Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
As many parents have already discovered, crack cocaine for children – thy name is Skylanders.
The game-toy sensation of last year’s holiday season is back for another round, this time in the self-explanatorily titled Skylanders: Giants . In the first instalment, kids played as the Skylanders, a group of cartoonish heroes charged with saving their fantastical cloud world from the evil wizard Kaos. In this second game, it’s pretty much the same thing – except some of the Skylanders are, well, giant.
It’s just as well, because everything about the sequel is bigger – and better.
The Skylanders concept is based on an ingenious interaction between toys and video games. For the uninitiated, it works thus: toy models containing memory chips are placed on a “Portal of Power,” a glowing reader that connects to game consoles via USB port. At any time, the player can swap in a new character simply by removing the toy from the portal and replacing it with another one.
Whenever a character levels up or finds a powerful item in the game, that data is stored on the toy, in its “brain.” The best part is, the toys work across platforms, so if one kid has a PlayStation 3 and another has a Wii, they can still bring their characters over to each others’ houses and play together. The characters “remember” everything, regardless of what system they’re used with. The storyline conceit, meanwhile, is that the Skylanders are real characters that have been frozen by evil villains and can only be brought back to life by the player.
The addictive part comes from the smartly designed levels of Skyland, a psychedelic fantasy world in the clouds, complete with magical dark elves, wizards and goblins. Like many platform-type games, Skylanders: Giants has hidden sections that can only be accessed by certain types of characters. Each toy is classified by an element, so a Fire Skylander is needed to get into Fire sections. That, of course, encourages players to go out and buy the necessary toys.
There are now more than 40 in the series, including eight giants and eight “Lightcore” Skylanders. All of the first game’s toys also work with the sequel.
It would be easy to be cynical about such a blatant cash-grab ploy if the toys themselves weren’t so darn cool. The Giants and Lightcore characters are doubly so, since they feature glowing parts. Tree-Rex, a super strong giant tree creature, has his eyes and gauntlet light up when he’s placed on the portal, for example.
As if the shifting colours of the portal itself didn’t look neat enough sitting next to the game console, now there’s a big, mean-looking tree dude with glowing eyes on top of it too. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the coolness.
The Skylanders concept would ultimately boil down to some gee-whiz technical wizardry if it wasn’t for the fact that the games themselves are a lot of fun. Each character has their own weaponry and powers that can be upgraded through items and currency found around Skyland. The sequel’s plot has the characters once again forced to stop Kaos. To do so, they must journey across the land, solve puzzles, retrieve items and defeat boss monsters.
It’s all pretty much the same as the first game, with players having to push stone blocks to cross chasms and find keys to open gates. The exception, of course, is that the Giants are gifted with super strength, so they can smash certain barriers and throw boulders at enemies. The increased variance means the puzzles are a little more complex than in the first game, with the Giants’ strength often being required.
That said, Skylanders: Giants isn’t a hard game. It’s easy enough to blaze through; the fun comes from upgrading characters and swapping them in and out to discover new sections. Each has different abilities; dragons such as Cynder and Spyro can breathe fire, for example, while Giants such as Tree-Rex possess super strength, but they move more slowly.
The starter pack comes with three toys, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to run out and buy some new ones to access the parts I couldn’t get to. There’s nothing quite so enticing as forbidden fruit, which the game constantly waves in front of you. Skylanders: Giants is crack cocaine indeed.