Skylanders: Giants Review

October 28, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Toys for Bob, n-Space
Publisher(s): Activision, Neoplay, Square-Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U
Review Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 21, 2012

Video games for kids don’t have the hottest track record. They’re usually quick cash grabs for companies and they tend to lack innovation, polish, and particularly challenge. So when I say that Skylanders: Giants is a fantastic game, for small and big gamers alike, that’s kind of a big deal. I was never lured into the whole Pokémon phenomenon when I was younger, and while Skylanders is conceptually very similar, it’s so superbly executed that I found myself instantly hooked from the moment I plugged in the Skylanders portal. Maybe it’s the kid in me reminiscing the days of Monster Hunter, maybe I’m just flabbergasted by an exceptionally good kid’s game, whatever the reason may be, Skylanders: Giants is a hit.
  • Possibly the best kid’s game in years
  • A ton of content
  • Superb visuals/art style
  • A haven for collectors
  • Couch Co-op
  • Pricey in the long run
  • No jump button
  • Simplistic puzzles
Going into this title, I knew next to nothing about the predecessor Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. If memory serves right, I remember seeing the figurines sold at my local GameStop and thinking, “Ha, look at those silly Pokémon wannabees.” Boy was I wrong. Sure the game sold over 30 million figurines worldwide, but that doesn’t define quality. In this case, I can see why kids went bonkers over the game. If I had to break it down to its simplest form, I’d say Skylanders: Giants is a dungeon crawler…but it’s so much more.

The narrative tells the backstory of how the ancient Skylander “Giants” were separated from the normal sized Skylanders. The sequel is structurally very similar to the original, you’re going through levels solving puzzles and battling foes while switching around various Skylanders using the provided portal. For those of you new to the franchise, you plug the portal into your Xbox 360’s USB and the game recognizes whatever Skylander toy you place on top. The figurines are labeled as toys with brains, meaning all leveling up and upgrading is stored in each Skylander and players can take them to a friend’s house for battling.

Every story chapter takes place on a uniquely themed floating island with a plethora of treasures and hidden pathways. Each puzzle requires a particular Skylander’s skill or element and you can either switch them around when playing by yourself, or you can place multiple Skylanders onto the portal for co-op play. This also means that certain areas are inaccessible until you purchase the appropriate Skylander - but that’s sort of the point. Puzzles aren’t particularly difficult though and most of them fall into a simple pattern of pushing around boxes and pulling levers. But the real joy is in the varied combat that changes depending on your Skylander. Each Skylander has a unique set of upgradable attacks and with over forty characters to collect you can expect tremendous diversity.  What’s great is that if you’ve collected Skylanders from the first game, the sequel provides complete compatibility with your older figurines.

The portal system works flawlessly, letting you switch characters on the fly without interrupting the gameplay with loading screens. Character progression works similarly to standard RPGs. You’re leveling up Skylanders by defeating enemies and you can purchase upgrades and equip special items that provide combat perks, like extra attack damage or speed. Additionally, you can enter challenge arenas that are significantly more difficult but carry precious awards.     

Challenge arenas, stores, and other activities are unlocked throughout your adventure and become accessible on Flynn’s ship during your travels. Flynn is the captain of a flying ship that is your hub world between missions and becomes heavily populated with new side characters as you help them out on your journey. Some of these characters are storeowners that provide special items while others let you play mini games. One of the most popular pastimes in Skylanders is a card game that’s undeniably addictive and oftentimes challenging. Winning the game requires quite a bit of critical thinking as well as a good set of cards that you can collect by beating other players. Sometimes characters will challenge you to a card game in the middle of a mission and beating them unlocks hidden treasures.

But the gameplay diversity doesn’t stop there. Outside the meaty campaign is the Battle Mode that’s very much its own game and provides multiple playgrounds for battling your friends. Arena Rumble is a versus mode similar to Powerstone and Smash Brothers. Each battlefield is populated with portals, jump pads, hazards, and weapon power ups. Skygoals is a football hybrid where you have to catch a bouncing ball and toss it through the goal or run for a touchdown. Skygem Master has you collecting gems and the first person to collect five is the winner - the tricky part being your opponent can knock out your gems by shooting you. Lastly we have the Ring Out mode, which is somewhat of a simplified boxing match. Players who send their opponent flying out of the ring win. The game is loaded with gameplay options and I applaud the developers for going the extra mile and cramming so much content into the game.

Giants is a fantastic looking game. Its art style is similar to World of Warcraft but it has its own, almost Pixar-esque, aesthetic. Every time you visit a new world you’re treated to a uniquely designed environment. From tropical settings to pirate-themed carnivals, each area radiates with personality, vivid colors, and charm. New enemies are introduced around every corner and each of the 40+ new Skylanders is marvelously crafted. Accompanying the beautiful graphics is a memorable orchestral soundtrack and top of the line voice acting. The awesome Patrick Warburton voices captain Flynn and every supporting character does a fascinating job of making you feel attached to the world and its inhabitants.

Skylanders: Giants is not only a superb sequel that offers shocking amounts of content, great graphics, and an immersive universe, but also raises the bar for kid’s games to unparalleled heights. While the “gotta catch ‘em all” motto seems trite and trivial after so many years of Pokémon, there’s no other franchise that offers the kind of quality and attention to detail as the Skylanders series. Skylanders: Giants is an absolute must if you have younger gamers in your household and I’d even recommend it to gamer friends of my own generation.

Final Score “Step aside Pokémon” 8.5
A beautifully crafted universe filled with bizarre characters, varied environments, a buttery smooth frame rate, vivid colors, and over forty incredibly designed Skylander figurines. From the moment you plug in the portal, the game sucks you in with its unique art style and lovable charm. This is exactly what a kid's game is supposed to look like!
While simplistic in execution, the gameplay is incredibly diverse with each Skylander offering different combat abilities and never-ending upgrades. Puzzles are a bit on the easy side, but the controls are tight and the enemies offer a decent challenge, even for big gamers.
The Starter Pack alone will keep you busy for a long time, but if you decide to collect all 40+ new Skylanders, the game has unlimited replayability, especially when battling your friends in Battle Mode.
A catchy soundtrack that you'll keep humming long after you've unplugged the portal. And if that isn't enough, the game offers some of the best voice acting around, with Patrick Warburton stealing the show as captain Flynn.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin. 

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  1. Getting this asap. Good deal too, price wise.

  2. One of the most underrated games this year.


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