This year, Father Christmas* made a special delivery at our house – a copy of Skylanders Giants for the X-Box 360.
I wasn’t 100% sure how the game would go down. For starters, we’re not a big TV watching household – Flea didn’t watch TV at all as a pre-schooler and even now we can go months without turning the box on, except for a movie at the weekend.
Second, Flea hasn’t been a big video gamer previously. Someone bought her a Wii about three years ago, and we gave it away to a friend this year after realising Flea had played with it three times in as many years.
But I’ve always wondered about Skylanders – it’s a video game that incorporates real-life action figures, that kids can collect – the original Skylanders game is called Spyro’s Adventure and this sequel (which works fine as a standalone) is called Skylanders Giants. Playing is very simple – choose your action figure and put it onto a glowing ‘portal’ that plugs into your X-Box (or Wii, DS3 or PS3) and hey presto – the figure appears on screen.
Each of the 48 available figures has its own name, and powers and belongs to an ‘element’ with particular characteristics – there are dragons and fish and little monsters and it’s all very cool. Some of the new figures light up on the portal, and there are 8 new giant figures that are larger, and more powerful.
So, what did we make of it?
Flea adores Skylanders Giants. She is fairly new to video games but the game play is challenging enough to keep her interested without her getting frustrated.
Navigating the landscape within the game is easy for young children to take on and I’m only occasionally called on to help. And while the portal looks cool, it also makes the game very accessible for children because there’s no plugging or unplugging – just put a character on the portal to play with them in the game.
In two-player mode, the game is lots of fun although I confess in our household, my competitive gene might have got a TEENY bit out of control leading to some disputes over who exactly should have picked up that treasure and Flea pretending it was an accident that she got stuck in the doorway, leaving my Skylander to be burned alive in the Arkeyan Vaults. A likely story.
Anyway, there are about 15 chapters, or levels, and each level incorporates lots of mini challenges and games that score you extra powers, weapons and treasure, which can be traded in for upgrades to your character. We Whittle women are not noted for our patience so we’re racing through levels with each taking around 40 minutes, but you can go back and re-play chapters with different characters until you find all the available points.
Is there anything not to like?
Admittedly, there’s a LOT of shooting in this game, so if you’re more of a non-violent gamer, it might not be for you. But it’s not gory, and I thought it was a nice touch that the Skylanders don’t die – if they run out of energy, they are just made to ‘rest’ until the next chapter, when they’re revived and ready to go again.
My other reservation is that having bought the game, the likelihood is you ARE going to find yourself being nagged for new characters and figures – the three figures that come with the starter pack are the bare minimum needed to complete the game but to explore every part of the game world, you will need at least one character from each of the eight available ‘elements’ – meaning you’ll have to buy at least an extra five figures, which cost from around £8 to £15.
That said, the figures are very detailed and Flea does play with them outside of the game. This weekend we went to my parents and Flea took all her Skylanders figures (she now has 10, having spent every penny of her Christmas money in the toy shop) and spent the day playing with them and joyfully explaining all their powers and traits to my parents. So I’m inclined not to mind the additional cost of the figures, since she gets such fun out of them.
I’m impressed enough that I think we’ll invest in Spyro’s Adventure at some point – if you already own this, first generation Skylanders figures will work on Giants, but Giants figures won’t work with Spyro’s Adventures, so we’ll need to hunt around for some of the first generation characters if we do invest.
All in all then, I think Skylanders Giants has been a wonderful introduction to video games for Flea, and it’s a perfect game for young children – engaging and funny, with wonderful voices for the characters and lots of challenges to get stuck into. Definitely recommended.
* When I say Father Christmas brought this toy, his elves received it from the Activision PR team before bringing it to our house. Thanks to both Activision and the elves. Activision/Skylanders are a Tots100 client.