Skylanders Giants – Xbox 360 review

Regular Games Asylum readers will know that we have a soft spot for Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. It was one of the first games from Activision in a long time that didn’t feel as if Bobby Kotick had booted the developers’ door down and forced them to create it at gunpoint. Lovingly made with a cast of memorable characters, it oozed charm and creativity.

This sequel is no different.

The storyline takes a little while to get going, starting with a flashback sequence that acts as tutorial to ease you into the swing of things. We then learn that pint-sized pest Kaos has accidentally awakened an ancient robot and so the Skylanders must set off to find their own colossal robot and save Skylands.

Before catching up with Kaos though, a few engine parts have to be found for the flying fortress which acts as the game’s hub. It’s a lot more claustrophobic than the original game’s ever-changing island hub, but the fortress does undergo some changes as the story progresses. Legendary treasures can be used to kit it out with different paint jobs and the like, while later a gun turret is added that can be used to play a balloon popping mini-game. Balloons with sheep dangling from them, no less. The Luck-o-Tron is something else new found in the hub and is used to improve the chances of enemies dropping health or treasure.

The giants are the big new addition though, rubbish pun fully intended there. They can be used at any time and are able to pick up and throw boulders, shift log piles and also move islands by grabbing the chains anchoring them down and giving them a yank. Most of these tasks require a dose of button bashing – “Feat of strength!” yells the announcer, in a manner reminiscent of Mortal Kombat’s infamous “Test your might!” sound sample.

The giants make the whole experience a tad easier due to their size and strength. The pack-in character Tree Rex has a hefty ground-pound attack and can gain a very handy projectile attack as an early upgrade. Although the camera does pan out when a giant is being controlled they do sometimes obscure the view of the second player. We assume this isn’t the case when two players are using giants.

The first few chapters feel a bit run of the mill, but soon the imaginative moments start to surface. The ice world has a couple of huge ice bowls which you have to skate around to build up momentum to exit, and there’s a short robot-battling mission where you’re sat behind the controls of a giant mech. Better still is the adventure on an island that’s home to slightly-creepy wooden dolls. Flicking a switch turns their world from 2D wooden cut-outs to 3D buildings you can enter – a mechanic that has to be used to solve a few different puzzles. Each level is packed with so many hidden areas that it’s doubtful that you’ll discover all them on your first run.

Early on a new single-player mini-game called Skystones becomes available, and quite frequently has to be played to progress. It’s a tile-based battle game where whoever has the most tiles on the screen at the end wins. Battles get trickier as more powerful titles are made available but there is a purchasable item that can be used to automatically win. Although it’s quite an engaging mini-game its inclusion is still an odd one – a co-operative mini-game would have made more sense seeing as Skylanders has a focus on playing with a pal.

Another downer is that there’s a slightly sense of familiarity throughout – a lot of sound-effects and enemies from the first game have been recycled, which is likely to be down to the fact that there’s only been a year between the first game and this sequel.

There are just enough new inclusions to forgive this, thankfully. Although we can’t vouch versions on other formats, the Xbox 360 version is a big improvement over the first game visually. The character models have had a spruce up and the CGI cut-scenes are a cut above what we’ve seen before, with the character’s faces showing more detail and whatnot. The music remains pleasing and Patrick Warburton – aka Joe from Family Guy – reprises the role of Flynn, a character who plays a slightly bigger part this time round.

It’s very easy to be cynical about a game that requires you to buy additional figures to access all the areas the game has to offer, but you have to remember that buying a figure cannot be compared to downloading some DLC at an additional cost. You’re getting something physical in return for your money. If you don’t want your gaming room to be cluttered with plastic figures then perhaps Skylands Giants isn’t for you. If, however, you miss the pre-Kinect days of Rare then it’s recommended you give Skylanders Giants a chance. There’s an undeniable hint of a Rare-like quality to it, and anything that brings back memories of Banjo-Kazooie, and to a lesser extent Donkey Kong 64, can only be a good thing.

Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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