"A Toy Story"
You have to hand it to Activision. With phenomena like Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty, the company's great minds undoubtedly do know how to read the market, milking a franchise for all it is worth and then moving on to the next big thing. So, what is their current "big thing"? Take a look at the year-old Skylanders series, astonishingly one of the company's biggest money-makers thanks to its ingenious reliance on its accompanying toyline. With Skylanders Giants hitting as many platforms as possible – the gameplay remaining practically unchanged across most platforms – its financial reign is set to continue. It surely does not hurt that the concept behind the series is genuinely solid!
The game introduces a new wave of characters based on the eponymous "Giants". Hulking figures, both in video game and tangible toy form (they are about two to three times the size of regular characters), the Giants are the stars of what little narrative there is. Even though their massive sizes allow them great power, the developers ensured that your older, favorite characters are not made obsolete. In contrast to the regular Skylanders, Giants are much slower and have difficulty in dodging attacks.
Skylanders Giants's gameplay is based largely around collecting as much loot as you can, so exploration is emphasized. To not deter from that, there is not much to worry about in the complexity department. Luckily, there are three difficulty settings available with an unlockable, harder Nightmare mode, should you feel the need to really challenge yourself.
The main campaign of Skylanders Giants is comprised of 16 decently-sized stages, but gameplay is furthered by the extra modes available. Heroic Challenges return and have been revamped to provide more variety; the new Arena Battles mode is a simple take on a staple in most modern games, where you fight off increasingly tough waves of enemies; and last is the new, surprisingly deep, and addictive Skystones mini-game that tasks you with placing cards on a set grid. The idea here is to have more cards on the field than your opponent once the grid is full. It requires a bit of strategy, as you can steal tiles and have yours stolen.
Aside from the newer modes, the fundamental mechanics of the first game remain intact in Skylanders Giants. Skylanders are categorized into one of eight elements, each bringing distinct powers to the incredibly accessible combat. By introducing new characters and updating past ones in both design and abilities, Skylanders has taken the Gotta-Catch-'Em-All mantra of the Pokémon series to great heights.
What really drives this idea is that, in game, many areas are closed off to characters of specific elements. You will, of course, need to purchase the appropriate type of figures to gain entry to these exclusive areas (cynics might view this as a cheap ploy to increase toy sales, and they would not be too far off). Thankfully, your old figures are still playable in this new game, and you can even level them up further in Skylanders Giants, as the cap was raised from 10 to 15.
Any and all experience that your characters gain is saved directly onto the figure itself (along with profile information), behaving as a memory card. This allows you to load your uniquely leveled Skylander into a friend's game, making for a more attached cooperative gameplay experience (multiplayer is limited to two player local; no online play). Ease of use is highlighted here, as your figure can be loaded up on any console. If you start your game on the PS3, for example, you can still use your character on a friend's Xbox 360.
Skylanders Giants takes the novel idea of playing with toys and actually offers adventures for players and their figures to go on. How much value you place in collecting these surprisingly functional figures will likely determine your enjoyment of the game. For those who do, Skylanders Giants is absurdly addictive and satisfying.
GameDynamo's Score for Skylanders Giants (Wii)
Writes for a few media outlets, does graphic design work for a few clients, as well as production work for a few studios (all poorly). Believes the best correlation between the words "twilight" and "sparkle" has less to do with vampires and more to do with a sarcastic pony.
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