Hands On With Skylanders Giants

The wizards at Activision have done it again, and this time, they’ve cooked up a bigger version of their hit children’s game, Skylanders. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been little over a year since the Skylanders came into being and won the hearts of gamers both young and old. This time around, fans of the Spyro franchise can dive once more into Skylands with bigger, bolder, and dare I say it, better Skylanders in Skylanders Giants.

At the Sony PlayStation Holiday Event, Gamer Living got to sit down with Activision’s Skylanders Giants’ Production Coordinator, Lou Studdert, to take a first-hand look at the upcoming Skylanders adventure. At first glance, this much-anticipated sequel looks very similar to Spyro’s Adventures, but once you delve deeper, you’ll realize that Activision has made quite a few additions and enhancements to not only the characters but gameplay and graphics as well.

In this Skylanders’ sequel, we’re introduced to the Giants, the original Skylanders who existed over ten thousand years ago but were banished to Earth long before Spyro and his friends were born. With their amazing strength and battle skills, these characters are the stuff of legends. Now that KAOS has returned and is cooking up another dastardly scheme to take over Skylands, it is the Portal Master’s duty to bring back the Giants and help defeat the villain once and for all.

As returning players dive into this new 3D action-adventure platformer, they’ll find quite a few changes. It’s clear the developers noticed that the first Skylanders gained popularity beyond its initial target demographic of children ages 7-12 and made a conscious effort this time around to make Skylanders Giants appeal to players from young to old, casual to hardcore. In this second installment of Skylanders, players now have the option to choose the difficulty level, with your typical Easy (in which the player only uses the analog stick and X button), Medium and Hard Modes at first. Once you’ve finished the campaign in any of these modes, you unlock Nightmare Mode, which ups the ante to one-hit kills. Activision has also built in a dynamic difficulty whereby the game scales the difficulty depending on how well the player is doing.

Fans will be happy to know that Skylanders Giants is forward compatible, so you can bring over any of your Skylanders from the first game, complete with their current stats and unique items. The gameplay is very much the same as the first Skylanders game: You’ll still use the D-pad or analog stick to move around, while pressing the buttons for your primary and secondary attack skills as well as to interact with various items in the environment. Players can elect to play solo or with a friend co-operatively, and either of you can drop in and out of the game at any given point without needing to pause or go to some type of menu. Additionally, you can go into the Battle Arena for head-to-head battles against your friends, with different maps and modes to play through.

Aside from Campaign missions, players can complete Toy Quests which are tied to each figurine. These comprise of five general objectives that all toys will have, three goals based on the character’s element, and one character-specific objective that will unlock our favourite collectible: a new hat! Speaking of which, when I asked about the hat collection in this game, Lou was kind enough to show me the wall of hats – and let me tell you, it was like looking at the Matrix Hall of Hats; the screen kept scrolling through the possible hat slots, which is sure to add countless hours of playtime for the completionists out there.

The stage designs have been altered a bit too, with additional hidden areas off the beaten path and Arena battles at the end of some levels. These Arenas are dynamic, giving you a different environment each time, with different obstacles and foes. Also, many of you may remember those prized Legendary Treasures that we strived to find on each level in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures. In addition to the loot and hats, these giant treasure chests now also hold customization options for Flynn’s ship, which serves as the Skylanders Giants’ Hub (akin to what the Ruins were in the first game). When you change the appearance of Flynn’s ship, you’ll notice those modifications carry into the in-game cutscenes, which gives the game that much more personalization.

In terms of graphics, Skylanders Giants looks much the same as its predecessor. The colours are as vibrant as ever! However, players will see a few changes in the environment as they progress through the game. For one, now when you reach an Elemental Gate, it’s no longer just a door barring you from entering the special area; your surroundings will be affected by the element, giving you a visual cue as to what lies beyond the gate. We happened upon an Undead Gate, and when our character approached it, the skies turned dark and ominous. Furthermore, the developers went to lengths to make the Giants’ size as lifelike as possible, down to their lumbering walk. As the Giants amble through Skylands, the destructible objects in the environment quake with each step they take, adding that extra bit of realism to the game.

Although the game is called Skylanders Giants, the bigger, burlier characters are not the only new guys in town. In addition to the eight Giants (who are over twice the size of regular Skylanders, both in-game and as figurines), Toys for Bob and Activision are introducing eight new regular Skylanders, Lightcore characters as well as Series 2 figures (which are the second iteration of existing characters). We had a chance to see some of these fresh faces (like Tree Rex, Shroom Boom and Pop Fizz) in action, and it was enough to make any fan giddy.

The Giants are of course in a league of their own with their size and strength – even the toys take up twice the space on a portal! What’s interesting is that Activision has made these Giants into an ‘element’ of their own, in that there are now Giant-only areas that can be unlocked when a Giant performs a Feat of Strength. For example, in order to gain access to their area, they would have to show their physical prowess by pulling one of the many floating islands to their own island. The Giant that comes with the Starter Pack and Portal Owners Pack is Tree Rex, who looks like the Hulk-ified big brother of Stump Smash. Tree Rex might become an instant favourite to many fans, as he not only smashes his foes to smithereens, but he can also shoot lasers from his arm.

Lightcore characters, on the other hand, have their own tricks. The toys themselves have certain areas that light up when they’re placed on the Portal of Power – and they don’t require batteries! But it’s not just aesthetics; when the Lightcore characters enter a level for the first time, they set off a smart bomb which obliterates any enemies within the Area of Effect. However, the bomb is a one-time use per level, so players will have to strategize when to introduce the Lightcore characters in order to take full advantage of their devastating AOE ability.

One of my personal favourite new characters is Pop Fizz, a Magic Skylander who’s the crazy scientist of the bunch. This fuzzy blue fella runs around with a wide grin on his face and various potions in hand. His concoctions come in three different colours: orange (explosives), purple (creates little minions), and green (acid). He’ll throw the potions on his enemies while cackling gleefully… or he’ll just guzzle his own inventions – which is more dangerous to others than to him, as it transforms him into a Beast for a limited time!

After just a half-hour demo, it was obvious Activision sought to create a new game with many fresh features. Are you excited to get your hands on the game? I am! Luckily we don’t have too long to wait; Skylanders Giants comes out on October 21st. I’m off to create more shelf space.

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October 15, 2012 - 8:00 am