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Skylanders Giants Starter Kit
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Last year, the world was introduced to the amazingly creative and wonderful creatures called Skylanders. From the moment I first heard about it, I knew that this game and the toys associated with it would be a huge hit and I was right. Since then, the toys have been in demand and quite a number of us have been waiting for more. The developers have now given us a second chapter of Skylanders adventures called Skylanders Giants, complete with an entirely new game and almost 50 new or improved characters.

The overall appearance is very similar to Skylanders: Spyroís Adventures, which makes sense because Skylanders Giants also takes place in the Skylands. The "improved" characters still physically look the same as the only improvements are in their powers. You can still use your old characters in the new game and they will look the same. You will notice though that some of the new characters, the Giants and the LightCore figures, will have parts that light up when placed on the portal. You will also notice that as their name suggests, the Giants are much larger, about twice as big, as the other characters both on screen and in the real world. You will not see any of the worlds from the previous game. Everything has been created new. Mostly, the worlds are beautiful, but I must admit that I found the Wilikin World and the Wilikins a bit creepy.

I love that the major voices are still the same, like Kaos and Cali. It seems that some of the Skylanders, like Bash for example, have learned some new words and phrases. Bash can actually say words other than "Rock" this time around. Tree Rex has a penchant for really bad puns. Iíve found it amusing just seeing what all the characters say now!


Gameplay:
Due to some twist of fate, Kaos has control of an Arkeyan Robot, which he is using to destroy everything in sight. He wants to use it to break into the Arkeyan Secret Vault of Secrets to find an ancient artifact, the Iron Fist, which he can use to raise a robot army and take over the world, making himself Emperor Kaos. You are going to have to be the Portal Master once again and stop Kaos from unleashing the Arkeyans and destroying Skylands forever!

Captain Flynn and Cali are back to help guide the Skylanders around. Flynn will fly you from place to place searching for a way to stop Kaos. You will not have a home world to go back to in-between levels this time. Instead, the story takes place on Flynnís airship. As you go along in the first few levels, you will gain new crewmen for the ship. From the beginning, you can test your skills on the Heroic Challenges by talking to Cali. Each Skylander has their own Heroic Challenge that will be unlocked the first time you put them on the portal. All Skylanders can attempt each otherís challenges, though. Completing a challenge will give you bonus effects. If you complete Cynderís Heroic Challenge, not only will you get +5 critical hit, but youíll also get to watch a "Zombie Dance Party!" Just like in the previous game, while youíre going through the levels, there are lots of other things to collect. The Soul Gems, Legendary Treasures, Hates, Story Scrolls, and Treasure Chests are still there, but now you can also collect winged sapphire and Luck-O-Tron Wheel. The Lucky Wheels that you find will need to be taken to Caliís room in the ship and placed in the Luck-O-Tron to be activated. The Legendary Treasures actually have a purpose other than just collecting now, too. They can be attached to the ship in Flynnís room. Granted, they donít give the ship any extra features, but they do make it look cooler. You can go to the Battle Arena by talking to Brock. There you will have to play the missions in order to unlock the next one. You can get a lot of experience and gold in the Battle Arena though! If you want to play with a friend locally, you can go to Battle Mode from the Main Menu. Here, you can choose from a number of Battle Arenas and compete against a friendís Skylanders.

There is also a completely new element that has been added to Skylanders Giants, Skystones. You will learn about Skystones in Chapter Four. Skystones is a bit like Othello where you have to place tiles (in this case, stones) on a board and try to flip over your opponentís tiles. The person with the most tiles when the board is full wins. In Skystones though, you will flip your opponentís stones based on the number of swords on the edge of the cards. Itís a pretty simple concept, but it can be quite difficult sometimes! When you beat your opponent, you will get new stones. There are several places that you can go play Skystones against various people to build up your stone collections. The game will recommend stones for you to use, but you can choose to customize your own before each match, if you want to. Earlier, I thought that it would be nice if you could win at least some money from Skystones. However, I did find that after playing a lot of Skystones, that once you have beaten a Skystone opponent a number of times, they will run out of stones to give you for winning, so you will get coins instead. Itís not much though, so I wouldnít count on that for money. You can grind levels and get money quicker than through Skystones.


