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Unreal photo

The original Spyro in Unreal Engine 4 is making me nostalgic

What's next?! Unreal Tournament?!
Feb 01
// Chris Carter
Have you seen [x] game in Unreal Engine 4? Crazy! But for real, someone is recreating the original Spyro game in Unreal, and it really makes me pine for the original again. There's probably a fat chance we'll actually se...
Devs Play photo
Devs Play

Devs Play season two has over five hours of game makers chatting

Spyro, Crash, Tearaway, and more
Jan 07
// Jordan Devore
Whether it's games, movies, books, whatever, I love listening to creators talk about their craft. It can be enthralling to hear how the creative process differs between not only mediums, but individuals. One video series I'm ...
PS Plus Update photo
PS Plus Update

Shadow of the Colossus wanders free on PS Plus this week

And a plethora of Activision games are on sale!
Oct 07
// Kyle MacGregor
Shadow of the Colossus is coming to PlayStation Plus this week. Members of Sony's subscription service will have the opportunity to download the high-definition remaster of Team Ico's PlayStation 2 masterpiece for free s...

There really needs to be a Skylanders cartoon already

It's just so cute!
Sep 25
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
The entire Skylanders series appeals to me in a lot of ways, most of all how it reminds me of cartoons I used to watch as a kid. This latest trailer for SWAP Force really shows off what I mean by that, and really makes me wi...


Let's take a look at the non-swappable new Skylanders

Four new characters
Aug 22
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Okay first of all the creature in the header here looks like something from a nightmare. Just, so creepy. Well whatever it is, it's one of four new Skylanders playable in SWAP Force. Two of them are also just normal Skylander...

Activision bringing Destiny, Ghosts, more to gamescom

Plus Skylanders SWAP Force and Angry Birds
Aug 17
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Activision will be at gamescom and are planning to wave their giant wads of money around as they will have the biggest ever demo-theater ever built in gamescom history for Destiny. It comes in at 72ft in length, 43ft wide, a...

Skylanders Swap Force is surprisingly more fun than evil

Jul 29 // Steven Hansen
Skylanders: Swap Force (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [previewed], Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, 3DS)Developer: Vicarious Visions (PS3, PS4, 360, One, Wii U) / n-Space (3DS)/ Beenox (Wii)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 13, 2013 After last year’s Skylanders: Giants, which featured bigger monsters, the toys needed a new gimmick. This time, it’s swapability. Over a dozen of the new characters are Swap Force characters, meaning they can be vivisected at the waist (they’re held fast with magnets) and you can change characters’ top and bottom, mixing and matching as you see fit. It’s basically sanctioned unholy fusion of separate action figures. Kids these days have it so easy. Each Skylanders toy has its set of stats tied to it and each Swap Force character halve lays claim to independent statistics, which means you’re not tied to the entire character if, say, you wanted to keep a quick and speedy base but wanted to easily switch between melee and ranged attacks. Or something, I guess. I think it’s more personal preference than anything, because the game isn’t that deep. There is a Nightmare Mode you can gain access to, so maybe being savvy with character abilities and strategies might be a thing worth considering down the line, but everything I got the swappurtunity to go hands-on with was fairly straight forward mashing on monsters, which gets back to my original point: it’s solid mashing on monsters. I get the appeal now. I don’t exactly like the appeal, because there’s something inherently slimy and manipulative about the whole children’s toys market wherein kids are trained to desire all the baubles, but I get it. Had I disposable income and a child, Skylanders would be a no stress way to introduce said stupid human child to videogames in a lax environment. The child would get colorful visual stimuli mildly reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank, silly toys that children are apt to collect and enjoy, and pretty chill monster mashing combat. It’s not to say I wouldn’t get anything from it, either. Skylanders, at least of the Swap Force ilk. are generally named with lovely puns (and permutations thereof when they get swapped) that I enjoy terribly. Invader Zim’s voice actor also voices the main villain, and the writing in general pulled a few chuckles out of me. You can also see some semblance of heart and fun in Swap Force. Jumping has finally been added to the game and while it’s not a core tenet, it’s fun, as we learned so many years ago playing all those platformers. Plus, the jump animations are all kind of great. There’s a snake Swap Force character, Rattle Shake, who is basically Crocodile Dundee with Antnio Banderas’ voice, which is hilarious in and of itself. His jump features a springy sound effect as his tail coils up and propels him upward. I enjoyed it, anyway. The robot legs also bring a cool backflip jump into play. All existing Skylanders characters have been retrofitted with new jumping animations as well. Also, the Crocodile Dundee snake character? His gun is a smaller snake. I hate copping out and suggesting Sklyanders: Swap Force for kids. First, because I don’t know a modicum about child rearing. I’d probably throw s book at them and make them entertain themselves. Or take them to the park to play sports in the hopes of vicariously living through their organized athletic success after my own failures and blown out knees. Yeah, what of it? Don’t tell me how to raise my own gosh darn hypothetical children. The other reason is that I don’t see why those ungrateful little twerps can’t just play Super Mario World like I did; why they have to have something pared down and spoon fed to them. My SNES is literally sitting in my entertainment center right now. Still, if you can abide by the bollocks that comes along with children’s toys (and potential physical pay walls locking you out of side content that you need certain characters or character types for), I can see how Skylanders: Swap Force might be appealing. I’m still leery of the whole charade for more ideological reasons, but it’s a solidly fun escapade with some character to it. And Invader Zim. And a Crocodile Dundee rattle snake with a snake gun.
Skylanders Swap Force photo
Snakes shooting snake guns
Activision’s Skylanders franchise has always smelled of a money grab to me. Copperish, like the smell of old pennies scrounged up by hard-working parents so little Linda Anne can have all the newest and coolest Skylande...

