Skylanders: Swap Force

Reviewed by Angel Cortes, Posted on 2013-10-31


It has been two years since Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was released onto unsuspecting parents. The Skylanders franchise has sold more than $500 million in retail in the U.S. as of December 2012, $195 million of that coming from the sequel Skylanders: Giants. Enter Skylanders: Swap Force, Activision's continued assault on parents' wallets and children's allowances. Are these news Skylanders worth your continued devotion to the collectible toy gods?

The Skylanders franchise is big and Swap Force makes it even bigger. Like the previous Skylanders games, Swap Force is available as a starter pack that comes with the software, portal of power, and three Skylanders toys. There is a new portal of power which is half the height of the previous portal. The border on the top surface has been lowered and slimmed from a half inch to a quarter inch, creating a wider surface to place your Skylanders figures. The new portal of power is USB powered and is required to play Swap Force. Your old portal of power won't work with Swap Force but all of your previous Skylanders toys will still be compatible.

The console starter pack comes with two Skylanders: Swap Force characters -- Wash Buckler and Blast Zone, and a new dark figure Ninja Stealth Elf. The Swap Force specific toys have swappable top and a bottom parts joined magnetically and can be mixed and matched among the sixteen swappable characters. For example, you can use the top of Blast Zone and the bottom of Wash Buckler to create Blast Buckler, just like in the picture of the starter pack box. In total there are 256 possible configurations including the 16 base characters.

The Swap Force characters add another gameplay dimension to Skylanders; the bottom halves feature an icon that denotes a special movement type. There are eight movement types: spin, fly, bounce, sneak, dig, teleport, speed, and climb. These special movements are put to use in Swap Zones, which are mini games devoted to specific movement types. These Swap Zones are only accessible by a Swap Force Skylander with a matching bottom half and are found throughout the various levels. Some areas in the game require a certain combination of elements that can only be achieved using Swap Force characters. Each swappable half also has its own upgrade options.

But wait, thereís more! There are sixteen new core characters, the basic type of Skylanders. Sixteen figurines have been sculpted into new poses and these come from the previous Skylanders games. There are five Dark Figures which are dark colored versions of other Skylanders characters. There are eight Lightcore Skylanders which are special versions of other Skylanders characters but these glow when you place them on the new portal of power. That's a whole lot of collecting to do.

Then there is the software that is at the core of the Skylanders experience. Skylanders Swap Force is a very light hearted game. The story is very much a Saturday cartoon affair. The setup, as narrated by Eon, describes the reason for the Swap Force to exist at all. Their swapping ability was a result of an exposure to the eruption of a magical volcano. That eruption also transported the Swap Force to faraway lands and it is you who is tasked in guiding them through this adventure.

Visually, Skyladers: Swap Force is creative and colorful. The element themed areas are my favorite as they are often more dramatic than the general level designs. The character animations seem livelier. The presentation overall seems more polished and cohesive. There seems to be more detail in the textures and more detail in the environment designs. My favorite set piece in Swap force is a rainbow walkway that ripples when your character walks on it.

Gameplay has not changed much from the previous Skylanders games. Skylanders can now jump but Swap Force does not require the accuracy and timing of a classic platformer. The combat is very easy and cartoonish. Some light strategy is required when dealing with certain enemies but Skylanders is a very easy game to play. Puzzles are simple and clear. The camera is predefined and the level design is linear. Variety comes from the use of various Skylanders and the Skylander specific areas and mini games.

Skylanders Swap Force feels like a really big game. There are more Skylander to choose from and the Swap Force Skylanders add to the possibilities. The game can be played with just a handful of figurines but you will be missing out on content. The various doors requiring a certain element or Swap Force combination will remind you that there is more to see if only you had another Skylander. The interchangeable nature of the figures and the number of characters makes the experience one that is less personal. Though the figurines record your progress with them, the combination of stats and abilities is not very deep. The story is lighthearted and requires very little emotional investment by the player.

Aside from visiting previously locked areas with news Skylanders, there is very little reason to return to this game after beating it once. Maybe you want to max out your Skylanders figurines but I feel like there isnít much reason to so. No character is different enough, the difficulty is not high enough, and the linear level design really limits the replay value of Skylanders from my perspective. But I am not the target audience for Skylanders, my 5 and 7 year old nephews are and they love this game. My nephews have a varied collection of Skylanders representing all of the elements, so they can potentially unlock most of the content on their first play-through. Skylanders has been a massive success for Activision and Swap Force definitely shows signs of improvement all-around.

Reviewed by Angel Cortes