When Skylanders was introduced last year for various consoles, it not only breathed new life into an ongoing franchise (in this case, Spyro the Dragon), but it also introduced a big market for Activision in a whole new area – interactive toys.  Using figurines that sit on a portal that keeps connected with your game system, you’re able to play as said characters in the game, opening up new possibilities with each new character you buy.  There’s a reason the series has drummed up big business over the past year – and Activision isn’t done yet.

Recently, the company announced a sequel that features a number of improvements over the original game called Skylanders Giants.  The concept is roughly about the same – guide your Skylander through a fantasy world while battling evil goblins and teaming up with unlikely allies to bring peace to the land – but the new ingredients are certainly worth checking out, especially if you’ve become an avid fan of the series.  We decided to take a closer look as part of Activision's E3 2012 showcase.

The first thing you’ll notice about this sequel is pretty evident, thanks to the title itself.  Along with playing as traditional Skylanders characters (Giants works with both the original portal and characters from the first game), you’ll be able to take command of Giants.  These deluxe-sized characters are much stronger, busting through walls without the need to collect bombs.  They’re also useful for beating on bigger enemies, like a huge mech walker that spews out smaller enemies in droves.  

We’ve seen two of these Skylanders Giants in action thus far.  Our personal favorite is Tree Rex, a huge hulking tree beast that can smash through enemies with his limbs with ease.  He’s also a bit slow, though, so make sure you take that into consideration, especially going through a stage where a massive amount of cannon fire is coming your way.

As for the second character, Bouncer, he’s a bit easier to play.  He can move a little quicker and is also quite capable in combat, bouncing around his enemies while managing to look stylish at the same time.  (You can’t really say that about the brutal Tree Rex, you just can’t.)

Sure, you need to go out and buy these Giants characters, but the fun part is that they actually interact with the portal device better than the traditional Skylanders.  By placing them on the portal, they actually light up, and while Toys For Bob wouldn’t spill the beans about how the technology worked without the need for batteries, it’s quite exceptional.

But by no means should we ignore the traditional Skylanders characters.  Along with the returning favorites from the first game (including a more powerful Prism Break), you can take charge of 12 new regular characters, each with their own unique abilities.  Pop Fizz, for instance, is a cool little chemist who can mix potions that can actually be thrown around the battlefield.  He’s a bit loopy looking, but give him a chance and he just might grow on you.  

There’s also Air-Vac, a noble warrior who carries out a powerful vacuum gun.  While that sounds like a disadvantage, it’s able to do harm to enemies while sucking up nearby objects and breaking them open, allowing you to collect the crystals that are inside.

Though the story mode is once again filled with missions that will be familiar to Skylanders fans, there are plenty of collectibles, and you can once more put two figurines on the portal, working together as a team to bring enemies to justice in co-op mode.  If you prefer a straight-on battle, you can also engage in the battle arenas.  

Along with a couple of returning ones, there are new areas to test your combat wares, while avoiding certain traps that can do damage to you.  Finally, a new survival mode will test your best Skylanders abilities, as you struggle to fight incoming waves of enemies while keeping your Skylander at a fair enough health level.  (If they run out, you have to replace them with another character on the portal.)

While Skylanders Giants may not be doing much innovation in the area of gameplay, the introduction of larger creatures, glowing figurines and new survival and co-op action should definitely appeal to all ages.  And we haven’t even seen all the new characters in action just yet.  

We’re bound to see more revealed over the next few months, leading up to the game’s holiday 2012 release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.  If the first game blew your mind, prepare yourself for a Giant leap forward.