Skylanders Giants Review
Cart: Skylanders Giants
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii / Wii U / 3DS
Coin: Toys for Bob
Page nine of the Gaming Rulebook of Rules clearly states that peripherals designed for a limited range of games, or worse still a single game, are guaranteed to be a resounding failure. Perhaps not always in a creative sense or even in a gameplay sense, but they’re almost certainly destined to be a failure in an honest to god commercial sense.
In terms of outright financial car crashes, of which there have historically been a good many, we need not look any further back than the rather ugly 2012 demise of THQs ill-fated uDraw tablet. A device that initially demonstrated some promise and early appeal, THQ clearly sought to marry the public’s newly found fascination with tablets with their distinctly more traditional fascination with consoles. You can almost picture the executive meeting when this idea was first mooted by some overly excited young colleague and taste the unbridled excitement that must have pervaded the room as, wide eyed, they pondered what could possibly go wrong. Well, with 1.4 million units left unsold and a $100 million shortfall on investment, plenty, it would seem.
There are some rare examples of games that feature a peripheral so almighty, so creatively insane, so audacious, that no matter what the cost of the game or what amount of money it’s almost guaranteed to cost its creators, it’s impossible to not love it. I’m talking of course about 2003’s Xbox Exclusive, Steel Battalion whose creators even went of record as saying that it was never intended to turn a profit, only to make a statement of what the medium is capable of. And, boy, what a statement: the behemoth 40 button controller, complete with three joysticks, three footpedals and an ejector switch, was nothing if not unique. At £150, it was worth every penny just for the look of sheer gawping astonishment on the faces of your friends as they first set eyes upon you sat behind it. No other game I’ve ever owned has managed to shave all the adult years off people in the blink of an eye and turn them into gibbering, excited children once more.
On a slightly more positive financial note, Guitar Hero and Rock Band have managed to demonstrate that there is a coin to be made and a genre to be cultivated with the necessary effort and shrewd product placement, but their rather abrupt and premature demise also reveals the desperately fragile nature of such peripheral-fuelled endeavours. At the end of the day the novelty with all of these toys (especially those that require significant effort to store and assemble) wears off quite quickly and then all you’re left with is an expensive hunk of plastic that will either be consigned to the loft or dispatched to the soon-to-be-saturated second-hand market. The somewhat muted public response to the more technologically ingenious and economically viable Rocksmith would suggest that even this relatively successful cloth has been well and truly wrung dry.
So to put Skylanders: Giants into a context: it’s not a particularly promising one. And that’s exactly what makes the game’s unreserved success so completely remarkable.
A direct sequel to 2011’s Skylanders : Spyro’s Adventure, Giants builds upon the superb idea of merging children’s toys with a video game. Granted, we’ve seen merchandising for games before, such as the somewhat average Halo Megabloks, and we’ve seen games inspired by toys, such as the singularly delightful Lego games, but never before have we seen an attempt to blur the line between the two mediums so completely. What exactly is Skylanders? Is it a range of well-crafted toys that’s based on a game or is it a solidly built game that’s based on toys? Depending on your child’s perspective, it could be either, or both, and therein lay the complete genius of the endeavour.
I was obsessed with He-Man when I was younger. I watched the cartoon religiously and collected almost all of the figures but my enjoyment was split down those two lines: I was either watching the cartoon or I was playing with the figures. Now imagine how amazing it would have been to have had an interactive experience that married the two in a truly magical way. Imagine how that would inspire a young child that hasn’t yet become jaded about the difference between fantasy and reality. Can you picture that child? Good, because that’s the look you see on your children’s face every time they play Skylanders: Giants.
Want to play with the new figure you just bought with your pocket money? No problem: just pop it on the Portal of Power, watch it react immediately and then marvel as your character springs to life in game. Bored of that one? Swap it with another. Want to play with you character and its progress at your mate’s house? Just take it round.
So we finally find ourselves with a peripheral – an unassuming and rather humble one at that – capable of sandwiching together reality with fantasy in a tactile and child-like manner. It’s quite inspired on every level: a functional piece of kit that serves the design of the game perfectly; a lovingly designed object that springs to life with a subtle yet striking lighting system and a resounding financial success that has been instrumental in generating $500 million in sales in a year. Tick, tick and tick.
To scrutinise constituent parts of this experience too greatly would be a little disingenuous but the gameplay itself, whilst reasonably well-accomplished and robust, is nothing ground breaking or even remotely inventive . Feeling very much like a 90s platformer and, in turn, a contemporary smartphone App, Giants plods happily along as a serviceable but ultimately limited game, content to offer young children the opportunity to bash and smash their way through its confined, comic book worlds at a steady and predictable pace. It has a rather charming style that’s reminiscent of Rare’s Kameo: Elements of Power but at no point will your little one be especially challenged and neither will they be introduced to any gameplay mechanics that they haven’t seen before. Similarly, the figures, whilst certainly not cheap and cheerful, are not what you would call remarkable and are completely static aside from some slight give in the polymer. They’re bright, attractive and clearly desirable but in themselves are little beyond a child’s ornament.
But it’s the combination of these two experiences, joined at the hip by the Portal of Power, that far exceeds the sum of their parts and to quantify Giants purely as a game and to measure it so would be to do a great disservice to the child within.
Be warned, however: only a few others share this secret. Our friends The Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko and together we defend Castle Greyskull from the evil forces of Skeletor!
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