The wallet slayers have returned! The little plastic figures from the Skylanders series are back in an all new adventure. Skylanders Giants features new characters, old friends, new Skylands to explore, and the return of the silly villain, Kaos. Warning, this game gets expensive. Activision and developer Toys for Bob aren't even pretending this isn't a money pit. In fact, it seems like they're proud of that fact.
Skylanders Giants' opening scene takes place on a toy store shelf, where the Skylanders and Kaos do a little playground trash talking. I didn't really pay attention to the conversation. I smiled happily when I saw the figures I owned, and lamented when I saw figures that were missing from my collection. With this one opening scene the Skylanders had their tiny hooks in me.
If you are new to the series I highly recommend reading our Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Co-Op Review from last year. Our own Marc Allie does an excellent job of covering the many different facets of the Skylanders game. For the most part the core concepts remain largely unchanged in this sequel, which is a good thing.
If you don't feel like clicking links I'll sum up the concept here: Each Skylanders game comes with a "Portal of Power," a wireless or USB peripheral that allows you to place up to two Skylanders figures on it. When you put your Skylander on the Portal it technomagically appears in the game. You can switch between characters at any time, so long as you have additional figures. More Skylanders figures equals more in-game characters. The coolest feature is that each character can be leveled up and upgraded, and this information is stored in that figure, not the game itself. So your level 10 Skylander will be a level 10 character no matter what system you're playing on, be it Xbox 360, PS3, or Wii. You will collect them all, or cry trying.
A Series 1 Stealth Elf with a Giants Tree Rex on one Portal of Power.
First things first: The entire story mode can be played cooperatively by two local players. The second player simply has to push a button to join and then they can place a second Skylander on the Portal of Power. Both players can swap out Skylanders figures on the fly at almost any time. Similar to the first player, the second player's character will retain all of their XP, upgrades, and currency. The only downside is that story progress and achievements are applied solely to the main profile.
The meat of the game is a third-person action adventure with light RPG elements. The 16 chapter campaign will take several hours to complete, several more if you wish to collect everything and explore all the areas. Use your Skylander's unique powers and attacks to defeat the forces of Kaos. Skylanders Giants has more challenges, a wider variety of areas and enemies, and better writing than the previous entry. There's a whole lot less "BOOM!" from the excitable pilot Flynn, (voiced by Patrick Warburton) which is a huge improvement itself.
As you progress through the game you'll level up and earn currency which will allow you to purchase upgrades. The gameplay is simple and solid. Remember, this is a game for kids. A child of six or so should have no problem with the story mode. The later levels are a little more daunting, but that's what co-op and parents (or older siblings) are for. There is also a Nightmare mode, which will offer older players (or hard core six-year-olds) more of a challenge.
The Giant figures are over powered, but that's the point.
There are several other gameplay options that aren't a part of the core game. Some of them are co-op, some of them are kind of co-op, and some are for solo play. There's a new arena mode that can be accessed early on from your hub world (or hub ship, I should say). Two players can take on waves of enemies, earning XP and cash for upgrades. This is an excellent addition to the game, allowing you to level up and upgrade your Skylanders without having to replay chapters.
There's also a new card game called "Skystones." Here only one player controls the action. It's a simple game, and at times you'll need to play it to continue on with a level. Player Two might not enjoy the break in the gameplay, but there's an opportunity to discuss simple strategy with younger players.
Heroic Challenges have returned. These allow you to perform more difficult tasks for a permanent boost to your character's stats. These are solo missions, and they can be quite challenging. There's still a player versus player Battle Mode, for those of you who enjoy a little friendly competition. Two players can battle their Skylanders to see who has the toughest toy.