must unite the forces of the ancient giants with the legendary protectors and once again restore balance to world.
As with the original, newcomers will receive a Starter Pack, which not only contains a Portal of Power, but also three new figures, each with unique elemental properties. There’s Jet Vac, Cynder and Tree Rex. Jet Vac is one with the winds, and can not only traverse where the winds are strongest, but also use an air-gun to push back unsuspecting foes. Cynder is an undead dragon (creepy, right?) that can tunnel underground, burn enemies alive, but also traipse around creepy, cooky graveyards and blend in like she’s at some sort of disco for the undead. Finally, there's the first of the giants: Tree Rex. As the name suggests, Rex is pretty down with the nature kids. I’m not suggesting he smokes grass or anything like that, but he does get pretty mad when people mess with the countryside. Giants can pulverise obstacles into pieces, hurl boulders and even jump from high ledges and smash through the ground below.
Similar to Spyro’s Adventure before it, players collect quests, complete objectives and move between levels. The story sees players plough through Kaos’s forces, while trying to reach the nefarious villain himself. The journey will take place on floating airships, through desert lands, and in deep caves; even see players defeat ancient evil forces and help residents with daily chores. The environments are both diverse and wonderful, and objectives varying between frivolous and fierce . By completing tasks, discovering hidden areas or purchasing from vendors, characters can collect hats which improve stats and provide unique properties that will prepare them for any challenging confrontation.
Giants adds further replayability with heroic challenges. These challenges are tailored specifically for each Skylander, although they can be played by any character. For example, one quest tasks the player with killing 8 spiders as fast as possible, whereas another places them on a slippery racing course. The Heroic Challenges are tougher than before, and each feels as if they’re using the skills of the Skylander they’re intended for. It’s not all the same, though; the implementation of Giants does allow for some new puzzles, such as having to use the brute strength of these forces in a certain way to beat enemies, or clearing through hazardous terrain.
Playing Skylanders is pretty simple. Players must plug the Portal of Power into their console, then they can place their chosen figure on the pad, and have the character appear in-game. Giants is completely backwards compatible with all previous figures from Spyro’s Adventure, but figures can also be used on any Portal of Power. So, if you’re playing Giants on Wii U (like us), you can use the same figure on your buddy’s Portal of Power plugged into his Xbox 360, complete with all the stats you’ve accumulated in your Wii U game.
These aren’t just pieces of plastic covered in paint. They’re alive. Alive, I tell you!
Unfortunately, it seems Activision weren’t quite as creative and insightful when considering the Wii U gamepad. Whichever character is played through the Portal of Power has their stats displayed on the Wii U gamepad. Everything from their strength, agility and stamina. The level progress bar is also displayed, but for some insane reason, does not update properly. It seems the communication issues between what’s happening in the game, and the data being streamed to the Wii U Gamepad are lost in translation. Because the progress bar doesn’t seem to move at all until the character actually levels up.
The rest of the stats seem to track ok, though. Whenever a Skylander wears a hat, the stat increases are accurately displayed. This can be quite useful if you’re swapping between them and trying to decide which is best for your character. There’s also a second screen that shows you the level objectives, as well as presenting the player with a checklist for all collectibles and secrets hidden away on a particular chapter. This is a great way to keep a record of what you’ve got and what you have left to find. As with everything else, Giants is also fully playable on the gamepad's screen.
In summary, Skylanders Giants comes with expected Wii U functionality, yet still manages to make a mess of it , and really doesn’t exercise the creative opportunities the gamepad offers. The Wii U version also seems to hiccup and stutter quite a bit when compared to the 360 version of the game - something that shouldn’t be happening on a brand new system. Due to that, you may as well be playing the game on any other format for the amount of benefit the extra screen provides (off-TV play serving as the main exception, of course).
As for Giants, it isn’t a drastic departure from the original game, but it expands the lore, and for Skylanders fans, is an essential purchase with the new figures and Giant class. The games complement each other in terms of continuity, and Giants feels both a natural progression from Spyro’s Adventure, and a fun game in its own right.
Skylanders Giants is great fun when played as part of family and/or friends. Multiplayer is where the game shines, whether you’re communicating strategy, or just going in for good old button-mashing fun. Giants adds to the original game in some cool new ways, but will definitely need to develop in others to enrich the franchise for future instalments.
- Entertaining gameplay for all the family
- Backwards compatibility with all previous Skylanders
- Heroic Challenges offer lots of replayability
- Wii U functionality quite pointless and broken
- Level design becomes tedious over time
- Game isn’t doing much new
The Short Version: Giants is fun, but does wear out its welcome quickly. The Wii U version is also clunky and sluggish compared to its competitors and Activision haven’t made good use of the gamepad. Not the best of starts for the franchise on a Nintendo home Console.