Skylanders in Japan photo
Skylanders in Japan

First Skylanders hits Japan in July, gets Wii U port

That's... weird
Jun 25
// Tony Ponce
We are so used to waiting insufferably long periods of time for Japanese games to be localized and brought out West that we often imagine Japan as this floating island of privilege and good fortune. How easily do we forget th...

Merging toys and videogames with Skylanders

Oct 21 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Paul Reiche's obsession with monsters Paul Reiche believes that "in our DNA here at [Toys for Bob] is monsters, heroic adventure, and having fun with fantasy adventure." Given Paul's history with gaming, it makes sense, especially with the amount of games he's made with monsters in them. Paul's first taste into the realm of gaming and monsters began with Dungeons & Dragons during high school. His early success with D&D would soon see him working for TSR (the former Dungeons & Dragons publisher), where he helped develop multiple Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World games. Paul's interest soon shifted to digital gaming, and growing up in Berkly gave him a chance to learn programming at the Lawrence Hall of Science. This proved most fortunate for him as he "happened to be in the right place, at the right time" for the dawn of videogames, making his first D&D-based videogame for the TRS 80 and Apple II. From there, he and Jon Freeman (co-founder of Epyx) formed Free Fall Associates, where they worked on some of the first games for Electronic Arts such as Archon and Mail Order Monsters, both which had you controlling monsters that fought each other. Paul eventually left Free Fall Associates to form his own company, Toys for Bob, with Fred Ford in 1989. It was just the two of them at the beginning, and the company's first title was Star Control. Paul focused on the design and fiction, while Fred handled the programming. Star Control would later be ported from the PC to the Sega Genesis, but Toys for Bob had to work around Sega's restriction and create an unauthorized version for the system. "Back at this time we were trying to break first party," Paul told me. "It didn't work, so we worked with reversed engineered material to create Star Control. It was the biggest cartridge [on the Genesis] at the time." Picture via Ars Technica, which has more on the unauthorized Genesis dev kit They then made Star Control II, and according to Paul, "To this day, we still have a dedicated fan base who want us to abandon Skylanders and just go back to working on it (laughs)." In 1994, Toys for Bob worked with Crystal Dynamics to make Pandemonium, The Horde, and The Unholy War, the latter two both being monster-focused as well. It was also at this time that they made Majokko Dai Sakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs, their weirdest game ever. Paul loved the SD Gundam series, so he went to Crystal Dynamic's head of studio at the time, Rob Dyer, in order to reach out to Bandai and get the rights. Somehow they ended up making the Little Witching Mischief instead, a game based on the Japanese anime from the 1960s. The game was only sold in Japan, and he's not sure how well the game did as their original contact at Bandai ended up quitting. He is looking for copies of the game still, as they only have one in their possession.   Their last title with Crystal Dynamics was 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, for which they serendipitously looked at the original Spyro as the basic model in order to make a good kids game. Toys for Bob would go on to partner with Activision in the early 2000s and make Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure. The company was bought by Activision in 2005 and continued to make kid-focused titles such as Madagascar, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, and Madagascar 2. How the idea of Skylanders was born It was around 2008 when Paul noticed, "[T]he world started to change. The high-end licensed titles just weren't making enough money to really justify a great big studio in Northern California. So we ended up being asked come up with something new." Specifically, Activision had sent out a company-wide email asking if anyone had any good ideas that the they could patent. "I just kind of thought that was a funny email," Paul told me. "I said, 'Well, no one is going to answer this. Who would just send off their ideas into the void?' So I said, 'I will! It's a challenge.' "Whenever a studio is told that they know, 'okay, we better do this' (laughs). We want to remain in existence. So we sort of said, well, this is the first time in a long time we've been offered the opportunity to come up with our own game. "So one of the ideas I had, although I didn't know the precise technology underlining it, was this wireless communication through this portal where you have a character, and you would put it on the portal and the game would interpret it and that you can freely move the characters around. "And then they said, 'Oh, and by the way, would you like to work with the Spyro license?' We said, 'Yeah! That's a pretty cool license.'" Activision added that it can't just be a new Spyro game, though. It had to be a new kind of game, because for it to be successful in Activision's eyes, it not only has "to be the top kids game of the year, but it has to be in the top five games period of the year." An extremely tall order, but the timing couldn't have worked out better, as Paul saw it as a chance to combine his portal idea with Spyro. Paul and I-Wei Huang, character and toy director at Toys for Bob, went to Activision with a couple of illustrations to show off their idea, where they would make toys that would work with a piece of hardware that communicates with the game and create a real-world relationship. "The floor of what we needed to achieve was almost unachievable,” Paul explained. "Fortunately, they gave us some time to prototype, and we ended up coming up with this idea for Skylanders. "All through this idea, I kept asking myself, 'Am I smoking crack?' Because we literally had to craft everything by hand, go to Activision, show these crazy demos, and once we actually got to the point where we could put [a toy] on a portal, and it would come to life in the game, this sort of light bulb went on in everybody's head and we said, 'Okay, now we just got to make it good.'" Creating a toy company within a game company As we all know now, Paul and Toys for Bob's crazy idea worked. Penny Arcade immediately took to it, figures were selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, and even Justin Bieber is a fan. Toys were selling out like crazy, especially around Christmas. Right now, there are so many Skylanders figures that if you were to put every one of them side by