Though the Skylanders series began by using Spyro’s name in the moniker, the purple dragon appears to have been dropped in favor of supporting the brand as a whole.  With that shift comes Skylanders: Giants, a new adventure that will let players once again pick up their action figures and bring them into the game world.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Skylanders employs a mysterious form of technology the developers have dubbed “magic” to wirelessly store character info into the various Skylanders action figures.  Players choose their playable characters by placing one of the collectible figurines onto the game’s real-life portal, and after a short introduction video that character enters the game world.  These Skylanders can then be leveled up and upgraded, and all of that progress is stored in the figurines, which can be used in any version of the game on any platform.  It’s an addicting concept to be sure, particularly for kids, but the customization and charm brought in many seasoned gamers as well, and much of the fan input has gone into crafting the latest Skylanders adventure.

New to the series, as the title suggests, are the Giants, hulking in-game characters whose figures are appropriately larger than the traditional characters.  These behemoths, one for each of the game’s elements will all be able to manipulate the environment in ways their smaller counterparts cannot.  Activision demoed two of them, one being the punny named Tree Rex, who can move large objects and even pick up boulders that appeared gargantuan when controlling a traditional character.  He also has his own brand of attacks that transform enemies into plants, meaning your destruction is actually saving the environment, kids!

Another giant on display included Bouncer, who uses finger pistols as weapons, only he actually shoots projectiles out of his hands unlike children who pretend to do so.  WIth his stylish gold metallic body ending in a single wheel, Bouncer exudes quite a bit of confidence, and he is a great addition to watch scoot around the environment cutting down foe after foe.

The giants will not be the only new skylanders at your disposal, with a total of 24 Series 2 figures launching for the game. eight of these characters will be new versions of original run characters for those who want to have characters in different poses.  Another eight will be the giants, and the third eight will be new characters.  The final eight will be light prism characters, some of whom are upgrades from the original Skylanders with new abilities and, more importantly for collectible fans, light up when placed on the game’s portal.  The variation is impressive and surely will give players the option to play as they choose, but the customization options don’t stop at that most basic choice.

All characters, including those from the first game, will now have a level 15 cap instead of the prior level 10 maximum for characters.  Surely an incentive to play more thoroughly with your chosen characters, Skylander: Giants will also allow all of the Series 2 characters to have multiple upgrade paths with a single figure that players can toggle between.

And though the game will be about the same length as its predecessors, there are more options than in the first outing of this hit franchise.  There will be a new, harder difficulty setting for those who found the first game a breeze, as well as more hidden items to discover in each level.  The features demoed all look like a blast to play, and though the first title slipped by me, I came away quite impressed by what I saw during the show.  Gameplay looks simple but fun, and with elemental gates that block off locations within the game, developer Toys for Bob has smartly designed a real reason to collect several of the figures.

Each Skylander demoed, whether a giant or a more traditional character like Pop Fizz, an alchemist who can use his creations to injure enemies or give himself a boost, looked unique and like a blast to play.  The various personalities and colorful world created an aesthetic that mirrored the pure fun for which the title is aiming.  Fans can look forward to hoarding more of the cast when Skylanders: Giants releases later this year for just about every console imaginable – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, 3DS and PC.