Last year, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure captured the hearts of children and the wallets of their parents, with its collectible figurines that come to life in the game. Today at E3 2012, we got a look at Skylanders Giants, the upcoming sequel that introduces some new elements and, of course, a slew of new toys to collect. It may also put an undue strain on parents' purse strings and lead some of them to stop indulging their children's Skylanders habit.
As the demo began, a new Skylander figurine named Jet-Vac was placed on the Portal of Power peripheral, and the birdlike character then appeared in the game with a rousing cry of "Hawk and awe!" The terrain in which Jet-Vac began his journey looked much like the inviting grasslands of early Skylanders levels, and the gameplay appeared to be pretty similar to that of the first game. Pushing a block aside revealed a previously hidden tunnel, and we were told that Giants introduces these kinds of secret areas, encouraging exploration and giving players more reason to return to levels.
Soon, we got a look at one of the new "light core" Skylanders; a variation of Prism Break from the original game. As this special version of Prism Break was brought close to the portal, crystals in the figurine's arms began to glow. It was a neat visual touch that is sure to enchant many children, and it doesn't require batteries; the power comes from the portal. In addition to this nifty figurine feature, light core characters will also have powers unique to them in the game.
After advancing a bit, the player placed another new Skylander named Pop Fizz on the portal, bringing the demented goblin-like creature into the game. Pop Fizz was described as an alchemist, and at one point he drank from a flask, temporarily mutating himself into a bigger, more powerful version of himself that was described as a berzerker. Pop Fizz was clearly capable of dealing with foes, but when he came upon an area that was particularly crowded with enemies, the player took the opportunity to switch to one of the titular giants, placing a significantly larger figurine on the portal. The giant's name was Tree Rex, and he resembled a mech that had been built from large living pieces of wood.
Like his figurine counterpart, the in-game Tree Rex was much larger than a normal Skylander, and his size enabled him to yank boulders off the ground and toss them at enemies. We initially wondered if the added physical power of giants wouldn't essentially make smaller Skylanders obsolete, but both Tree Rex and Bouncer, a robotic giant we saw a bit later, appeared to move more slowly than normal Skylanders, which could be disadvantageous in some situations.
We learned that Skylanders Giants raises the level cap for characters from 10 to 15 and that this applies both to new Skylanders and to those you may have used in the original game. The upgrade system has been tweaked a bit; whereas before, you reached a point where you had to choose between one path of upgrades or another for each Skylander, in Giants you can switch back and forth between upgrades. And although Skylanders is clearly designed primarily with young people in mind, Giants will add a range of difficulty levels in an attempt to accommodate those players who may want more of a challenge.
But what about the toys? Having physical figurines that store the progress of your characters is part of Skylanders' allure, but Giants may push things a little too far. The game will introduce eight giants (one for each element), eight new Skylanders, and 24 "series two" characters, which are new figurines of characters who appeared in the first game. Of course, you can still use your existing Skylanders, but series two characters will have powered-up upgrades, which is sure to make children long for the new versions. Additionally, there will be eight light core characters, four of which will be variants of series-two characters (like Prism Break), and four of which will be variants of new Skylanders.
Of course, variations on existing characters are nothing new to the toy industry. There are any number of versions of characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in Star Wars toy lines, and having the original He-Man toy didn't make most Masters of the Universe fans want Battle Armor He-Man any less. So in a sense, putting out new versions of characters players have already grown attached to sounds like good business sense.
But it also seems a bit crass, and the fact that series-two characters have more powerful upgrades than their predecessors sounds designed to get kids to disregard their existing toys and encourage their parents to buy a whole new set of Skylanders for them. We can't help but wonder if parents will be willing to purchase new assortments of Skylanders so soon after sinking considerable amounts of money into building their children's collections for the first game, and if those many adults who also fell under the first game's spell will feel the same impulse to collect 'em all that they did the first time around.