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In the second of our "All About" series we are looking at the Skylanders video game franchise.

Skylanders is published by Activision and developed by Toys for Bob. The first game, Skylanders Spyro's Adventure was released on 14th October 2011 in Europe. The second game, Skylanders Giants is planned for release on 19th October 2012 in Europe. Both games are available on Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360.

Both are platform games with fighting and puzzle elements. They have in common a set of small toy figures that provide access to the different characters and areas in the game. This works by placing a particular figure on a round portal peripheral that comes with the game, the related character then instantly appears on-screen. Taking the figure off the portal automatically saves progress. The figures can be used in different versions of the game at friends houses (regardless of the original platform -- Wii, PS3, 360 and so on).

The first game supported 32 different toy characters and the second game will expand this with another eight large Giant Skylander figures, eight new normal Skylanders and eight lighting up Skylanders. Additionally, the original game offered limited edition (gold, silver, translucent and glow-in-the-dark) characters that become much sought after.

Although the total cost of all these figures is considerable they are optional in the game. Parents should note that players can complete the game with the figures in the Starter Packs. Additional toy figures are desirable because of the new characters and areas they unlock but should be treated as a nice-to-have extra. By picking and choosing between the different Skylander characters players can access all the areas in the game by obtaining one figure for each of the eight element types.

[caption id="attachment_836" align="alignright" width="300"]Skylanders Giants Starter Pack Skylanders Giants Starter Pack[/caption]

Skylanders Giants supports the figures and portal from the original game, enabling players to re-use characters and honours  any upgrades and money they have earned. Giants will also have new figures, a series of eight bigger characters (the Giants), some light-up Skylanders (Lightcore) and re-release Skylanders (Series 2) from the first game. Although both old and new figures will benefit from new branching upgrades and a higher level cap, only new versions of the toy figures will gain the new Wow-Pow attack.

In addition to the toy figures, the first game also enabled players to purchase Adventure Packs that provided to levels to explore and complete. These packs also provided special power items and a related Skylander character.

It should be noted that the eight new characters and eight giants released for the second game are not compatible with the original Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure game. This is clearly marked on the packaging.

[caption id="attachment_848" align="alignleft" width="428"]Skylanders Giants Gameplay Skylanders Giants Gameplay[/caption]

The main part of these Skylanders games is an adventure mode. Players work through a series of chapters in this mode, which provides steady progress while telling a story about the characters they are playing with. The game can be played by two players at the same time, although both share the same screen.

As you progress collecting money and experience enables you to upgrade your current character. Their general strength and agility slowly increases with their level. Then there are special attack upgrades that can be purchased with money collected. In the first game players have to pick one upgrade path for these attacks but in Skylanders Giants they will be able to switch between them.

Each Skylander figure you have works as a life in the game. When one Skylander runs out of health they become too tired to carry on and the player is asked to place a new figure on the portal. When all the Skylanders have been exhausted they will need to start the level again, whereupon each figure is returned to full health. Because of this later levels of the game can be quite hard to complete with only a small set of figures.

In addition to upgrades players can pick up "hats" that offer a specific boost to stats when they are worn. There are also bonuses for owning all the Skylanders for a particular element or grouping (all the dragon Skylanders for instance).

[caption id="attachment_842" align="alignleft" width="428"]Skylanders Giants Gameplay Skylanders Giants Gameplay[/caption]

There are also a variety of battle modes where players can fight against each other in closed arenas. Challenge modes are also provided for each character you own, completing these offer a further stats upgrade. Skylanders Giants promises to offer new arena battles as well as new challenges for new and old Skylander characters.

Figures for the first game were released in waves, so that not all figures were available from the off. At times this caused the demand for particular figures to outstrip supply, but this was soon rectified for subsequent releases. It is likely that a similar approach will be followed for Skylanders Giants.

In addition to the console game there is a 3DS version that comes with its own miniature portal peripheral. This uses the same figures as the main games but upgrades in each are kept separate, so progressing your character on the console game doesn't help when you next play on the 3DS.

There is also a Web world that players can explore and play in. They can either connect their portal to their computer (360 version only at present), or use a code, to access their characters online. An iOS game, Skylanders Cloud Patrol, also offers another way to interact with the world of the Skylanders.

As the popularity of the franchise has grown a variety of secondary merchandise has been created. Of particular note are a series of Skylanders books, annuals and stickers where children can enjoy discovering more about the world and characters.

Although Skylanders is quite a complex proposition, the play-value and sheer creativeness of the game makes the investment worthwhile. Add to this the support for your existing figures in the new Skylanders Giants game, multi-player modes and real-world toy angle and this is a stand out experience for families.

We hope this guide to Skylanders has been enlightening, more "All About" game guides can be found here. Check back for a Skylanders give-away starting next week.

More information on Skylanders Giants

Avatar for Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.