Skylanders Giants was revealed today as the next step for the franchise at an event in New York that echoed Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure original announcement at last year’s Toy Fair. Since that announcement last year the game has gone from strength to strength — something seen in the voracious popularity of the toy figures ($7.99 Amazon) that grant access to the different video game characters selling out.
Skylanders has come under criticism in some quarters for including promotional videos in the game-play to publicize the different toy figures you could buy. Some also criticized the game for only making characters and worlds available if players had purchased extra figures. That said, you could complete the game with the three that came with the Starter Pack ($49.99 Amazon), something that would take most players a good 20 hours.
Skylanders Giants is a substantial update to what is becoming a fast-growing franchise for Activision. While some thought this might simply be more figures with some added DLC, it is in fact an out-and-out sequel. Gameplay is largely similar and offers a new shared-screen multiplayer story but the real interest is in the way Skylanders Giants, no doubt controversially for some, extends the range of toys that accompany the experience:
- 8 Giant Skylanders: One out-sized Skylander for each of the different elements. These characters have special abilities in-game, but balanced in such a way that they shouldn’t eclipse the original Skylanders. Each of the Giant Skylanders has elements that light up when placed on the Portal and is about twice the size of the original figures.
- 4 Light Skylanders: Four special edition figures that have light up parts when placed on the Portal. Like the Giant Skylanders, this extends the RFID technology to wirelessly power the figures and avoids the need for batteries.
- 8 New Skylanders: Eight new normal sized Skylander figures, one for each of the elements. These extend the elemental families with new figures that complement those already available.
- 24 Re-released Skylanders: Although exact details were less forthcoming on this issue, it seems the plan is to release a fresh set of Skylanders figures in different poses and holding different items to the originals.
The original set of figures and any upgrades/experience/hats you have earned are supported by the new game but new figures can’t be played with the original adventure. Interestingly, the figures I got my hands on at the event all had orange (rather than green) base plates. This may well reflect the need to distinguish between original and new sets of Skylanders figures at retail. This color coding system will help ensure players buy figures appropriate for their version of the game.
The new game offers considerable value for those who have invested in a collection of Skylanders already. Not only will it offer a new main adventure but each character’s challenge modes will be updated with new levels. The gameplay mechanics are largely the same as the original, although the introduction of the Giant characters creates new interactive scenarios. Some routes through the game will need a Giant Skylander to access.
While it sounds like you will be able to finish the game with any characters you own, Skylanders Giants undoubtedly introduces a few new reasons to extend your collection — not least with the full update of those original Skylanders figures. It will be interesting to see if Skylanders Giants is sold on its own, or whether you will have to buy it in Starter Pack form with one of the Giants figures. I suspect that this would be the case otherwise many of the new game’s features will not be accessible.
Playing the game, I was impressed at how integrated the Giants were to the action. There was also something very engaging about matching the outsized Giant Tree Smash figure with the diminutive Stealth Elf. Although the Giant Skylander was much stronger and inflicted more damage there were more than a few occasions when Stealth Elf’s agility gave her the advantage.
Seeing the Giant Skylander light up as it gets near to the Portal is also a very nice touch (and on my children’s wish list). It adds to the already strong sense of connection between the real world toy figure and the video game character. I know my kids will also want a method of lighting them up when away from the game though which was not mentioned at the presentation. Being able to hide a glowing Giant Skylander under your duvet at bedtime would be worth the price of entry alone for my eldest son. I’m sure it will also signal various nighttime versions of the games they play with the toys, again making use of their ability to light up.
Overall it really is more of the same for Skylanders, but this is no bad thing. There is the same tension between the marketing and creativity the game has to offer. Continuing to get this balance right will be increasingly difficult as the range of figures grows though — particularly if the new figures signal a cessation of the originals, which will further inflate their already ludicrous second hand value.
Either way, provided they can solve their toy distribution issues (so players can easily purchase figures for their RRP) the level of innovation in the Light, Giant and New Skylanders figures should be enough to allay any short term frustrations that parents may have with the game.
It won’t be until we have more details, and full hands-on time with Skylanders Giants, that we will be able to tell just how good the next Skylanders chapter is. My children have developed quite a bond to their collection of Skylanders toys, who accompany us pretty much everywhere from shopping trips to seeing their grandparents, and I know they will be excited to hear there are more adventures coming at the end of the year.
Time to set up an Amazon Search for Skylanders Giants if you want to be in early.