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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: 'Skylanders Giants' - My Game of the Year

I decided to pick up the Skylanders Giants starter package for the Wii U on Black Friday. Having not played the first installation of the franchise, Spyro's Adventure, which released last year I was apprehensive.

I decided to purchase it simply due to the Skylander figures that you can purchase. I'm a sucker for collectibles - no, I never got into the Beanie Baby craze - and I've always been a fan of the Spyro games. Much to my surprise it's not the figures alone that keep me playing.

Skylanders Giants as a game alone is worth the price of admission.

Skylanders Giants has a surprisingly long campaign, spanning over a dozen chapters. Each of these chapters will take you around thirty minutes to complete on first playthrough. Even longer if you take your time trying to find every hidden item.

There are also mini-games such as Skystones, a Battle Arena, and Heroic Challenges. You also collect treasure throughout the game which you use to upgrade your Skylanders, each of them built with their own unique abilities.

The main difference between Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants is in the name itself - the Giants. The figures are larger, light up when you place them on the portal, and are much stronger in-game. What they bring in overall power, they lack in speed however. While I love playing with Tree Rex and Granite Crusher, they don't have my heart like Trigger Happy and Wrecking Ball.

Which brings me to the figures themselves. Yes, they average a little over ten bucks a pop. There are also close to 100 of them to collect if you include different variations of the same character. In other words, Skylanders can get expensive. Especially if you're an obsessive collector like myself.

Less than a month after my initial purchase of the starter pack, which comes with three Skylanders, I now own 27 of them. Which isn't including the ones I am currently bidding on through eBay. It's addicting to say the least.

You can easily get your money worth out of each figure however. Especially if you max level the Skylander to 15, complete all Heroic Challenges, unlock every ability, and take them through both the campaign and the Battle Arena. Ten or fifteen hours for each Skylander isn't a stretch.

What makes purchasing new characters addicting is a combination of attention to detail on the figure themselves and the varying gameplay each one of them brings. Playing through the game as Dino-Rang is a completely different experience than playing as Ghost Rider. There are also secret areas that require a Skylander of a particular element.

Which means you need at least one Skylander of each element if you're ever going to reach one-hundred percent. But why would you stop at just one character for each element, when collecting multiple of the same element grants you an attack bonus?

Exactly, you wouldn't.

The reason that Skylanders Giants is my Game of the Year is a complicated one. It's a game that is constantly changing for me. Sure the story and the levels stay the same (unless you buy figures that unlock new levels), but the experience is always different. As mentioned earlier, every character brings something new. This isn't an exaggeration either. Picking up the next character is always exciting because I know the next dozen or so hours are going to be unique.

The other reason Skylanders Giants has stolen so much of my attention is that it's an incredibly nice change of pace. I'm not shooting someone in the face or pressing 'X' repeatedly to slam a knife into someone's chest. It's cute, simple gameplay that brings me back to the days when video games were built to be fun and relaxing.

I can also play it solely on the Wii U Gamepad while my wife watches her favorite show. She even plays with her favorite Skylander, Flashwing.

It's a game that my entire family plays now. We can all enjoy Skylanders Giants not only because of it's ease of engagement, but because each Skylander saves its level progress on the figure itself. If I head home for the weekend I bring a few of my favorite characters to play on the same portal as my father.

I grew up playing games with him. He introduced me to games as a small child, and any chance I get to share these experiences with him as an adult I'll take. With how violent video games have become in the recent years it's hard to find a game that we can both enjoy. Skylanders Giants has done this.

Skylanders Giants is without a doubt my Game of the Year 2012.
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