The Skylanders phenomenon continues to be one of the biggest stories of this gaming generation. Taking DLC to an entirely new level — no pun intended — the games and associated toys have been the single biggest source of revenue in the games industry in 2012, outselling any other property by a considerable margin. Because the games released on the various platforms are different enough we’ve decided to break up the reviews this time around, instead of bunching everything into one article.
First, we’ll take a look at the 3DS version of the game. For those that played last year’s iteration on the handheld, the description will be familiar: a fairly linear platformer with some light RPG elements and an easily digestible storyline geared towards children that fully interacts with all of the toys through a novel portal. We even liked last year’s 3DS game more than the console iterations.
This year, Skylanders Giants for Nintendo’s portable fails at recapturing what made the first so enjoyable, instead coming off rushed and riddled with bugs. It’s ultimately shallow and formulaic, and lacks anything that lets it stand out in the genre. In fact, it’s probably a low enough point for the franchise that it could drag down the rest of the IP with it if Activision isn’t careful.
Kids aren’t going to like playing Giants 3DS. As a 34-year-old adult, I know I sure don’t. It’s clearly a game geared towards children, but design decisions make it frustrating for anyone playing it. Some challenges are too difficult for a kid to complete, and some entire levels are too easy for an adult to garner any enjoyment.
Thanks to the lack of dual analog sticks, the camera rotates into preprogrammed views as the game progresses. Unfortunately, that can mean zipping through awkward angles just as a crucial jump is taking place. In one level, my character was powerful enough to cruise through every enemy I came across and down every corridor I was herded through, while the end required jumping across platforms that very nearly required pixel-perfect precision. Thankfully, falling to death from a platform only removes a little bit off of my health bar. A child would no way be able to get through that, even with a two-Skylander team at their disposal (the game allows for two figures to be tagged in and out during play).
The Skylanders do have some interesting powers and designs, though many are repeated between the different characters. After a few levels of experience each can float, launch a similar projectile, and incorporate rushing attacks. The double-sized Giants – new to this game — offer more variety, as Tree Rex can shoot a pinpoint laser and Crusher has the ability to turn enemies to stone for a specified period of time. Their only downfall is that they move too slowly to be effective when traversing the game. I would travel with a flying Skylander for the majority of a level and switch to a Giant when battles became intense.
That was another design choice I took issue with: unlike the console versions, Skylanders can only be exchanged in the game’s hub and not during the levels. The portal used for the 3DS version relies on interaction via infrared line of sight with the portable, and switching one figure for another means having to re-sync the two devices together each time. Because each level has two elemental gates and several Giants-specific challenges, in order to get a perfect 3-star rating it would need to be replayed a a number of times with different figures. And since the portal only syncs when changing figures, to make sure stats transfer I would have to take them off, place them back on and re-sync. It’s such an annoyance that I rarely swapped figurines through my play time.
The game is meant to appeal to kids’ love of Saturday Morning cartoons — at least the aesthetic is cheery and colorful to presume that — but the world is hardly charming enough to be enjoyable. The Skylands hub from Spyro’s Adventure is gone, replaced by a flying ship with rooms that remain empty during the entire game. The friendly characters from the predecessor return but offer nothing but light conversation; I found it useless to speak to them between missions. It’s a dead ship, even though it’s meant to be the sole bastion of hope in the game’s world.
There are a few technical glitches within Giants that detract from the gameplay. For one it’s easy to get a character stuck in walls and corners, and sometimes my heroes would enter the scene stuck in the sky or below the plane of view. The only way to save oneself is to exit out of the game completely. To make things worse, if you’ve managed to gain experience and loot during a run, it’s lost in the process.
Maybe most disheartening is the realization that there are no online or multiplayer modes, no StreetPass, and no way to share my results with friends. Earning a perfect three-star rating on a level adds nothing — no rewards, no in-game bonuses — and had me wondering why I’d even bother trying to find all of the pirate loot in a level. The replay value is low, extremely low.
The only thing “giant” about Skylanders Giants for the 3DS is the steps backward that the game took. When compared to any of the other versions, the 3DS edition is a paltry effort. In fact, it really only serves one purpose: another way to level up your Skylanders figurines. Is that enough reason to spend $75 on a package? I don’t think so.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game for the Nintendo 3DS sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. The entire quest was completed, and twelve different Skylanders were used.