side, they would stretch out for 1500 miles. Paul further drove that point home by stating that there are more Skylanders toys than there are people in the United Kingdom! The series is successful now, but I couldn't help but wonder if Paul had any fears when developing the whole idea. "I think we were fortunate in that we didn't know what we didn't know. I think if we had known all of the things we were going to confront, we would have said it was impossible. But fortunately we didn't know, and so what we had was people who worked with us for many, many years. The guy who actually invented the portal technology [Robert Leyland], I've worked with him on and off for more than 30 years. Robert had done hobbyist electronics his whole life. We actually signed Electronic Arts development contract #1! A very obscure game about a murder on a zeppelin." Robert, I-Wei, and Paul went through a lot of different prototypes with the Portal itself, and even at one point made things out of dish drainers. Once the prototype was settled, they went to Red Octane, Activision's proper hardware group. "[Red Octane] had made all of the hardware for Guitar Hero, and then Guitar Hero had sort of found its natural level of success. And so they were ready and waiting to help us take a prototype and make it manufacturable. There's a whole proper physical engineering that we really didn't know about how to do it. We worked with a company called Creata, and they did the toy engineering for us. And then we worked with Red Octane and they did the Portal." While Red Octane was busy creating the Portal, Paul and the team focused on making the toys. "This time around, we sort of went from the Stone Age where I-Wei was crafting things with clay. I had made rubber monsters and plastic monsters as a hobby, that was my contribution to the hobbyist part. I was able to say, 'Well, I can show you how we can take your clay toy, make a mold and then we can cast a bunch of them.' 'Cause every time we would send a toy down to Activision for them to show somebody it would vanish." Paul joking speculates that some kid of an executive would end up with it. "So we started making our own little sweatshop here where we would, after work, cast all these toys and hand paint them. And then those would all vanish. So finally we ended up working with Creata, and they took our solid toys and showed us how they get broken apart." Paul described how the toys are broken down into a very complicated system so that they can be created with as much detail as possible, marveling at how "there's a whole science to how you break toys apart." It's a process that was well above what Toys for Bob could do on their own, so it was fortunate for them that Red Octane was seemingly lying in wait. As for Creata, that whole partnership came about thanks to a man named John Coyne. "We knew when we were getting into toys that we actually needed to have someone in the business who understood toys and had sold them before. So we found a guy named John Coyne, and he had worked at Spin Master, which was the company that launched Bakugan, and before that he had worked at Mattel, and he knew collectable toy lines. "So he helped introduce us to people in the traditional toy world. A lot of them said this is impossible. No one's ever, out of the blue, made 32 toys and sold them in Toys 'R' Us." Paul was grilled about the idea, being asked by people what isle they would sell the product in. To which Paul simply stated, "The aisle with space ... ?" It's not as simple as that, of course. "In Toys 'R' Us, there's an aisle for boys' 8-10 action figures, there's an aisle for girls, there's an aisle for this, etc. And we were like, 'It should sell everywhere! It should sell by the videogames, it should sell in the toys!' And they were just like, 'You can't do that!' "Fortunately, or unfortunately, there's been a decline in the age at which kids will continue to play with toys, particularly boys. They migrate to videogames cause videogames are so compelling. Toys 'R' Us was really excited that we found a way to reintroduce toys and make plastic toys more by adding this sort of intelligence into them and this communication, and then building this narrative about the toys moving between worlds. We showed it to them early on and they said, 'Wow, this is really cool.' So they worked with us as a partner, helping us, again, learn all the ropes of 'well, how do you move into this aisle?' "The world of retail is a whole really complicated business. We make videogames and we have partners at Activision that really help us and [one day] they said, 'We got the something shelf at Walmart!' And we were like, 'Cool! ... What is that?' And they said, 'This is the shelf that normally stocks ketchup and mayonnaise.' And we were like, 'Okay ... ' They said, 'No, you don't understand, this is the most coveted shelf at Walmart and you guys got it worldwide!' 'Cool! Mayonnaise and ketchup alright! We got it!' It's business. Because we have something people want to buy, we're getting a lot of support from the retailers." How the Skylanders are born The scope of how much quality control Toys for Bob have now wasn't made clear until I talked to I-Wei, who will draw, create loose sketches, make iterations, and then get a 3D model printed in full color. He told me, "Once we have this in our hand, that's when we go, 'Okay, is this a cool toy? Do we like it?'" I-Wei specifically showed me the many iterations of Bouncer, one of the new Giants characters. He first was this extremely fierce-looking robot with Gatling guns for hands. It reminded me of the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, in fact. Cool but not something suitable for the kids. From this initial design, Paul and I-Wei tried to mold the character. They were set on giving him some type of gun-like weapon, and while trying to think of specific examples, they both kept using their own hands as a gun. It's something everyone has done with their hands, so they applied that idea to Bouncer. From there they went through many different color designs and wheel designs, making sure that not only did he look cool from the front but also from the back and above, as that's what the player has to see in the game. I-Wei went through about a couple of dozen designs, from small to large changes, before settling on something on paper with Bouncer. For the next step, the team modeled the character out in full 3D within the game, animating it and making it strike different poses. Part of this process is to figure out the actual constraits for the toy, as they have to make sure that it both fits on the Portal alongside another toy as well as in its retail packaging. Next they get feedback from Creata and the manufacturing process. If the design can't be mass produced within