For a long time Spyro was down in the dumps. The dragon who once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Mario, Sonic and Crash, seemed to have completely run out of steam - and most probably assumed he would be permanently retired. Several developers had tried to reinvent the franchise, but they kept coming up with games worse than the one before.
Personally I had said my farewells to the happy dragon, who never really managed to capture my imagination since his PSOne hay days. And prior to the launch of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure last year, I didn't have any expectations that game would change things. Once again the franchise had been given to a fresh developer, and it appeared Spyro would step even further away from the limelight.
But you didn't have to be an expert on dragons or toys to realise there was something unique about Skylanders. The combination of a physical toy, a portal to transport your toy into the game, and gameplay that tasted of role playing, adventure and fun, made for one of last year's better pieces of family entertainment. And it's easy to say the same thing of the sequel - Skylanders Giants.
Kaos has escaped his prison and it doesn't take him long to find himself a bunch of new cronies in the shape of Arkyans - giant robots with destructive powers. Kaos isn't the only one to acquire new friends as Spyro and the rest of the Skylanders have been joined by Giants, who defeated the Arkeyans a long time ago.
You don't have to give much thought to Kaos or the Arkeyans in order to enjoy the game, instead you're likely to focus your attention on the new Giants - and Tree Rex was the giant that came with my game.
With a body made out of wood, tremendous strength and powerful attacks, he has no problems disposing of enemies, but he is just as useful opening doors that would otherwise require bombs to open. Finding alternative paths through levels, and lifting enormous boulders are also something Tree Rex is good at.
There are also new additions to the Skylanders ranks, and in my case these were the bird Jet-Vac and Cynder. Much like the last time around the characters belong to various elements, that will give you added strength, experience and access to secrets if matched up with the level. It's a well crafted system that forces you to switch your characters up, and it works really well.
The rewards for exploring off the beaten track are plentiful. Hats of various kinds give extra health, a greater chance of critical attacks, and improved stamina. There is naturally experience to amass and you're old characters can now reach further levels. Slightly devious are the Soul Gems that may show sequences of characters you don't yet own, and sort of come across as advertisements.
If you grow weary of adventures, you can spend your time with a mini-game called Skystones. It's a simple strategy game, where bricks with certain characters are to be placed in a manner so that you end up with the highest number of bricks on the board. The bricks can both be bought and found in the game, and with better bricks your chances of unlocking all of the secrets improves.
If you've already played through the first Skylanders, you'll be happy to know you can make use of your old characters. Experience level and gear is directly imported to the new game, and you can buy new abilities for them and level them up to level 15. In fact, you can even play with the new characters in the old game, with the exception of the giants that won't import into the old game.
There is no doubt that a large part of the attraction resides in the fantastic characters, the accessible nature of the game, and the ease with which you can bring your character along to a friends house and play on. If it wasn't for these strong features, it would have been harder to swallow the blurry graphics, the sometimes shaky framerate, and the fact that we've seen most of what's on offer here before.
Skylanders Giants once again excels in family friendly and accessible entertainment, exemplified by the ease of playing co-operatively, just simply place two characters on your portal and play. The excellent presentation, and even more secrets and bonus levels makes it all the more difficult to resist this playful adventure.
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