Sequels don't get much better than this.
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was one of the biggest surprises of 2011, critically and commercially. Within a product that looked like a cash grab was a fantastic game with amazing, Gauntlet-style gameplay and unique characters. Skylanders Giants improves that experience, with more depth, difficulty settings, and new features.
Giants is an ideal sequel, adding more ideas and refining concepts already in place. Aside from its 16-level main story, the game features Heroic Challenges, Arena Battles, and Skystones. Heroic Challenges, short, timed levels, were present in the first game, but Giants uses them with much more creativity. Most of the original ones, which are still playable here, just featured simple “collect X of Y” objectives, while one challenge in Giants was an ice-themed four-lap race.
Arena Battles and Skystones are brand new, though. The former, the closest thing to a horde mode Skylanders has, sends predetermined waves of enemies at you in themed stages. The mode is a great way to test new characters in combat or level up your favorites. Skystones, on the other hand, is a strategic and addictive tile-based card game reminiscent of the card games present in some Final Fantasy games. It’s slow to challenge, but becomes a fantastic diversion from the regular gameplay when it picks up.
In general, Giants’ levels feel more organic, and feature more interesting themed secret areas for the different elements. The world turns fiery when you enter a Fire element secret area, for example, and in some secret areas, bosses from the first game even ambush you. Outside those nooks, the main levels feature some crazy, awesome gameplay moments; one level features a mechanic similar to the Timeshift stones in Skyward Sword, and another lets you control a giant robot while he fights other giant robots.
The first game was highly replayable, thanks to the 32 available characters (most sold separately), but the second game puts it to shame. Giants has three difficulty settings available from the outset, with a super hard mode unlocked after beating the game once. I haven’t done much in this difficulty, but the normal and hard modes get quite challenging at times. On top of that, Activision will release 16 new characters over the next few months, along with reposes and variants of a majority of the old characters. All the figures (including those from the original series) can also now level up to 15 instead of 10, and the new figures can switch between skill trees. (In Spyro’s Adventure, your character could only commit to one of two different branches.)
Half the new characters are Giants, generally more powerful creatures that also make for bigger targets, offering a bit of risk/reward. The Giants factor into the story, but outside of breaking down walls and accessing Giant-only secret areas, they don’t add too much to the gameplay.
Giants only offers support for two players, but the co-op is still wonderful fun. Its competitive multiplayer remains exemplary, with a Ring Out mode added to a selection that includes a traditional battle mode, a crystal collection mode, and a completely amazing, football-inspired mode.
Skylanders Giants is a fantastic game regardless of your desire to shell out money for additional characters. Whether you have three figures or 48, this well-designed game is worth the time of kids and adults alike. Don’t scoff at its concept; you shouldn’t miss one of the best Gauntlet-esque games in years.