So how do I describe Skylanders: Giants? On the surface this would appear to be something far out of my experience, as I am not really the intended audience for this kind of game. But if My Little Pony can find an audience outside of its intended market then maybe I can find some enjoyment from an overly colour saturated kid’s product.
The gameplay of Skylanders is simple in both theory and practice. It is based around the previous games mechanics of using small toy figures and placing them on a portal device which is hooked up to the Xbox 360. The gameplay evokes the aesthetics of standard dungeon crawlers of the past whose formula is grinding mobs till you get through to the stage boss fight. This gives you loot to upgrade and customize the various aspects of the Skylanders.
The game opens with one of the most meta-awesome/wtf!? openings in gaming history. During the opening you see the boss from the previous game, Kaos, awaken in our world and use a game portal to re-enter Skylands. The main story campaign is pretty simple: you run dungeons, fight bosses, watch cut scene–repeat. The main conflict revolves around preventing Kaos from gaining access to an ancient destructive relic which would give him the power to conquer all of Skylands.
From a technical standpoint the game is very retro with a few interesting innovations. The Skylanders don’t really have a personality and don’t affect the story in an individual way; rather, they represent certain gameplay mechanics in the same way you would match up different Pokemon in order to get specific results. Just as in the previous game, you place the various Skylander dolls on the game portal and they appear in the game. The difference with Giants is the addition of the new giants and lightcore action figures which have special abilities used to unlock specific areas in the game. All the new sets come with at least one standard giant. From an aesthetic standpoint the art design very much evokes the style of a kid’s cartoon with a highly saturated colour palette and cartoonish characters which are obviously meant to appeal to a very young audience.
From a gameplay standpoint there is little to note outside of the standard dungeon crawl though there are tons of mini-games including arena battles both on and offline, various time trials, a matching tile/ card game called Skystones and a dozen other little games of varying difficulty. As far as the online content goes it is very similar to the old Pokemon battles: you import your Skylanders and have them battle other peoples’ Skylanders. The end result is there is quite a lot of content beyond the standard dungeon crawler that you would normally find in a game like, for example, Phantasy Star.
In the end this is supposed to be a kid’s game and it is heavily marketed as such; the real question here isn’t for older reviewers such as myself if we should buy it but rather whether or not parents should invest the $80 price tag to pick up the game on top of the additional money that you will need to invest in order to allow your child to fully experience the game (the starter kit only comes with three figures and there are eight different types which the kid will be asking for at minimum). The good news is that if you already bought the previous Skylanders game it shouldn’t be much of a problem as the figures from the previous set work with the new game as well.
All in all if you’re a parent and want something new to distract your kid for hours on end to keep them out of your hair you could do far worse than picking up Skylanders: Giants, but beyond that most gamers probably won’t find much value in this over-saturated dungeon-crawler.