the set limitations then the design has to get altered yet again. Then there's the painting process -- this is something Paul and I-Wei really obsess over, debating back and forth with each other. Automation is not part of the paint process, and every paint stroke costs money. They first go about making the toy look cool then scale back, typically with the color schemes, in order make the toys affordable. "If you compare [our toys] to what's on the shelf today in Toys 'R' Us or whatever around the same price range, this is a much higher quality 'cause we use so much more paint then anyone else," I-Wei tells me. "That's mostly because we care, first of all, about our characters. Originally, it was because we were ignorant. We weren't toy people, we just wanted cool toys. "When we got prototypes back, it's like, 'No, that looks like crap, you knew you need to paint this part, and let's try doing this and this.' The toy companies are trying to tell us, 'You know, you're like twice more than what you should be. It'd be fine just doing this.' No, we just want a cool toy," was I-Wei's blunt answer to the manufacturers. I-Wei pointed out a case filled with Skylanders figures across from him that all had something wrong with them. "We go through a lot of eyes, eyes are never painted right the first 10 times." Bouncer in particular took a few months from concept to final version to complete. That's just one figure, but they're creating a lot of different characters at the same time, too. "I was really fortunate that I got to participate," Paul told me. "I-Wei and I decided early on that he and I would work together to do all the character designs. He's the artist, the illustrator, and the modeler. So really, the vision of the characters is very strongly in his hands. What I come into it is saying, I come from a D&D player head, I'm like, 'Okay, I have this giant tree guy, and he's going to be really strong.' I started clenching my fist, and I-Wei would go off and start sketching. "Sometimes, we'll get requests from the design department they'll say, 'Okay, we need a range guy, he's a fire range guy who's funny. Those are the things you guys have to work with.' But normally, I-Wei would bring me some sketches and I'll say, 'Oh my God, that guy's great. Now let's replace that crazy skull head with a furry little creature head,' and he would go do 40 variations on that. I-Wei sometimes just draws these crazy monsters, and I just get to play with them." Paul explains, "[I]t's this amazing new creative job, but by shifting and taking more responsibility over the look of it, what we're able to do is really increase the quality of the toys." The toys and game models in Giants are 1:1 this time around, something that wasn't the case for the first game as they didn't have certain technology at the time, specifically their gigantic 3D printer. Improvements have of course happened on the game itself too, as the team knows what they're doing better for the sequel. "This time around, we really knew what we wanted to achieve on both on the toys and on the game." Combat is better, there's a better presentation and more variety, and they even got some more Hollywood talent. Patrick Warburton is back as Flynn, Richard Horvitz is back as Kaos (who's basically Invader Zim here, I mean, come on). New to the cast is George Takei of Star Trek fame and Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo. Kevin actually reached out to Toys for Bob, asking if there was some way he could be part of the game so he could score some cool points with his kids that love the series. This is Crusher, a new Giants character voiced by Kevin Sorbo Dealing with pressure by focusing on quality Skylanders is now one of Activision's biggest sellers with the likes of Call of Duty. That adds new pressure to the humble studio, but it's "the kind of problem you want to have," Paul tells me. "You can't look at the dollars and the numbers or you'll go insane. You have to just focus on the things that you can control, which are quality. "There is tremendous pressure. We went from being nothing to being a half-billion dollar franchise. And of course [Activision] wants it to be more. We would love to do that too. We want more kids to enjoy our game. And success is good, it guarantees we continue to have jobs. The only way we can control it is quality, and that's what we focused on." This time around, "[Toys for Bob] went into the toys and said, you know last time the way we worked with the toy developers [and] the engineers was we would send them illustrations where we would send them in-game models and they would craft from 3D from the ground up. We would go back and forth with them many, many times trying to actually recreate the character that we created. "This time, we bought a 3D printer, and we did all of the new characters in hi-res and ZBrush ourselves. So we sent them, this is exactly how it should look. We had the 3D prints, so we could send them a solid object and say this is how it should be colored, and then we would go back and forth on the paint operations." The ultimate bar that Paul envisioned was reaching Nintendo heights. "When we started this project, we said, 'What do we need to achieve to make this work?' One of them was our game needs to stand up to Nintendo first-party titles. They're the gold standard of quality for our audience. "Nintendo has a way of tracking how many hours people are spending with what games. We just surpassed Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 in terms of average number of hours players play Skylanders. That was as good as we could of imagined. We want kids who are spending money on these toys to feel like it was really worth it. Not only in terms of how cool the toy is but that they got more play value. "I-Wei and I both have to evaluate stuff, and mine is 'Do I want to be this guy?' I-Wei's is 'Do I want to reach up on the shelf and buy this guy and convince mom to pay for it?' Without that, it's too cerebral because toys are way more emotional. Physical objects trigger different relationships than virtual ones. I think they're more emotional, and I think they're more deeper in your brain." Skylanders Giants is out today for the 3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360, and coming November 18 on the Wii U. Read up on our review  for all that's new and improved. [Special thanks to COIN-OP TV and Nintendo World Report for providing some of the photos. Go check out their video tours at Toys for Bob for more!]
Playing with toys photo
Just how are the toys made?
Who knew actual physical toys would propel a videogame to become the number one selling Activision title (so far) this year and generating over $200 million in sales? Developer Toys for Bob struck gold with its ingenious idea...

