The level design is, again, absolutely charming and perfectly suited to the target audience. One of the smartest decisions of the original, invisible walls on cliffs that don’t lead to a lower platform, returns. This prevents the inevitability of frustrating deaths when a child is at the helm. The block puzzles are also smartly crafted. It each I encountered, there is no way to “break” the challenge. It’s impossible to wedge a block into a place where it can’t be manipulated. Objects that can be pushed have arrows clearly marked on them indicating which directions they can be moved. Action RPG elements like hit points and floating damage numbers abound. These inclusions provide a level of instruction that will serve them well once they move on to more mature titles.

The biggest improvement found in the sequel though, is in the presentation. Spyro’s Adventure was charming, and the character design continues to impress, especially now having a greater understanding of the process each goes through before reaching store shelves.  Each of the 32 personalities that rolled out at and beyond the launch of the original title clearly had a personality. However, only some had spoken lines, with others merely grunting. This time out, every one of the 48 different creatures has spoken lines when they are placed on the portal, leveling up and other activities. I continue to be enamored of Drobot, especially now that he sounds like Soundwave, one of my favorite Decepticons.

This has also given Activision the opportunity to engage some impressive talent. Bobcat Goldthwaite voices Pop Fizz, a Jekyll-and-Hyde magic creature. Kevin Sorbo stepped up to the mic for giant Crusher. Patrick Warburton returns as Captain Flynn and Richard Horvitz delivers a brilliant performance as the diminutive Kaos. The impressive sound design continues throughout, and the music composed by Lorne Balfe is manipulated in brilliant fashion. I strongly urge you to spend some time swapping out characters near the gramophone on Flynn’s ship.

The visuals are also enchanting, as they were in the original title. The enemies are the perfect balance of cute and menacing. With the addition of new difficulty levels that will challenge the adults after the kids are safely tucked away dreaming of Trigger Happy and friends, Giants is even better designed for the whole family.

Unfortunately, one nagging problem from the first game returns joined by a new one, both dealing with the camera. Just as in the original title, players are tethered to the same screen. This can make playing with a young child a bit taxing, and I often find myself saying, “Come this way. No. This way. THIS way,” often. This is exacerbated by a bit of crowding that takes place when both players have a giant on the portal. I noticed that it is a bit harder to see what’s going on because the camera doesn’t compensate for having two larger figures on screen. In the grand scheme of things, these are small concerns, but they are worth noting. Everything about the presentation is cohesive and delightful.

One final note, the one-on-one multiplayer (local only) returns. This time around, there are a number of new varieties, including a sumo wrestling-inspired Ring Out mode. These are an interesting diversion, but probably won’t get too much play time in my house. It’s also worth noting that instead of the Adventure Packs from last year, which included a character, two magic items and a new single player chapter, this time around there are Battle Packs. These include two characters and a multiplayer arena. Your old Adventure Packs will work, though. You can access all four stages directly in Giants, and each unlocks a new arena for competitive play. For more information on the new figure types, check out the brief FAQ below the score.

I'ma let you guys sort this out.

All told, I have no doubt that Skylanders Giants will be a permanent fixture in my house through next year. The new characters are fantastic and the modifications to the returning personalities is a combination of intelligent upgrade and cash grab (with your love for the series and the figures determining which side of that you’ll come down on). The upgrade to the game’s presentation, particularly the sound design, pulls the entire experience together.

Just be aware of what you’re getting into. It’s hard not to want to get every figure you can (especially since having more earns you in-game “accolades” which increase your XP collection). If you can manage to temper the part of you that’s gotta catch ‘em all, then you can probably get away with buying just five more figures to round out your elemental set. If you’re like me though, expect to be on the hunt through next spring as waves get released piecemeal. It’s a delightful addiction that every part of me (except my wallet) is thrilled to be afflicted with once again.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Charming presentation, great sound design and lovable characters
+ Straightforward enough for children to play on their own
+ New difficulty levels make it worthwhile for parents to tackle solo
+ Continues the trend of being a smart introduction to action RPGs
+ Original figures work, carrying over their XP and upgrades
- Cost. This is not a cheap hobby to begin with, but Skylanders Giants can run you as much as a new console if you aren’t careful.
- Some screen crowding when two Giants are in play
- Multiplayer continues to be a throwaway experience

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Skylanders Giants was developed by Toys for Bob and published by Activision. It was released on October 21, 2012. A copy of the game and additional figures were provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.

 

Here are some questions we’ve heard quite a bit with regard to Skylanders Giants.

Q: Do my old figures work with Skylanders Giants.
A: Yes! Just make sure you go into the stat screen, select “Manage” and then change ownership so they get counted in your Skylanders Giants collection. It’s a pain in the butt, but this will help give you access to “accolades” that can increase your experience growth rate.

Q: Then why are there repeats of figures being released?
A: There are two ways you might see returning characters re-released. The first are called “Series 2″ versions. These are improved in three ways: 1) Their base stats are improved over the original versions. 2) They have a new ultimate power called “Wow Pow.” 3) Instead of needing to be fully reset to travel down the other upgrade path, you can respec the figure. Only Series 2 versions of returning characters have “Wow Pows.” You won’t find them in Lightcore versions of returning characters or new characters.

Q: What are Lightcore figures?
A: These are figures that glow on the portal (like the Giants do), but also have a screen-clearing explosion when they enter the game. Even if they are returning characters, the Lightcore versions do not have a “Wow Pow” ultimate ability.

Q: What is the difference, for instance, between Series 2 Drobot and Lightcore Drobot?
A: The sculpts are different (Series 2 sculpts reflect how the character looks toward the end of the upgrade tree) and the Lightcore explosion ability. We now know that Lightcore versions have better base stats than the standard versions. We’ve got our hands on a Lightcore Jet-Vac for comparison purposes.

Q: What are the Battle Packs?
A: Unlike the Adventure Packs from Spyro’s Adventure, these do not include single-player content. It’s just the figures and the multiplayer arena. The Adventure Packs unlock new multiplayer arenas, also.

Q: So… how many figures are there in conjunction with Giants?
A: Not including retailer exclusives and other variants, there are 48 new figures: 8 Giants, 8 new characters, 24 returning Series 2 characters, 8 Lightcores (which are a mix of old and new characters)