Tucked away in a decommissioned airfield in Northern California, the people at Toys for Bob are putting the finishing touches on Skylanders: Giants in their wonderfully tiki inspired offices. Along with other members of the press I was invited to check out a near final build of the game before it ships out later this October. A brief history about Toys for Bob presented by Paul Reiche talked about the inception of the Skylanders franchise and boiled down its creation to a quote for the ages, 'Am I smoking crack?!' Whether or not the presence of illicit substances played a part in the birth of toys that come to life when placed upon a magic portal, one cannot deny that Skylanders has been a breakout success for the studio and their parent company Activision, who hope lightning will strike twice with Skylanders: Giants.
The big (get it?) thing in Skylanders: Giants can be inferred from the title, Giants, large hulking beasts that can plow through the denizens of Kaos, who has found his way back to the Skylands. Referenced in story scrolls in the original Skylanders, these giants fought in ancient battles and were banished to Earth. Now they're ready to fight again, and put their power in the hands of the Portal Masters. The giant Tree Rex was available during my short time with the Wii version of Skylanders: Giants and his size and raw power were apparent from the moment I placed him on the Portal of Power. Capable of tossing large stones and plowing through enemies he is an absolute powerhouse, but that's not to say the new Skylanders are slouches, the two new characters at my disposal, Fright Rider and Jet-Vac were perfectly capable of holding their own in a fight. Jet-Vac was able to fire out bursts of wind from his backpack vacuum, or could draw enemies in and damage them with his alternate attack. Fright Rider is a speedy character that rides around on an undead mount, looking almost like a World of Warcraft character. His attacks were a little more straightforward, with a pecking attack from his mount as a primary, and a charged dash attack as his secondary. The Wii version also continues the use of motion controls for items like keys and bombs.
The game looks unchanged from last year's release, but the first few levels felt like introductory levels so it's certainly too early to call this game based on looks. Skylanders: Giants now features voice work for each character in the game and they are loaded with one-liners, and Patrick Warburton is returning as Flynn. Skylanders: Giants also features a few new actors, including George Takei, and Kevin Sorbo. The music is also wildly all over the place, featuring a beat-boxing station on Flynn's ship, and a robot boss that raps over some grimy dubstep.
For those who are not initially sold on picking up new toys (but really, who isn't?), players will be happy to find that their collection from the original Skylanders will carry over to Giants and will be able to level up their characters to level 15. And for those that don't want to pick up a new game and just want some Skylanders, the series two characters will work on the original game, though the Giants themselves will not be backwards compatible. New additions to Skylanders: Giants include multiple difficulties with enemies scaling in power to player's levels, there's also an unlockable Nightmare mode that was apparently a bane to the testing team as many people commented during presentations. Hats can now be purchased as well, so while that large pile of gold from the first game may not carry over, it's good to know that the same won't happen at the end of Giants. There's also a few new mini-games including Skystones, which will be recognizable to players of Triple Triad from Final Fantasy 8, along with a new lock-picking mini-game that features a simple ball tumbling puzzle.
So what kind of new figures will be available? It's been revealed that there will be four Giants available at launch, along with eight lightcore and eight all new Skylanders, the returning Skylanders for series two will feature new moves and abilities. The game will be available in multiple packages for those who are first time purchasers and for those who have already invested in a mighty collection. And from what I saw at the offices there will be plenty of exclusives out there for people to hunt down.
With just two weeks to release, Skylanders: Giants looks like it will do a number on gamer wallets. The collectible aspect of Skylanders makes it appealing to me, but I don't know if I have it in me to add another collectible hobby to my list of habits. The accessible and enjoyable (and varied) gameplay isn't helping me make the decision any easier either. Skylanders: Giants has all the ingredients of another hit, and when a company has sold more figures than there are people in England, I think they stand to be successful for their inevitable sequel, but we'll see when it drops on October 21st.