Review: Skylanders Giants

Oct 18 // Chris Carter
Skylanders: Giants (3DS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Toys For Bob (Mac, PC, PS3, Wii, Wii U, 360) / n-Space (3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 21, 2012 (3DS, Mac, PC, PS3, Wii, 360) / November 18, 2012 (Wii U)MSRP: $74.99 (Starter Kit) / $59.99 (Portal Owner Pack) As some of you may know, Skylanders incorporates physical toys -- lots of them! -- that you can pick up at your local brick and mortar store. Using a USB device called the "Portal of Power," you can digitize any number of the eight giants (read: big toys) or the 45+ smaller figures into your game. All the characters have a tiny microchip inside them that captures and saves their data, such as the amount of coins you have, your experience, and what Gamertag/ID they're registered to. Considering the main hook here is essentially peddling children's toys, I hope you aren't expecting a transcendent Machiavellian narrative of the subjugation of the proletariat. To be blunt, the setup is going to be really familiar with anyone who has ever watched a cartoon aimed at the 16-and-under group. After the day was saved in the first game, the premise is basically your typical "big bad villain returns" scenario. The eight giants, once thought to be a myth to the citizens of Skylands, have now come out of hiding to band with the rest of the Skylanders and do battle with the evil wizard Kaos. The tone is completely lighthearted, at times cheesy, but not overly hilarious. Just like the first game, it gets the job done. If you enjoy movies like the criminally under-appreciated The Emperor's New Groove, you'll have a good enough time in Skylands (especially so, as Patrick Warburton reprises his role from the first Skylanders, which is basically Kronk). [embed]236152:45413[/embed] When it comes to gameplay, your experience will pretty much mirror any standard dungeon crawler you've tackled before. Obstacles range from simple puzzles to straight-up battles, and there's even a home base of operations with various merchants (like the Diablo series). Giants themselves offer a new layer to the series, as they're required for traversing certain extra areas and obstacles, most of which are optional. They're large, they're lumbering, and as a result, most of them are slow, which may or may not suit your play style. That's totally fine, as the Skylanders series is built upon giving you the freedom to use just about anyone you want (keep in mind that you will need a Giant on-hand for at least a few required areas, even if you can play 99% of the campaign without them). As was the case with the previous game, the nuances of combat and exploration are going to be pretty basic, and since most characters don't jump, it probably couldn't even be considered a basic platformer. But it would be criminal to dismiss the game based on that premise, as there is a ton of depth here should you choose to dig further -- and what it does offer, it does very well. First, the optional challenge missions are back. They're still quasi-difficult and task you with various objectives like "destroy X amount of enemies in a certain amount of time," granting you bonuses should you succeed. These can be done very easily from the main ship at the beginning of every stage, and they're even easier to get sucked into as you try to complete them all. Challenges aren't the only thing that will test your mettle, however, as there's also a number of arenas to conquer, all of which net you some sort of reward. If you're feeling lonely, local multiplayer is thankfully supported by way of full two-player coop (for the entire campaign), and a fairly meaty versus mode that has a decent number of different game types to choose from. Add in hundreds of collectibles, a fully fledged Othello-like game called "Skystones," ability gems hidden in each level, stat-boosting hats (hats are all the rage these days, I'll tell ya), and optional in-game achievements that boost your stats and XP, and you have a full game that inherently gives as much back as you put in. If you're a completionist, you can level up your character to the increased cap of 15 (up from 10 in the first game). Earning XP and gold in multiplayer battles is also a nice touch (provided you have a local partner in crime, as there is sadly no online play support). This all works well and good within the contained Giants ecosystem, but what about prior adopters? As we all know, Activision isn't the most reliable of folks when it comes to backwards compatibility, so I'm sure a lot of you are concerned whether or not Giants will play nice with your old toys. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that Activision and Toys For Bob did a solid job of serving both games. Figuring out what works where is fairly simple: look at the bottom of your toy's base. If it's green, it's from the first game (Series 1), and if it's orange, it's from the second game (Series 2). All Series 2 characters that were carried over from the first game will work if you plug them back into the original. All new Series 2 characters (i.e. Giants) will not work with the original game (which is to be expected). These details are also clearly marked on the actual packaging for the toys. All of this works pretty effortlessly, even without a patch or title update of any kind. For instance, my wife and I were playing coop in Giants and she proceeded to upgrade and level-up a toy she had picked up a year ago. After going back to the original game later that day, all her stats, coins, and abilities/upgrades were still there. So if you're interested in picking up the first game on the cheap some day, you can reap the benefits of re-using select characters. In terms of length, there are 16 stages, each which take about 30 minutes the first time through, or 10 to 15 minutes for speedruns. If you're looking for more replayability beyond going back to the original game or buying more toys, Giants has you covered with all of the modes and extras I mentioned above. After playing through both titles, it's clear that a lot of heart went into the franchise. This should please fans both young and old, provided you're willing to go in with an open mind and embrace the simplicity. Skylanders: Giants is a simple but incredibly enjoyable game, packed with content should you decide to explore every nook and cranny. Despite the fact that a lot of the characters are pay-walled behind what is essentially physical DLC, it's still perfectly serviceable even with just the characters in the standard package.
Activision ditches the Spyro moniker but keeps the fun intact
Skylanders was one of the biggest surprises of 2011. Pretty much everyone expected it to be a cheap cash-in of 90s nostalgia to sell toys to unsuspecting kids -- and boy, were we wrong. It was actually a pretty fun, serviceab...


