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Skylanders Giants Starter Kit

Score: 87%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: n-Space
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

I love the 3DS version of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Compared to the console versions, it offered a completely different play style that was, in a sense, truer to the original Spyro games. I had expected Skylanders: Giants to follow the same path, and to some extent it does. At the same time, it also brings the handheld experience much closer to consoles. The switch doesnít undermine the experience, and in some ways improves it, though it does take away what made the 3DS version such a unique offering.

At this point the 3DSís life cycle, the systemís capabilities are a known quantity. Visually, Skylanders: Giants shoots for the moon; everything is bigger Ė levels, charactersÖ you name it. Each level is packed with lots of smaller details and lots of moving parts. Platforms sink into water or crumble, roots work their way through everything Ė itís a lot of fun and adds some extra magic to levels.

Enemies and coins will usually materialize right in front of you; so added detail does introduce some pop in, though youíre never caught off guard. At worst, youíll miss a couple of coins pointing you towards a secret path. The beefier visuals also come at the price of frame rate drops in some areas.

Skylanders: Giants doesnít benefit from the console versionís new voicework beyond a few muffled cheers and cries from characters. The game does, however, reap the rewards of including the console gameís soundtrack, which I loved.


Gameplay:

Regardless of platform, a Skylanders game is a Skylanders game, so whether youíre placing figures on a Portal or entering web codes, new Skylanders are always the central attraction.

As with other platforms, Skylanders: Giants comes in two flavors, a Portal-less "Portal Owners" version and a Starter Kit. Both come with one Giant, Tree Rex, while the Starter Kit also includes a Series 2 Cynder and special edition, red Punch Pop Fizz Ė the Giants version of Dark Spyro. Other than color, thereís no difference between the normal and "Punch" versions.

The 3DS version follows the same "rules" as the console games. You can use original, Series 2, LightCore and Giants with Skylanders: Giants. Only original and Series 2 (and some LightCore) versions are backwards compatible with the original 3DS game.

As far as gameplay, Giants is closer to the console versions than the first game, though it does retain some elements, such as the ability to jump. Even with the changes, gameplay is straightforward and easy to grasp. The only noticeable difference is level goals. Rather than chasing down several goals, youíre limited to the same three-star system as the console games. I didnít mind the change, though I really liked having to race through levels in the first game. The upside is levels are huge and offer a lot of replay value. There are numerous little paths you can take through levels and secrets arenít always obvious, so youíll need to dig deep if you want to find everything.

Once a level is unlocked you can return to find any secrets you may have missed, or take on a timed challenge. I still miss the in-game "chase" timers from the first game, but enjoyed taking on the speed challenges.

Giants runs into the same issue as the console versions; Giants arenít much fun. Theyíre powerful and you need them to access certain areas, but there isnít much of an upside. Theyíre slow, which is a big drawback considering the huge levels and occasional frame rate issues.


Difficulty:

The more Skylanders you can assemble under your banner the better, though you can get through the entire game with just the three included in the Starter Kit. Youíll miss out on lots of goodies and daily bonuses, but the core experience isnít crippled or more difficult.

Even with a full complement of Skylanders, Skylanders: Giants will put up a fight. Unlike the console versions, thereís one difficulty level, so challenge comes down to your Skylanders. High-level characters shouldnít have too many problems Ė at least when it comes to combat -- while lower level characters may die if they come across a group of enemies. Still, if youíre smart about how you swap between your two available Skylanders, you can get through nearly any situation.

If a character does fall in battle, you either need to wait until the end of the level, or spend some coins to revive them. The cost usually isnít too high and worth it, especially since levels are long. Additionally, coins are everywhere, so even if you do have use some coins, you can make up the difference quickly and still get level rewards and bonus XP.


Game Mechanics:

Skylanders: Giants makes great arguments for and against the inclusion of a jump mechanic. On the plus side, it introduces numerous jumping puzzles and additional places to hide trinkets and treasures. Conversely, it introduces numerous jumping puzzles and all of the issues that come with them. Some jumps are really hard to judge, leading to some cheap damage if you fail to stick the landing. The added depth that comes with flipping the 3D effect on helps some, though expect to fall a lot. This is particularly maddening when platforms flip or tumble.

Skylandersís character-swapping mechanic isnít exactly portable friendly, though Giants gets around the limitation by allowing you to store two Skylanders at a time. You can only bring new Skylanders into play while in the hub level. To swap them out during levels, you just need to touch their crystal on the bottom screen.

The inability to switch on the fly (as in the console versions) adds a slight bit of "artificial padding," since youíll need to go through levels numerous times to hit gates. Once a level is unlocked you can see the two gates, so it isnít too bad. Besides, youíll need to hit levels 2 - 3 times if you want to 3-star them. I usually just loaded up two Skylanders (one normal, one Giant) based on the daily bonus elements and did whatever I could when I couldnít get to my Portal. Itís not the most efficient way to play, though I was able to quickly level up a few of my low level Skylanders using the extra XP earned by playing with the dayís bonus elements.

Skylanders retain levels between the console and portable versions, though before switching to a new Skylander, youíll first need to place the one youíre swapping out on the Portal to make sure the data on the figure is updated. Otherwise, youíll lose any experience or money earned during a play session. It is confusing, especially if youíre used to the console games "always on" functionality, though you catch on quick once a high level character is bumped to a lower level.

Regardless of changes, I still had fun with Skylanders: Giants. I may still flip back to the original for my fix, but Skylanders: Giants has earned a spot in my 3DS game rotation alongside Super Mario 3D Land and the original Skylanders. It s not a "Must Buy," though it is a great complement for Skylanders players who want another way to level their characters, or just want more adventures with their Skylanders.

Skylanders Figure Compatibility Chart

Skylanders Figure
Single Character
New Core CharactersNoYes
Re-Posed Core CharactersYesYes
Lightcore
New LightcoreNoYes
Re-Posed LightcoreYesYes
GiantsNoYes
Battle PacksNoYes
Adventure PacksYesYes


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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