A lot is being made of the Skylanders craze. Last year’s game was a surprising success, so when the sequel was announced, everyone was in a hurry to once again snatch up these plastic money-makers. We already reviewed Giants for consoles, but a lot of people have been wondering about the portable version. The 3DS is a marketing paradise, as just about every kid has one. I took it upon myself to level up my Crusher and Drill Sergeant on the portable version of the game. Then I continued with Gill Grunt, Chill, Ghost Roaster…I think I have a problem.
For those unfamiliar with it, Skylanders is a combination game/toy collection. You buy these figures that, in turn, load into your game and you level them up and collect treasure. A simple concept in theory, but somehow has become a craze. I myself am addicted. My wife and I now have 44 total figures as of this writing, and continue to buy new ones weekly. So what is the hook? It comes in the form of leveling up characters. You see, each toy works on all versions of the game. For example, if I take my Swarm and play him on the 3DS for two hours, I can then transfer him into the Wii version and continue leveling him up.
It is this kind of cross-play mentality that keeps kids going. Well, that and the fact that the figures themselves are just too awesome not to collect. That is one area where I don’t mind dropping the money. This is a quality game, with quality toys, and something I think kids really love. Just be warned parents, it becomes costly quick.
With the 3DS version you have the standard game found in the console versions with a few exceptions. This is still an action/platformer where you defeat enemies and solve puzzles, but the 3DS takes a few different cues based on the platform. The first is that you can now jump and run. These mechanics may sound simple, but considering it completely changes the dynamics of the gameplay, it makes all the difference. Levels are designed with that in mind, and the game puts more emphasis on platforming. Defeating enemies is still a large portion of it, and you will level up your figures as usual.
For those of you thinking of transferring the characters it is worth noting that only XP and levels transfer between the 3DS and console versions. This means the coveted treasure we have all spent time collecting to level up our abilities is null and void on the 3DS. Instead the new abilities are gained like a traditional RPG by level. Abilities are set to levels and when you hit them, you unlock that ability. It is an interesting way to handle the differences between the games, but if you were planning on farming treasure on the 3DS, you will be disappointed.
The 3DS version also uses the portal relatively differently. Instead of simply placing the figures you want when you want them, you have to load two unique Skylanders in before each level. This saves them in memory and allows you to play without lugging around that bulky portal. This is both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that you can play without being tied to the portal, and bad in that you cannot swap characters on-the-fly. You can switch between your characters at will by tapping the bottom screen, but whatever you load in is what you are stuck with for that level.
A few other differences exist in the collectibles and structure. For example, the hats you collect in the console game offer up stat boosts. On the 3DS they are merely for cosmetic value. Challenges are also handled differently. You collect coins in levels, but instead of treasure they are added up as XP at the end of the level. There are also daily bonuses for certain elements, which means using Skylanders of that type on that day grants you XP bonuses. The 3DS game really feels like a power level machine as I had two characters jump five levels in less than an hour.
Not being able to swap on the fly also hinders accessing other areas. Areas that are locked behind element gates or Giant gates are inaccessible if you have the wrong combo with you. This means you have to play levels over and over knowing which characters to bring with you. It is an unfortunate design choice, but an understandable one. Also worth noting is that the main game isn’t nearly as long as the console versions, so repeating levels is likely a must to get the full value out of your purchase.
Visually the game carries the same style as its counterpart, with notable drawbacks. The frame rate, for example, nearly tanks in certain areas. The game simply doesn’t perform well, which is weird because it isn’t exactly a graphical showcase. The 3D is like most, novel for a bit, but navigating platforms becomes awkward with it turned on after a while. The music remains fantastic, like its console version, with the new voice acting for all the characters also improving the soundscape. Sound is one area Skylanders excels on, no matter the platform.
Skylanders Giants on the 3DS is what I like to call a nice compliment piece. If you have the console versions it works as a nice way to level up figures while on the go. If this were my only option, though, I can’t say I would enjoy it nearly as much. The other versions just do a much better job of extending the addiction. Honestly I didn’t care about keeping track of my figures or hats in the 3DS, something I am extremely OCD about on consoles. Gamers with only one option might find Giants on 3DS a little disappointing, but those complimenting their console versions with it will likely find more to love.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.