Skylanders Giants – E3 Preview
Ah, 1st October, 1999. I remember the day well; far from being just an average day at primary school, it was the UK launch of what would soon go on to be one of the most famous and memorable franchises ever to appear on a gaming system: Pokémon. Just like that, everything else went out the window as my friends and I would obsessively plug in hours upon hours of gameplay, fiercely negotiate trades and battle for ultimate supremacy. Then the Trading Cards happened, and humanity (as much as you can apply such a term to people who hadn’t reached a double-figure age yet) went out the window; fights broke out, cards were stolen out of desks, tears welled and our school attempted to save our souls by banning them before things got too far. After this year’s E3, I’m now suddenly glad Skylanders wasn’t around back when I was a kid, or my friends and I would have ended up robbing a bank.
Last year, Toys For Bob hit on a formula that was guaranteed to make so much money that I’m surprised the company president isn’t secretly moonlighting as a super-villain: what if someone created a videogame that was run on collectible toys, and had a relatively well-known and bankable character to give it a jump start? Well, thirty-two figurines and a familiar dragon later and Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures was born. While many questioned the use of a character who was years before the time of the target audience, the game absolutely flew off the shelves, and Activision have recently announced that it’s slated to become the best-selling console and handheld game worldwide this year. That’s without releasing the game in Japan, which will occur later in the year. Governments would have sent a top spy to infiltrate the company and find out their master-plan, but they had to scupper that idea when they remembered Activision also held the license rights for James Bond.
While it’s easy for a title like Skylanders Giants to rest on its laurels, knowing that children are going to demand a copy for Christmas, it’s rather satisfying to see that Toys For Bob are doing no such thing and are doing what they can to build on the foundations of the original and avoid Giants being considered an ‘update’ rather than a fully-fledged sequel. Firstly, Giants will have a much bigger focus on exploration, with extended areas only accessible via certain types of Skylanders, as well as the addition of interiors, allowing for the inclusion of more hidden passages and areas, as well as the potential for dungeon-crawling.
There’s also a more social aspect now, as drop-in/drop-out multiplayer is now a feature and, thanks to the ‘brains’ in each Skylanders figure, they’ll remember their levels and treasures. This means that you can take your Skylanders to a friend’s portal and continue with the exact same character you left off with in your game, even if your friend has the game on a different format. Additionally, every figurine featured in the first game has had its level cap raised to fifteen and will be given new abilities, although they won’t be able to take those levels or skills back into Spyro’s Adventure.
The type-exclusive environments won’t be your only incentive to swap out characters occasionally, because if the player is overwhelmed by enemies, they can tag in a new character, who’ll wipe out all on-screen enemies with a smart-bomb ability. This can only be used once a level, but it’s nonetheless a great incentive to swap around and experiment with new characters. The most important of these new additions to the Skylanders franchise will undoubtedly be the Giants – hulking behemoths that come packing more firepower and who are capable of reaching areas regular characters are not. Whether it be the ability to move environmental objects the smaller Skylanders are unable to, or throwing said objects at enemies on higher platforms, there’s a great deal more you can use the Giants for, though there will still be occasions where a smaller character is more suitable.
As well as the titular giants, the second Skylanders also brings ‘Lightcore’ characters into the fray; figurines that begin to light up when held over the portal (they’re powered by magic) and will consist of familiar faces and new ones. Wait, familiar faces? Here’s where that money-making formula gets so fiendish that even Blofeld will be starting to wonder if he’s in the wrong business. In addition to all of the new characters, Skylanders Giants will also mark the release of ‘Series 2′ figurines; these are re-released and re-posed characters from the first game who’ll entice players with new ‘wow-powers’ and upgrade chains, as well as the collectors who must simply catch them all.
Throw in new multiplayer modes, additional difficulty settings and another ‘extended experience’ for the 3DS and it’s hard to see how Skylanders Giants won’t be another best-selling phenomenon. They’ve refined the formula that made the original so popular, and with three types of new figurines at various price models (series 2 models are $9.99, Lightcore figurines are $11.99 and giants $15.99) they may as well just buy a printing press for all that money they’re going to be sleeping on when Skylanders Giants is released at the end of the year.
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