Warning: this kids' Spyro costume is f*cking nightmarish!

An eldritch horror from beyond reason
Oct 15
// Jim Sterling
Behold! The LORD's cruelest joke! Cast out from Heaven, rejected by Hell, and feared by the realm of mortals. The rules of nature apply not to this misshapen beast, for it is wrought of no natural element. It exists without e...

This exclusive Skylanders Giants set only at GameStop

Aug 05
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders fanatics will have to pre-order Skylanders Giants from GameStop if they want to get their hands on the exclusive Cannon Battle Pack. This limited edition pack contains series 2 versions of Chop Chop, Shroomboom, an...

New Skylander Giant Swarm revealed in video and images

Jul 26
// Conrad Zimmerman
Activision has released assets and information on a new Skylanders character due to appear in Skylanders: Giants, an over-sized bee prince named Swarm. The above video shows off some of his moves, which seem to include ...

E3: What's new with Skylanders Giants

Jun 05 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders Giants (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii [Previewed], 3DS] Developer: Toys for Bob Publisher: Activision Release: Fall 2012 Skylanders Giants introduces 20 new characters in all, 12 regular-sized heroes and eight giants. All of the previous Skylanders toys will still work with Giants, of course, and your stats and customizations will carry over too. Plus, the level cap has been raised to fifteen, allowing you to level up all your previous Skylanders characters even further. Another new feature for the actual toys are how the new designs can actually light up when placed on or near the Portal of Power device. Best of all, you won't have to worry about replacing the batteries as (presumably) the Portal of Power will recharge them. In terms of gameplay, it's the same Skylanders you know as far as combat is concerned. The levels keep that elemental theme going too, where only certain Skylanders characters can enter certain areas. What's largely different this time around is that there's more emphasis on exploration and replayability. You'll be able to find hidden areas and enter buildings where you'll find items and other collectibles for your characters. As far as the new giants are concerned, they definitely pack more of a wallop and have their own unique attacks, like being able to pick up large boulders that they can chuck at enemies. You'll still have to swap with the normal Skylanders characters, as the giants can't access all areas due to their enormous size. Developer Toys for Bob showed off three of the new characters. One was called Pop Fizz and is a crazy magic class who throws around different types of potions to hurt enemies, and his alt attack sees him sampling his own mixtures, transforming him into a beefed-up monster (akin to a Jekyll and Hyde transformation). Two of the other new characters were giants. The first is Tree Rex, a gargantuan walking tree monster thing. The other is called Bouncer and he's basically Gizmo Duck from Ducktales/Darkwing Duck. Seriously. He's a giant that wears a power suit and moves around on one wheel. Unlike Gizmo Duck, Bouncer has some real badass attacks ranging from a laser eye blast, shoulder-mounted grenade launcher, and even (literal) finger guns. Drop-in/drop-out cooperative play is still a feature, and up to two giants can fit on one Portal of Power. Four-player versus mode is still in here too, plus there's a survival mode called Battle Arena where up to two players can fight wave after wave of enemies. That's a very basic overview of just some of the new features hitting Skylanders Giants. I don't know how Toys for Bob did it, but I kind of adore the Skylanders series. It really was a great idea merging toys and videogames in such a way that it all serves a real purpose. Needless to say, fans of the original Skylanders won't want to miss Giants.

Did you know that last year's Skylanders: Spryo's Adventure had the best single-year sales of any new children's IP ever in America? I figured the game would do well, but not to such a crazy extent! Obviously, Activision has ...


Live show: Mash Tactics proves adults play Skylanders too

Dec 21
// Bill Zoeker
Today, the Mash Tactics are like kids again as they plug into Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Part Spyro sequel, part Christmas toy craze; Skylanders has raised a few eyebrows by actually being "a solid title married to a very...

Modded Skylanders toys are even MORE awesome

Nov 21
// Tony Ponce
I haven't gotten around to playing Skylanders yet, but I dig the concept. You collect little figurines then zap them into the game? Brilliant! And when you aren't playing the game, you can play around with the figures by them...

Talking to Women about Videogames: You! Like what I like!