Difficulty:
Skylanders Giants provides several difficulty levels for you to play. Easy, Medium, and Hard are available from the moment you put the game in. After you beat the game on Hard, you will unlock "Nightmare" mode, which should provide you a significant challenge, even with leveled up Skylanders! Your Skylanders will level up as they gain experience from killing enemies, but they can also gain power upgrades from Persephone the Fairy. These will cost you money though. Of course, you can reduce the cost by 2% for each blue sapphire you find lying around the levels. Youíre going to want to find as many as you can, because it seems like youíre perpetually low on funds this time. There is so much more to buy from Auric, plus upgrades from Persephone, so some extra income would be nice!

Skylanders get health bonuses sometimes in their own elemental areas, so you can use those to heal an ailing character. This makes it even more beneficial to use the correct elemental character than before. Of course, that only counts if you have at least one Skylander of each element. Otherwise, you just wonít be able to get those bonuses. Each character also has quests that you can try to accomplish. Some of them just involve killing lots of enemies, but others can be more difficult. I like that you can now see how long you have been playing a level under the Objectives in the Pause Menu. It is quite helpful for when you are trying to complete a board under a certain time. In Skylanders: Spyroís Adventures, there were several levels that I could get 2 and even 3 stars on the first run through without trying too hard. I have not found that to be the case on Skylanders Giants. The items that you are looking for seem to be a bit better hidden and overall, the game just feels more challenging. This doesnít mean that the fighting is so hard that you canít complete the game, but just that you will need to spend more time figuring some things out.


Game Mechanics:
If youíve played Skylanders: Spyroís Adventures, then you will already know most of the controls. Skylanders Giants also does a very good job of explaining how to play as you go. The one thing to note is that for some reason now, you use (Triangle) to open locks, presents, and treasure chests instead of the Analog Sticks. (Triangle) will skip the text if you donít want to hear what someone has to say. If youíre trying to complete the levels in under the time limit for a star, you are definitely going to need to skip what characters are saying. You can skip cut-scenes as well. Unfortunately, you cannot pause during a cut-scene. If you hit (Start) to pause it, you will just skip the cut-scene without so much as a prompt asking if you want to. Another change is that you can now enter some houses and buildings, so be on the lookout for those. You can find all sorts of beneficial items inside houses.

Skylanders from the first game show up as visitors and are called Series 1. You can take ownership of them if you want though and they will become part of your collection in Skylanders Giants. This is a good thing because you can get bonuses like elemental power for having multiple Skylanders of the same type. It is definitely worth importing all your old characters into this game. The old items still work as well, which is nice. The previous ones, like the pirate ship and ice temple, will unlock bonus arenas and function as items too.

The Series 2 Whirlwind is very similar to the Series 1 version. Physically they look just alike, except all Series 1 characters have green bases and Series 2 have orange bases. If you put the Series 1 characters into the new game, they say the same phrases as their Series 2 counterpart. They also have the same attacks except the Series 2 Whirlwind, like all the Series 2 characters, has a new "Wow Pow" power. Jet-Vacís vacuum ability can be quite useful for pulling in gold and experience when theyíre just out of reach. Swarm can strafe somewhat while flying, which is something that I really like against some enemies!

When Skylanders: Spyroís Adventures came out, I was completely addicted to it. I have spent the last year completing my Skylanders collection. I was wondering how they would manage to top the previous game with anything new, but they have more than exceeded my expectations. I love the new game. So far, I have only found one thing I donít like. The Starter Pack comes with a wired portal instead of the wireless portal that the previous PS3 game came with. The good news is that the old wireless portal works just fine. It lights up the figures and I havenít run into any problems with it. Personally, I would not want to use a wired portal as I have big dogs that would knock it over. For kids, I really wouldnít want wires running around the room. But since I still have a wireless portal, that isnít a problem for me.

Skylanders Giants is a very robust game complete with character quests and the Skystones game. With the new Nightmare Mode that can be unlocked, there is a truly difficult mode available that will keep you playing even longer. If youíre looking for a great action-adventure game that is suitable for all ages, check out the new Skylanders Giants on October 21st. It is truly addictive!

Skylanders Figure
Single Character
New Core CharactersNoYes
Re-Posed Core CharactersYesYes
Lightcore
New LightcoreNoYes
Re-Posed LightcoreYesYes
GiantsNoYes
Battle PacksNoYes
Adventure PacksYesYes

-Cyn, GameVortex Communications
AKA Sara Earl

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