***EDITORS NOTE*** Are you looking for a REVIEW of the final retail version of Skylanders Giants and find yourself at this preview. Well, you can click HERE to read our Xbox 360 review or you can click HERE to read our Nintendo Wii review. Should you wish to read the preview, continue on reading.
To say that Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure was a massive success would be understatement. During the holiday season last year you could not find the toy figures anywhere. It was the best selling video game from January to April 2012 and the Skylanders madness seem to whip everyone up into a frenzy. Not to mention some of the rare Skylanders figures were selling for as high as 300 bucks on ebay. Last year, COG was lucky enough to see the game in development. Both Editor in Chief , Kirby Y, and I saw the potential. Back then we knew this was going to be a ‘game changer’ and there was no question in our minds that ‘Toys for Bob’ was crafting something special.
Less than a year later, COG was once again invited to the ‘Toys for Bob’ studios located in a gorgeous location in Novato, California to get some hands on time with the next installment in the Skylanders franchise. Now ‘Toys for Bob’ isn’t exactly the largest studio around but they have hired several new staff over the course of the year and well they are about the friendliest down-to-earth bunch I have met in quite some time. ‘Toys for Bob’ isn’t exactly a new studio either. Before the Skylanders era they developed such games as Madagascar 2, Tony Hawk Downhill Jam, and Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure to name a few. Up until the Skylanders franchise hit retail, ‘Toys for Bob’ was not considered a heavy hitter by any means. Well all that has changed now with the success of Skylanders and the team is hoping to build on that success when Skylanders Giants is released later this month.
During my time at the studio I had a chance to play through the first couple of chapters and also get some hands on time with some of the various in-game challenges. It wasn’t all that much time but enough to give you a good preview of what you should expect when the game arrives. To a degree the “if it ain’t broke” approach was taken with Skylanders Giants. Once again you hook up your Skylanders portal to your Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii. Yes fortunately you can use your existing portal with Skylanders Giants which will come as a welcome relief to those who have already shelled out big bucks towards the original game. Once you place a toy figure on the Portal, the screen starts to illuminate and instantly your character appears on screen like magic. You will notice a few new animations this time around and the Skylanders actually speak when they appear. Previously the Skylanders just babbled, this time around you can expect some chatter. After you character appears on screen you are free to roam much like you did in the previous game. If you get sick of playing with your character or if your character dies, you simply take the toy off the portal and replace him with one of your existing characters. This core aspect of Skylanders is back and remains in large part unchanged.
The actual gameplay is very similar as well. Skylanders Giants campaign will feature 16-chapters. You can play solo or alongside a friend in the comfort of your home. There are no online capabilities or plans for some DLC; however, Toys for Bob is very mindful of its target audience and not comfortable with the idea of say 7-year olds playing online with strangers on Xbox Live. I don’t blame them. Much like in the original game you spend the bulk of your time taking down cranky enemies, collecting coins, smashing things, locating keys, puzzle solving, moving large objects, and doing whatever it takes to make it to the end of the chapter. Of course leveling up your character remains a massive draw to the game and this time your characters can level up to level 15 (up from 10 last time). Of course there are also a slew of unlockables including some 80 hats for your characters.
So up to this point I have yet to mention the Giants themselves. Yes the biggest addition is the inclusion of giant sized Skylanders. There will be eight in total; however, I was told not all eight will be available at launch unfortunately. The figures themselves are larger than the standard Skylanders and on screen they are equally imposing. The feeling of lumbering around the levels absolutely demolishing everything in sight is certainly satisfying. If you have played the recent Transformers game and thrashed around the levels with Grimlock you will know exactly what I mean. The figures themselves are not as big as I expected them to be but the good news is that not only does one fit on the portal but two Giants fit on the portal at the same time. Two Giants fit on a portal with no problems at all making for some awesome 2-player co-op experiences with two larger than life Skylanders. The Giants can take a fair amount of damage but are by no means indestructible. There were quite a few times my character would die and I would subsequently have to replace my character on the portal. That said, I certainly enjoyed moving about the chapters with my mini Godzilla-like Skylander.
In addition to the eight new Skylander Giants which just happen to represent each of the eight elements, there were will be eight brand new Skylanders and twenty four re-positioned Skylanders. For those parents that were a little worried all of their existing figurines they purchased for the original Skylanders game were going to be null and void I have good news for you. Yes you can use your existing Skylander figures in the Skylanders Giants game. This being said you cannot use the Giants in lasts years Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure game. Regardless, I have to give plenty of kudos to Activision and Toys for Bob for taking into account all those people and parents out there, including myself, who already have purchased a significant amount of characters and already have a perfectly functioning portal.
Yet if you are a fan of the previous Skylanders game you will absolutely want to buy the new figures including the re-positioned ones. The new re-positioned Skylanders will have a new pose, a new power, can now level up to level 15, have a new look and they also light up. Yes that’s right, the Skylanders Giants figurines can actually light up when placed on the portal. Once again, I was impressed with the detail of each character. The colour schemes are impressive and you can tell each character was designed with meticulous detail. The collector value will once again be in high demand as well as these are not cheap looking toys.
One of the cool things about using your existing Skylanders characters is that they can now level up 5 more levels up to level 15 as I mentioned above. If you are like me and have several of your favorite characters at level 10, you now have more incentive to use your original figures for Skylanders Giant. Much like the previous Skylanders game you are encouraged to use different Skylanders in different situations. Solving the in-game puzzles can be tackled one way with the Giants or tackled another way with the regular sized Skylanders. You can truly play the game how you like and with whatever character you feel like. Whether you want to mash away with a Giant or slice and dice you way through levels with Stealth Elf, Skylanders Giants will offer up a great deal of variety in terms of how you want to beat the 16-chapters and of course take on those nasty boss fights. Skylanders Giants will feature some epic and entertaining boss fights this time around as well.
One of the few gripes regarding the previous Skylanders game was the lack of difficulty levels. Many mature gamers found the game too much of a breeze. With Skylanders Giants there are now three difficulty levels. There is an easy level, a normal level and a nightmare level for the hardcore fans who want a serious challenge. So now there is a level of challenge for all ages and experiences.
Much like the gameplay, the visuals have received some enhancements as well. I played the game on the Xbox 360 and everything seemed sharper and much more polished. The attacks looked smoother and none of the animations seemed awkward or out of place. The games environments seem a little more colourful and they also seem quite a bit larger. I noticed Skylanders making footstep marks as they walked and I noticed wheel marks as well. Needless to say, Skylanders Giants looks sharp and looks like the development team have up the ante in the visuals department.
In terms of the audio, all the original voice actors are back and Hans Zimmer once again takes care of the musical score. In addition to the regular cast George Takei, Bobcat Goldthwait and Kevin Sorbo also lend their voice to the game. You will get a singing boss and a jukebox that plays various tunes. The music now blends nicely from one sequence to the next instead of stopping and starting. All in all, the audio appears to have been improved as well.
At the end of the day, Skylanders Giants is looking like a must own for those fans franchise and even those who are curious with what all the Skylanders hubbub is about. The new Giant figures look great and the fact you can play the game with your ‘old’ Skylanders is a plus. Of course you can still play with your figures on any platform and they retain their level. While the core gameplay remains intact, Skylanders Giants provides enough new to warrant the pre-order.