Nov 01 // Jonathan Holmes
Actually, there are a lot of reasons why, most of which we've gone over before. The fact that you can't compare one game's worth to another game's has been discussed heavily here on Destructoid. We've also talked a lot about how it's the reviewers' responsibility to communicate their opinion of a game, not to predict what your opinion might be. And let's not forget all the times we've talked about how some gamers identify so closely with the games they enjoy that they take it as a personal insult when those games are disrespected or criticized, and conversely, a personal triumph when those games are praised and rewarded. That's all definitely part of what's going on with this "GRRR! My GOTY hasn't even come out yet but YOU BETTER LOVE IT TOO!" mentality, but I don't think that's all that's going on here.  It all comes back to the need that some people have to be perceived as "right" and "normal." In fact, one of the most common criticisms that I get for making Talking to Women about Videogames is that I am somehow making all gamers look wrong and abnormal. It's interesting to me that people would think that I am somehow doing them a disservice by making myself look like a jackass once a week. If anyone should be worried about looking incorrect and abnormal, it's me. Thankfully, I stopped putting much stock in being normal and/or whether other people see things my way a long time ago. In fact, when I do meet the occasional "normal" person (meaning, someone who is a lot like me), we quickly run out of things to talk about. There is no negative space to fill when everything is homogeneous. The differences are what give us room to share new ideas and the potential to become more enlightened and interesting individuals. [Illustration by Norma Bar] Looking in the mirror is nice, but it doesn't go anywhere. Looking into the negative space allows for a lot more potential for adventure and empowerment. It's kind of like the Mega Man series. You start off the game with just one perspective/tool/weapon. As you go through life, you meet other people with totally different perspectives/tools/weapons, such as Wood Man, Hard Man, and of course, Centaur Man. At first, you might be daunted by their perspectives/tools/weapons because they are so strange and difficult to wrangle with. With perseverance and continued interaction, you'll understand how they work to the point where you have them "mastered." From there, you'll gain access to the abilities yourself, in a process we call "ego integration." Jim Sterling was only able to take on the character of Virgilio Armandio because he embedded himself so deeply in the world of gamer culture that he had learned to actually think like an art game snob. Because of these interactions, there is a little part of Jim that is really like Virgilio and can see things the way that art game snobs do. He can switch on that part of himself at any time, exaggerate the intensity of it, and honestly think in that manner for a brief time. When he gets into character as Virgilio, it's like Jim is selecting "Virgilio Man's" weapon from his internalized weapon select screen. He wouldn't be able to do that unless he'd already mastered the art of interacting with the many Virgilio's of this world. Sadly, not everyone wants to interact with people who have different perspectives/tools/weapons than their own. Some people want the stage select screen of the metaphorical Mega Man game called "human life" to look like this: These are the people who say you are wrong for not liking the games that they like in the exact way that they like them. They run to Metacritic and claim a reviewer is "wrong" if he gives a score that is too far from "the average." They're also likely to conform to the opinions of others, to follow the herd, buying whatever blockbuster game is "hot" right now, regardless of whether they want it or not, pretending to enjoy it just to fit in. These are the people who crave for normalcy and uniformity in our world. They are both afraid to be different and of those who are different. These people are missing out on a lot. Besides all the knowledge and power that they lose out on by only seeking social interactions that feed their narcissism, they're also dropping the opportunity to show the world who they really are. When you tell the world what games appeal to your unique interests, it says something about you. What games you like reflect your values, your perspective on the world, and your priorities. When you tell the world what game is your favorite, that shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to "try to fit in." These are videogames we're talking about! In my day, not fitting in came with the territory for everyone who admitted to liking videogames. No, when you tell the world what videogame you like the most, that's your chance to interact with the world, to be potentially known, and as a result, to be understood for who you really are. Trust me, it's much more satisfying to be accepted for being the real you than to gain fake acceptance by pretending to be just another penguin in the herd. Now, I'm not saying people should go out of their way to like weird games just to seem special. Like I've said in the past, working towards non-conformity is just another way of conforming. The idea here is to be excited, not threatened, by the fact that we all like different stuff. I know it's easier said than done. Underneath it all, we all have a primitive side, and we all want our favorite games to "win" once GOTY time rolls around. That said, I believe we can all do better than that. When Mass Effect 2 got so many Game of the Year awards in 2010, my gut reaction was "Super Mario Galaxy 2 was robbed." But after a few seconds, I realized how stupid that was and instead went about trying to understand exactly how Mass Effect 2 manage to outdo so many other excellent games that were released in 2010. Admittedly, I'm still trying to figure it out (something about having sex and forming really meaningful relationships with aliens and/or sexy ladies?), but the fact that I still don't know keeps me intrigued. [Illustration by Arcade Art] Some of the most interesting, elightening conversations I've had about gaming have been with Maurice Tan, Max Scoville, Conrad Zimmerman, Jim Sterling, and countless Dtoid community members who have very different reasons for playing videogames than I do. Once you get past the initial "I can't believe you like that crap!" stage, the amount of fun you can have talking with gamers of different tastes is nearly endless. Without different textures, there can be no friction; without friction, there can be no heat; without heat, things get dull fast. So I encourage you all to go on liking whatever games you like, never be ashamed of what games you enjoy the most, and never bash others for having different interests than you. Train yourself to take that instinct to attack and turn it into the instinct to explore. Get good at swapping perspectives with strangers, gain new tools and weapons, get stronger and more comfortable with your unique qualities, and truly get to know all the fantastic and amazing people available to you through the vast reaches of the Internet. If we all work at that, then eventually, instead of having a reputation for being a squabbling, nitpicking, infighting group of grumps, the world of online gamer culutre will be seen as the million-strong group of enlightened, super-genius badasses that I know it can be.  Even though I don't agree with her, I honestly see why someone might like Spyro more than Skyrim, at least at first sight. Killing a dragon is cool, but on the surface, being a dragon might be even better. If you're at all threatened, angry, or confused by that idea, then you're still doing it wrong. Past Episodes: Talking to Women about Videogames: 3DS 2nd nub panic Talking to Women about Videogames: Gears 3 isn't perfect? Talking to Women about Videogames: Sexy vs. sexist? Talking to Women about Videogames: What makes you want? TtWaV teaser: Sony's online sucks now? Talking to Women about Videogames: I'm not a real gamer? Talking to Women about Videogames: Fear for the future Talking to Women about Videogames: Going mainstream TtWaV teaser: Battlefield 3 Vs. Modern Warfare 3

