Skylanders SWAP Force Review
Activision’s Skylanders series has turned out to be a huge hit, garnering critical acclaim and a mind-boggling number of worldwide sales since its inception. The series’ brilliant mix of physical toys and video game software is back for another round with Skylanders SWAP Force, featuring an all-new, interesting mechanic – the new SWAP Force figures have magnetic, interchangeable halves. Thankfully, the action-adventure game built around these figures feels like a legitimate step forward for the franchise, where it could have easily rested on its laurels.
Just like with its predecessor, you place a figure on the Portal of Power – a new, required version is included in the Starter Pack – and the toy comes to life in the game, carrying with it all of the attributes and levels you’ve earned. Even the hat that you put on that particular figure in a previous game is remembered, and all previously released figures are compatible with this newest version. The series really allows players to feel a connection to their characters; it’s great that the older toys don’t become obsolete when a new iteration releases, but rather are a strong addition to your team as they’re already leveled up.
This time around, those characters look better than ever – developer Vicarious Visions has taken over from Toys For Bob for this sequel, making significant improvements to the gameplay and graphical enhancements. All of the pre-existing Skylanders have been remodeled and re-animated, and the entire world is colorful, vibrant and brimming with detail. Seeing the Skylanders Giants characters brought to life in the HD world is cool – even all of the particle effects for their attacks were rebuilt from scratch. They’ve also all gained the heavily-requested ability to jump, and the level cap has been raised to 20. The technology at work with the portal, the figures, the save data and the game itself still has not lost its wow factor for me.
At the moment there are only six SWAP Force characters, but there are plans to release 10 more figures post-launch, creating hundreds of possible character combinations. The changes aren’t only visual, either – each top and bottom half of a character can be leveled up, and the abilities of the lower half can be utilized in tandem with the upper half’s. For instance, the two SWAP figures that come with the game (alongside Ninja Stealth Elf) are Wash Buckler, a Davy Jones-esque pirate octopus that shoots bubbles, and Blast Zone, a fiery knight that lobs bombs. You can create Blast Buckler to throw bombs while attacking with tentacles, or Wash Zone to wield swords and utilize fire boosters. The Elemental Gates of previous games return, and this time some require two Skylanders of different elements, which encourages co-op play and swapping (and of course the purchase of new figures). Challenge Gates are a new addition that helps break up the gameplay a bit, being tied to a SWAP characters’ specific abilities.
Jumping into Skylanders SWAP Force, the first thing you’ll notice is the hugely improved presentation. The visuals just pop and pack a near-Pixar level of quality compared to last year’s Giants, which also appears to have been running at a lower resolution. The addition of a jump mechanic opens up the gameplay and platforming much more than before, and a ton of new mini-games have been added. There’s always something fun to do in this game, and I never found myself becoming bored like I occasionally was during the lengthy story missions of Giants. The levels in SWAP Force are just as long, if not longer than before, clocking in at around an hour each. It seems strange to me that a save functionality hasn’t been implemented – if all of your Skylanders are defeated, it’s back to the start of the level for you. And sometimes you just feel like taking a break, so it feels a bit restrictive for the game to have no checkpoint system.
Skylanders SWAP Force is an admirable update for the series, greatly improving the visual fidelity and featuring new mechanics and gameplay additions. The story and characters are still as charming as ever, and the sheer creativity involved is something to behold.