Skylanders Giants Review
The 3DS version of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was something of a surprise. Coming along at a time when the 3DS library was, shall we say, lacking, the portable version of the Skylanders adventure was almost every bit as good as the console iterations. The run-and-jump gameplay was fun from start to finish, and the title provided Skylanders fans with yet another opportunity to play with and level up their tiny plastic army. After sacrificing nearly 40 hours of my life to the 3DS original, I was almost as thrilled to get the 3DS-exclusive sequel as I was the main game. Did Giants bring the same A game as the original? Or did it fall as flat as most console-to-handheld conversions?
I'm afraid the answer is somewhere in the middle. The first thing that must be mentioned is the game's presentation. Yuck. On both the regular 3DS and its XL-sized cousin, Skylanders: Giants looks like crap. Everything from the characters to the cutscenes to the environments are painfully pixelated, somehow looking less polished than its year-old predecessor. To make matters worse, even the slightest bit of on-screen action slows the game's framerate to a crawl, a phenomenon best described as what happens when you use a turbo controller with a start button switch - starts and stops that make every bit of the game as herky-jerky as mashing the pause button over and over. As you can imagine, this wreaks havoc on the game's enhanced emphasis on platforming; even use of the 3D enhancement can't help you land on small platforms when everything is in slo-mo. I actually found myself waiting for the game to catch up to me on more than a few occasions; not exactly a great recipe for an action game.
Aside from the atrocious graphics and unforgivable frame rate, Skylanders: Giants does manage to one-up the original in a number of ways. This sequel offers more of nearly everything - more hats to collect, more Skylanders to import (a staggering 99 different Skylanders and variants are represented), more challenges to overcome and more stars to earn. In a trait shared with all the other Giants games, your original Skylanders have had their level cap raised by 50 percent to 15, and, of course, all the new Skylanders and reposed originals follow suit. The most notable enhancement is that Giants on the 3DS feels more like its console big brothers with a jump button added. The first 3DS game had extremely linear levels of either Point A to Point B or arena challenges; Giants has more in the way of fully realized 3D landscapes with side paths to find and more stuff to discover. It's a step in the right direction, to be sure.
On the other hand, the 3DS version of Giants still leaves out some of the stuff from the console version, stuff that is pretty important. The hats scattered around each level still offer no real incentive other than completing the collection; the hats in the main game offer stat boosts and new powers to the Skylanders that wear them. Character upgrades are still set and determined by levels alone; the console games allow for choice of path on gained upgrades while this version's are set in stone. Both seemed like no-brainers coming from a "sequels should add features" standpoint. Guess not.
Worst of all, though, is that Skylanders still cannot be changed out on the fly. I get this is a portable version and keeping the Portal of Power on you at all times isn't feasible, but the system still doesn't make sense. Like in the original, you can have two separate Skylanders and one item "scanned into" your game at any given time. This is a smart idea and makes sense with the portability of the game, but to swap out your Skylanders, you must exit to the hub world and visit a special area. This can be really jarring, especially if you are used to popping your figures in and out multiple times per level. There isn't any reason as to why players can't swap heroes mid-level, activating the Portal with a button press or touch screen gesture and going to town. Being stuck with who you've got requires too much planning on the player's part (for elemental and giant gates in particular) and for all the problems "scanning in" the Skylanders solves, it creates identical ones by not being able to switch at any time.
Sadly, the 3DS version of Skylanders: Giants is really only for the die-hard Skylander fan and/or completionist. It is still nice to have a different way to play with your horde of toys, but the game's technical problems are going to be too much to ignore for all but the biggest fans. It isn't often that a sequel ends up being worse than the game that spawned it, but when that does happen it is particularly unfortunate. Let's hope Activision gets things back on track for the inevitable Skylanders 3.
Final Rating: 50%. The game's technical problems are too much to ignore for all but the biggest fans.
Note: This review is part of the Skylanders Giants Omnibus, which can be found here.