[Talking to Women about Videogames is a series where Jonathan Holmes talks to different people who are women about the biggest videogame news of the week for some reason.] I'll never forget when the first trailer for Un...


The DTOID Show: Yell At Master Chief & Skyrim Impressions

Oct 17
// Max Scoville
Hey gang! We're alive, somehow, even after the events that took place this weekend. If you missed it, we did a 24 hour Extra Life livestream to raise money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, and YOU GUYS donated ove...

Robots, sharks & ghosts in Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Oct 11
// Jim Sterling
Activision has released five new videos for Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, detailing a selection of characters that your kids (or the kids you're pretending to buy them for) can purchase as toys and scan into a console as vi...

Preview: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Oct 07
// John Speerbrecker
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is doing something no other videogame has ever done by making real collectible toys be an integral part of a videogame experience. It's a novel concept, one that has left many people scratching their head at such an idea. In this new ambitious take from developer Toys for Bob, I finally got to see first hand just how this whole concept works.

Skylanders cross-platform across console, PC, mobile

Sep 28
// Jim Sterling
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is hoping to be one of the hot toy products this holiday season, featuring small action figures that can be slotted into a "portal" and brought to life in an accompanying videogame. It's a delici...

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure gets an overview trailer

Aug 05
// Harry Monogenis
Activision is trying to revive the Spyro franchise with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. The new game sees players needing actual toy figures of the playable characters being placed in a "Portal of Power" extern...

Pachter: Spyro Skylanders will underperform

Aug 04
// Jim Sterling
I've previously expressed a strange excitement for Activision's toy crossover Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures due to its nineties-flavored gimmickry. The publisher is pumping big marketing dollars into the franchise, but analy...

Weirdly, I really want Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

Jul 15
// Jim Sterling
Activision's pitch for Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure has been met with some derision from gamers, and it's not surprising. The idea of plugging toys into a thing in order to interact with a videogame seems tacky as anything b...

E3: Use real toys to play Skylanders Spyro's Adventure

Jun 06 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders Spyro's Adventure (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, 3DS, Wii [Previewed]Developer: ActivisionPublisher: ActivisionTo be released: Fall 2011 Now before you go crazy, know that the three initial figures you get with every game are all that are needed to play through the story. You just won't be able to fully explore all parts of a level unless you have specific heroes, however. Each hero has some kind of special power (like one character is made of fire) and only that specific character will be able to open up the special area. Anytime during your adventure, you can remove the figure from the portal and swap it out with another figure. There has to be a figure at all times so the game will be paused while you're making the switch. Each figure also has on-board memory so all the leveling up, upgrades, loot and accessories you earn will be saved in the figures. The reason for the memory card within the figure is so kids can easily take them to a friends house and play with someone else. The portal can accept up to two figures at a time so players can battle each other in the Power Stone-like multiplayer. It wasn't made clear if the memory is also backed to the console, which it hopefully is as kids lose small toys very easily. As for the game itself, I played on the Wii version and it seemed like the standard affair. The overall design is basically what one would expect from a kid focused adventure game -- cute, linear and pretty simply. The overall goal is to defeat the big bad named Chaos. Chaos exiled all 32 heroes into our dimension and because there is no magic in our world, they're transformed into toys. Putting the toys onto the Portal of Power puts them back into the Skylanders world. A cool way to get little kids into thinking they're really a part of the adventure if you ask me. It's an interesting way to do a videogame for sure. At first I was against the idea of this whole concept but then I realized that kids are going to want toys based on these characters regardless of them being part of the game design. Plus like I said, you can beat the game with the three figures that come with Skylanders so you won't be forced to buy extras. I am curious to see what the Skylanders experience will be like on the handheld, mobile and PC version of the game though. I'm also curious as to how Activision will be selling the toys. I asked a rep on the game and while he couldn't give me a price, he did state that we can expect various theme packs and bundles over the course of the game. As for the actual game with all the extras, it looks like it'll probably retail around $69.99. A little on the pricey side if that's the final price, but the overall game is expected to be 10-12 hours long on top of whatever else we can expect out of the multiplayer.

Skylanders Spyro's Adventure sees the return of the lovable purple dragon and he's joined by a wide variety of heroes. All 32 of the playable heroes will also come in actual toy form. The figures are important here as you ha...


Three new Skylanders Spyro's Adventure trailers released

Jun 03
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Activision is planning to show off Skylanders Spyro's Adventure at E3 next week but until then, they've released a few new trailers to promote the game. Each trailer focuses on the three heroes you'll be playing as that come...

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