Review by nobodys_savior
"If you can get past the expensive Pricetag, you're in for a hell of a great time"
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of Activision in recent years. The way the CEO talks about game design, how they've milked most of their franchises to the ground, I had at one point thought that I'd never buy a brand new Activision game ever again.
I'm also the guy that will play anything at all and stick with it so long as it's fun. I'm glad to say that Skylanders Giants is one of those games. The premise is simple: Take your little toy dudes to go through your A-Typical water levels, lava levels, and ice levels of platform game 101 fame, and save the world from the Big Bad. That's what it looks like on the surface anyways, but underneath a simple chocolaty exterior lies a creamy, easy to go down depth that shocked me.
Story: The story is quite simple, and does take place after the first game (which admittedly I did not play, although I will eventually be picking up). The Evil Kaos (voiced by the same guy that did Invader Zim, and in all actuality the character here is largely the same) has been defeated by Spyro and the Skylander gang in the first game, and finds himself on store shelves in the real world staring at toy versions of those who had bested him. His loyal minion Glumshanks finds him on a TV in the store, next to a Portal of Power that's been set up (more on that in a moment), and seeing as how he is a Portal Master, he uses it to get back into Skyland.
His goal: Destroy Skyland. Yours is to stop that from happening.
This is a game marketed and sold to children, the storyline itself is far from highest of high quality here, but at the same time it's serviceable and gives the player a goal. The game is littered with different character types and amusing humor. I'll admit, I chuckled a few times but again, the storyline and dialogue was written for children and works well for what it is.
Gameplay: Knowing that the first game in this series was billed as a Spyro game, I figured even if it was just a name drop, it would be predominantly a platforming game. It has the cutesy mascots and the usual element themed levels. With that expectation, I was pleasantly surprised with what the game truly was: A Hack n' Slash Action RPG.
The game comes with a Portal of Power, which you hook up to the system via USB, then place one of your Skylander Toys onto it and watch as they become a playable character in the game. The game comes with three figures; Two of which are normal sized, and a new character type: The Giants, which are legendary creatures in the game world. You will need their strength to open up paths and progress through the game.
As you make your way through the game, you collect treasure (loot) which is used to purchase items in game. You also have an experience meter which goes up as you defeat enemies, and you can use the treasure you collect to purchase new abilities on your airship, that serves as a base of operations of sorts. The loot and level ups get saved onto the figurine, rather than on your save file, so you can bring that figurine to a friends house (or a future game), and keep all your experience and loot as you travel.
The levels themselves are usually simple, tasking you with eliminating all enemies or solving a quick lock-picking puzzle to get further. Also, there are certain area's that are blocked off, and can only be opened by a Skylander of the corresponding element. These areas are all purely optional, usually netting you some loot or a Hat, this games version of an armor that ups one or more of your stats by a bit.
Over the course of the game, you unlock other fun little distractions. There's Skystones, a mini game where you collect stones and place them on a 3X3 grid. Each stone has a picture of one of the enemies you've been fighting up to this point, and up to four arrows on each of their sides. The object of the game is to capture your opponents stones by placing your own stones on the grid, making the sides line up next to your opponents stones. You capture their piece of your stone has more arrows on that side then the side lining up next to the opposing square. Any RPG vets may recognize this as a very simplified version of Triple Triad of Final Fantasy VIII, but to those new to the game it is a fun, although simple distraction.
There is also an arena, where three waves of enemies chase you in a very small area, usually with some kind of extra hindrance tacked on. Also, each Skylander has their own Heroic Challenge, a timed mission usually involving defeating all the enemies, or a set number of specific bad guys, all to get experience and loot (during the mission), and each successful challenge nets you a permanent stat boost. Every Skylander has a unique mission, and if you register them on that save file these missions become available for other Skylanders to take part in.
So if this sounds like a gimmicky cash-grab kind of thing, you aren't entirely wrong. There is a distinct Gotta Catch 'em All feel to the whole thing. Each Skylander having their own powers and challenge level does make one, myself included, want to purchase all that I can. There are even items in game, Soul Gems, that act as commercials for Skylanders that you may not already have. The added incentive of only being able to unlock said Skylanders final ability by finding these things helps this too.
However, the premise is not entirely unreasonable. You only need one of each elemental type, plus one Giant, to access all the hidden goodies in each level, and you really only need the starter set to progress through the game itself. However, to unlock everything, truly everything, yeah, it's going to be expensive.
Music and Sound: The score is well put together, equal parts open, upbeat, and at times sinister, while still remaining... well, the only word I can really use to describe it is fun! The main theme of the game was scored by Hans Zimmer, creator of many a movie song, and the sound is typical of a game of this genre. My one criticism stems from the fact that the main theme has a tendency to repeat itself a bit, parts of it seeming to creep into every level at some point, with minor changes in tempo depending on which part of the level you're in, and what kind of Skylander you're using.
Sounds also, pretty typical fare for a game of this type. Smashes of fist to ground, the air vacuum of Jet-Vac's usual shots, sword swipes, quick one-liners from the cast of characters. Nothing to complain about, nothing really noteworthy either.
Difficulty remained consistent throughout as well. New and stronger enemy types introduced at a steady pace kept the game from being a walk in the park, even with using only one Skylander pretty much throughout the entire game. You have as many lives as you have Skylanders. If one of your toys loses all it's health, it's a simple matter of switching out to another, and the one who fainted will remain unusable for the remainder of the level.
Replay: All mileage varies on this one. A harder difficulty, Nightmare Mode gets unlocked after beating the game the first time, there are plenty of sidequests and minigames to play when the main story is done, plus leveling up any and all Skylanders toys that you get, not to mention Drop-In Couch Co-op ala the Lego games, as well as an out of Story mode PVP Arena where you can also earn cash and experience. All that, coupled with finding all the hats and hidden areas in every level makes this a long, fulfilling title for a kids game.
Final Verdict: I enjoyed the game. The style suits my taste, it's an easy mode version of games like Diablo and Torchlight, mixed with the collection aspect of the Pokemon games. The game is solid for both young gamers and their parents or older siblings.
However, the price tag on collecting all those Skylanders toys stops this from getting a perfect score. The in-game commercials are a perfect sales pitch to the youngins, and I know I'm hooked just like I was hooked to Pokemon way back in the day. I'm not faulting Activision with this one either, it's a smart business decision. To top it off, there's a solid game backing it all up, which is commendable and respectable. Despite there being a scoring element, I have my own way of recommending games, and it's as follows:
Buy it if you were a fan of games like Lego Star Wars and Diablo, and want a nice combination of both to play with your kids or even yourself.
Rent it if you can, but bare in mind that the Skylanders figures will already be leveled up a bit, so the beginning of the game will be a breeze.
Avoid it if you aren't a fan at all of the games I've referenced earlier, or just have no money to spend on all the extras and bells and whistles.
The game is good, but expensive. If you can get past the price tag, you're in for a hell of a great time.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/13
Game Release: Skylanders Giants (Starter Pack) (US, 10/21/12)
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