Solid core mechanics; collecting figures is still as addictive as ever; Giants figures are, well, giant and awesome looking; a good companion piece for the Skylanders enthusiast; portable gaming is ideal for this style of game where version interaction is a primary selling point
Ugly graphics; frame rate instability; strange design decisions; constricting attribute system for leveling up that's not present in the console iterations; superficial platforming and puzzle segments.
The Skylanders brand is one that’s just as much about its toys as it is its gaming experience. After releasing Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure last year, the series’ first installment, the team at Toys for Bob is coming back to bring us more of that figurine collecting, beat-em-up goodness in the form of a sequel entitled Skylanders: Giants.
“Bigger” is probably the best word to describe just about every aspect of this follow-up; however, sometimes bigger really isn’t better, and that seems to be the case with this portable iteration of the far superior console version. While it’s an ambitious title from a broad perspective, especially for a 3DS game, Giants is held back by several factors that simply refuse to let the game shine at the level it should. This is unfortunate too because, beneath all of the technical mishaps, there’s a really fun game to be played. But the fact that you’ll routinely encounter bugs, slowdown, strange design mechanics, and some other nasty foul-ups along your adventure means you’ll feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride of a few ups and a lot of downs.
Skylanders: Giants continues down the path of the first game by giving players a chance to buy action figures and, through a snazzy device called the Portal of Power, transport those purchased characters into the actual game world to wreak havoc upon a slew of goons. The great part about this franchise, that is firmly intact for this release, is how it encourages you to play. Giants, like its older brother, lets players buy figurines and level them up in-game. Gamers can then take said figure and use it on any other version of Skylanders, regardless of its platform. So, if you own the game on Xbox 360, you can take your characters and play them on your friend’s Wii or PS3, or in this case 3DS, and carry over all your data. This very concept makes for a great and seamless way of playing, especially when you pair the Wii (or Wii U) version with the portable 3DS edition, as you can always be leveling up your characters, either from the comfort of your home or on the go. Thus, having the title on a handheld makes a whole heap of sense.
Giants introduces several new features not found in the first game, including 40 new characters, pushing the roster to 99 (yes, that means if you’re a completionist, you’ll be spending lots of money hunting down all these figures), new areas, stages, and a competitive battle mode for those looking for a little head-to-head action. All of these features are fantastic additions to a formula that was already pretty rock-solid. In fact, on consoles, Giants is an improvement over Spyro’s Adventure in almost every way (as it should be), but things aren’t so happily-ever-after for this 3DS version. To be truthful, Giants on 3DS is low-grade compared to the same platform version of Spyro’s Adventure.
For starters, Giants’ aesthetics are ugly. Textures are muddy, animations are stiff, environments are noticeably bland, and characters have an angular, blocky look to them. Despite these rubbish graphics, though, the real issue is with the frame rate. Seriously, the game chugs harder than a frat guy with a case of Natural Light in a room full of skirt-wearing freshmen. It’s rough. It’s so rough that it actually hinders the experience to the point that platforming is sometimes a chore to execute.
While on the topic of mechanics, Skylanders tries to mix up its gameplay with puzzling and platforming segments, which is admirable. I’m all for variety in my games, but only when the variety is good. Here, the puzzles are superficial, and the platforming, while adequate, feels contrived and uninspired. It just feels tacked on with a distinct sense of apathy. What makes all this worse is the lack of intuitiveness regarding the gameplay, your figures, and the Portal of Power. This trio is a right pain at times because of how the game handles changing out characters. One would assume you could just swap out any of your characters on-the-fly, but that’s not the case with this version of the game. Before a level, players can load two characters into the game via the Portal. This allows you to switch between the duo throughout the level, which is great. Unfortunately, you can’t swap in any other character that you didn’t load onto the Portal prior to the level. So, you’re inevitably stuck with a mere two characters, from a game that wants you to buy nearly 100. How does that make any sense?
Aside from this rather bizarre design choice, the game also doesn’t allow you to earn full attribute points when you level up one of your characters. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, if it wasn’t already in place for the console versions. Yeah… that kind of throws a wrench in the gears when the game encourages you to take your characters between the different versions (even though that whole idea in and of itself seems more like fantasy than a reality). The critical issue is, if you level up your character on the 3DS version, the game is going to distribute points to only one of two areas: health or power. This is fine, except for when you take that character to another system and you realize you now have a character that would’ve been better off just being leveled on one of the console versions to properly gain all of the stat points, and not just one or two. This sort of makes the entire 3DS edition null and void if you plan to play in the way that Skylanders wants you to. Ugh.
It’s not all bad news, though. Giants, by nature, is a great pick-up-and-play game. Moreover, when all the pieces are moving in unison, it’s a genuinely fun romp through a charming world. Although the gameplay can be a bit shallow at times, it acts as a fantastic way to just zone out and mindlessly kill stuff for the sake of making your character all the stronger and more impressive. The added battle mode is also a great feature if you’re into that kind of thing. Moreover, the portable version implements a jump command– something strangely absent from the other iterations– and also allows you to run much faster than you can on consoles.
What this all comes down to, however, is that the good doesn’t outweigh the bad. While in theory a sequel should enhance the gameplay experience found in the previous game, Giants for 3DS forgoes convention and provides a substandard adventure. The core of the experience is sound, and even works, but a game is only as good as its technical parameters, which means Giants suffers and stutters far too often. From the unattractive aesthetics to the flawed design choices, this is a game that feels unpolished, untested, and ultimately a letdown for any fan of the series. I can only recommend this to the most hardcore Skylanders loyalist, who just simply has to be able to play the game on the go, but even then, it’s a tough sell.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.