Skylanders: Giants

Skylanders-Giants

Whoever came up with the concept for Skylanders is a marketing genius.  The recipe is so pitch perfect it’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to execute:  Take the elemental centered and “gotta buy them all” appeal of Pokemon, mix it with the addictive RPG leveling and character progression that almost every game utilizes today, and then pair it up with a plethora of collectable figures that you can transport both between and across consoles.  The results are a franchise that has already grossed upwards of 500 million dollars between two releases with zero signs of slowing down.  But is the game any good or just a flagrant cash grab aimed specifically at children?

Skylanders-Giants

Actually it isn’t half bad.  I spent the majority of this past Saturday playing this with my nephew Jacob (he’s 8) and really enjoyed myself.  The game is akin to many dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate except it takes place in the uber-colorful and child friendly world of Skylands.   The interface is very simple and easy to understand; almost anybody could pick it up and play with little instruction.  Character leveling is extremely balanced and it has the familiar “just one more level” appeal as you constantly unlock better powers and upgrades for each of your individual Skylanders.   Jacob spent the better part of our lengthy session saving up hard fought treasure for a battle-axe made entirely out of bees for his favorite giant Swarm, and his joy upon finally earning the weapon was completely palpable.

Skylanders-Giants

Each Skylander represents one of eight different “elements” like fire, wind, technology, or undead.  The levels are divided with multiple gates and hidden areas that can only be accessed by certain elements, meaning in order to fully unlock everything the game has to offer you must own at least one character from every element.  If you are defeated, the only way to continue the level is by swapping out figures on the fly, making the game near impossible with only the starter set, but very manageable with a stable of Skylanders figures at your disposal.  (Defeated characters can be used again on the next level but not before)  The aforementioned starter set only comes with three characters, the game disc, and the necessary Portal of Power; so more characters must be purchased (Hey Mom!) in order to fully experience and enjoy what the game has to offer.  Some Skylanders are also much rarer than others (especially some of the newer Giants) making collecting these things highly addictive.  Again, sheer marketing brilliance.

Skylanders-Giants

Skylanders: Giants is also compatible with all of the toys released for the original game, and the level cap is increased from 10 to 15 for all of your previously purchased characters.  There are also new Series 2 versions of the original Skylanders that have more effective powers and different poses than their original counterparts, a very wise move by the developers to keep fans of the original excited about the sequel.   I’d be absolutely shocked if a third game wasn’t released this holiday season, right now the game has legs, something that Activision is notorious for exploiting on a yearly basis with all of their other major franchises.

Skylanders-Giants

It is also interesting to mention that the first game was titled Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, featuring popular gaming icon Spyro the Dragon who has appeared in almost twenty other titles.  Spyro never speaks in either game however, and doesn’t give you any sort of advantage over any of the other characters.  It almost seems like the developers were hedging their bets to get the game off the ground with a mascot familiar to the intended demographic.

If you are looking to enjoy some gaming with one of the younger people in your life you could a lot worse than Skylanders: Giants.   The title is certainly geared towards children but contains many of the familiar trappings of an addictive video adventure; I certainly didn’t grow bored playing it as I have with many other games.  Just plan to shell out a lot more than the initial seventy-dollar investment if you want to see everything in the game or actually get through it successfully at all.

Top Five Spectrum Compilations

Spectrum Compilations

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s and had a classic 8-bit micro would have worshipped the game compilations that appeared regularly throughout the latter half of that decade, and with good reason – a single new game would cost us upwards of £8, so who could say no to a collection of five, sometimes even more, games for a pound or two more? Whoever thought them up was a hero to all of us Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64 owners! I was a proud Spectrum owner and of all the years I enjoyed gaming on it, a large percentage of this time was spent with compilations and the treasures contained therein. Here are my favourites:

Spectrum Compilations - The In Crowd 2

5. The In Crowd (1989)

I remember for many years my favourite Spectrum mags were going on and on about this one but it was one of the few ‘big name’ compilations I didn’t own. It wasn’t until the 8-bit era was coming to an end that I finally managed to get hold of a copy. Was it worth the wait? Well, it has some decent games that’s for sure: Karnov, Gryzor, Barbarian, Crazy Cars, Predator, Combat School, Platoon, and Target Renegade. While it’s true there’s not many classics on here, this compilation still proved amazing value for money by sheer weight of numbers!

Spectrum Compilations - Arcade Muscle

4. Arcade Muscle (1989)

This is another one I got quite late on, but given my love of arcade games and conversions of them, it was inevitable it would make an appearance here! There’s a bit of everything too. Platform fans get the rock-hard Bionic Commando to vex them, car (and shooting) fans get the never-ending Road Blasters, shmup fans get one offering of each type with the fantastic Side Arms and 1943, and lastly fighting fans are also catered for by the original (and oft-forgotten) Street Fighter! Quite amusing to see after playing the later games in the series, but it’s a decent enough Speccy brawler all the same. A nice variety of highly playable games from US Gold.

Spectrum Compilations - Giants

3. Giants (1988)

Say what you want about the OutRun conversions, but I still enjoyed the Speccy effort included here, monochrome graphics and all! The only game here I didn’t play much was 720 and that’s just because I didn’t really ‘get’ it. California Games is here and as much fun as ever (I particularly enjoyed the BMX event on this version) and Gauntlet 2 and Rolling Thunder are both fantastic games, and great conversions too. The latter is rather hard but very playable, and Gauntlet 2 is… more of the same old Gauntlet action really, but who’s complaining?

Spectrum Compilations - Magnificent 7

2. Magnificent Seven (1988)
A bit of a stupid name considering it had eight games on it (although one them was ‘free’ to enable Ocean to still use the catchy moniker). I had this one for near enough the entire time I had a Speccy. I remember my sister and I having great fun trying to work out what to do in Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s minigames thanks to this one, and it also led to my lasting affection for Arkanoid and Head Over Heels. The other games weren’t bad either – The Great Escape, Yie ArKung Fu, Wizball, Cobra (by the late, great Jonathan ‘Joffa’ Smith – RIP), and the slightly wiffy Short Circuit. Cracking compilation and nice variety too!

Spectrum Compilations - Taito Coin-On Hits 2

1. Taito Coin-Op Hits (1989)

Yeah, good old Taito! A compilation featuring eight games is good enough, but eight Taito games? They have long been one of my favourite games developers and this is one big reason why (or eight). I was already a big Arkanoid fan by the time I got this, so to find Arkanoid 2 included alongside the first game here was great news, and there’s some equally great news if you’re a vertical scrolling shmup fan with the amusingly-named Slapfight as well as the blinding Flying Shark included, both receiving great conversions, particularly the latter. Fans of close-quarters combat are accounted for with Rastan, Renegade, and Legend of Kage providing many hours of violence. Lastly, we have the immortal Bubble Bobble. The only thing that could’ve made this collection even better is the inclusion of The New Zealand Story! Taito Coin-Op Hits is, in my opinion, the Spectrum compilation with the consistently highest quality of games on it. I’d certainly be impressed if there’s any better!