I’m not a father. I’m just a simple gamer with a girlfriend, a dog, rent… the list goes on. I’m probably a lot like you, except, you know, minus the raging fanboyism it takes to read a site run by a guy with a penchant for pictures of monkeys. This weekend, however, I did my best to invoke my inner-child.
My inner-child was fed a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, and a driving desire to be a Pokémon master. My inner-child once dropped $45 into a Gauntlet Legends cabinet at Disneyland. What kind of sick, obsessed adolescent does that when Space Mountain is literally yards away? The same kind Activision is hoping to snare with their Skylanders series and the collection of figurines that come with it.
Last year, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure took big box stores by storm and made a killing in the months leading up to Christmas. With plenty of starter packs out on the street, it was up to the toy aisle at Target to push more of the figurines into the hands of any parent stupid enough to have given their child a taste in November. This year, Skylanders: Giants hopes to do the same, all while expanding the line of toys kids can find with larger characters (Giants, duh) and Lightcore figures that light up when placed on the portal.
Portal? Figures? Spyro? Let’s back up. Skylanders equips players with a plastic portal that plugs into your console of choice via USB and transports the physical figures into the game on your TV. As you level up your characters and enhance their abilities, that information is stored on the figure itself, meaning kids can pack up their collection and head to a friend’s house, levels and power in tow.
Skylanders plays like a mixture of Diablo and Gauntlet which means I stayed up all of Saturday night pushing my Jetvac character to grow stronger in the hopes I’d complete “just one more level.” That’s the kind of mentality that pissed my parents off in Disneyland all those years ago. Skylanders also preys on the mentality that pissed my parents off every time we drove by the hobby store that sold Pokémon cards.
You gotta catch ’em all.
It seemed like every 30 seconds Giants pushed me to change characters, swapping the figure on the portal for another one waiting idly by. This helped maintain a high level of variety in gameplay. Each Skylander has a different ability and many pathways are inaccessible unless you have the right class of Skylander.
That means you have to shell out big bucks to experience everything in the game. It was at this point that my inner-child was forcefully ejected from my body by the cynical critic steadily growing in its place. If I pay for a game, I want every piece of it without a paywall in sight. You think you’re angry about on-disc DLC in Capcom games? Activision makes it the bread and butter.
Take for example, the starter pack for Giants. Three figures are held captive within. That’s only three of eight different types of Skylanders. Small children will never differentiate between the classes, they’ll only bother to pay attention to which one is the coolest, cutest, or strongest.
Giants will certainly give them the chance to determine whether Pop Fizz or Chill (actual Skylander names) leads the pack in Versus mode. Battling two Skylanders together actually feels a lot like SEGA Dreamcast classic Power Stone. You’ll find quickly that the lion’s share of gameplay is contained here, where leveled-up Skylanders show down in button-mashing combat for gold, experience points, and your ability to point to Timmy and say that he’s the better son.
Oh, you already have all the previous Skylanders and you already own a Portal? Those guys will still work with Giants, but I’d advise you pick up a brand new starter pack. The new portal ditches the batteries for a cable and a little more room for the new Giants themselves. Giants tallies 48 new figures to the original 32. The originals retain their power-ups, collectibles, and experience, but good God, do you want your child to be picked on for not having the latest and greatest?
What about the Lightcore characters that are exactly the same as the regular characters? That’s right, for a few bucks more, your child can have a figure that lights up when placed on the Portal while your neighbor’s child has a shitty non-light-up figure. Let’s laugh at your neighbor’s child.
In the end, only 21 totally new characters join the franchise in Giants, meaning several rehashes just have new poses or the aforementioned Light-up feature. Regardless of the overlap, there’s around $500 in new figures for Giants on top of the money blown collecting the last game’s characters. That’s an absurd amount of money for what’s essentially the same game.
It’s safe to say that regardless of what I write here, your child is already planning on hogtying you and stealing your wallet anyway. A parent might say no, but kids are smart! They’ll just ask the other parent… or the grand parent… or the aunt and uncle…. The reality is that Skylanders: Giants is age-appropriate fun that harkens back to the delight you had collecting Pokémon cards or mashing your way through a dungeon crawler. If you’ve got little ones, then you already know the verdict here.
It’s hard to say no.