Skylanders: Swap Force is the third in Activision’s Spyro the Dragon toy/game spinoff series, but it’s the first one that actually faces any competition in the space. At the 2013 E3 Expo in Los Angeles, I got some hands on time with both Swap Force and the new Disney Infinity. To tell the truth, I thought the Disney offering showed more promise. However, despite some developer shuffling, largely unchanged gameplay, and no online component, Skylanders: Swap Force is still the better game. That is not to say there isn’t anything to complain about, but Activision has done enough to keep themselves on top.
As you probably know, the Skylanders series of games is basically a stripped down, kid friendly, hack-and-slash RPG that uses toys with NFC chips as your characters. What makes Swap Force different is that a number of the new toys break apart at the waist, allowing you to create your own characters. There are two small magnets inside that hold them together. While this may just seem like a gimmick to sell more toys, it does allow players some more versatility in the way they get through the game. It is also worth noting that for the first time characters can now jump.
The controls in Skylanders: Swap Force are largely unchanged. As stated, you can now jump, but at the beginning you are limited to two basic attacks. These do evolve as your character advances and a third attack progression is also available as you level up your character. With the swappable characters, the second attack is tied to the legs. So, you can take your favorite leg attack or ability and marry it to your favorite upper body attacks. Though there are more useful abilities, I got a certain joy out of using all of “Wash Buckler’s” leg moves, from the basic “Sommersalty” on.
My appreciation for the “Wash Buckler” character is a testament to the overall quality of Skylanders: Swap Force. While the first two games in the series were well executed, Swap Force has received a visual upgrade. The onscreen characters look more similar to the toys now. If you add that to the audio presentation which is almost entirely voiced and features a very competent art direction effort, you have a pretty slick package. The Saturday morning cartoon feel of the whole thing even makes younger players enjoy the in-game advertising, at least in my experience.
The game is clearly geared towards kids, but more than a few adults have fallen in love with at least certain aspects of the Skylanders games. Most of us grown-ups and pseudo grown-ups won’t get a whole lot of pleasure out of the gameplay, but there’s at least some fun to be had dropping in and out of someone else’s game. There are new sequences that break up the regular button mashing action, like wall climbs and flying segments along with some old fashioned target practice. Unfortunately, the new character types allow Activision to lock off more optional areas, requiring you to buy even more Skylanders to get 100 percent completion.
Make no mistake, the Skylanders games are about making you buy lots of stuff. The starter kit is akin to a $75 freemium game that is always looking to squeeze more money out of you. Lucky for Activision, they’ve been able to design some likeable characters. As you might expect for a game aimed at kids, Skylanders: Swap Force is strictly a living room experience, with no online component. The limit of two players is also fairly understandable considering the simplicity of the campaign’s gameplay. The extra Arena mode offers five single and multiplayer options, though none of them are terribly compelling. Except for waiting for respawns, children may enjoy the two player arena battles a little more.
While Skylanders: Swap Force is no Diablo, it’s in many ways better than its new Disney themed competitor. It is a slick package that offers a good amount of fun, and even without the iconic characters offered in the other game, Activision has done well. Actually, the narrative of all of the Skylanders games could be a spin-off of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story. The upgraded graphics and new toys are of course the biggest reason to buy this game too, but the gameplay experience is a little more varied too. If you’re already hooked on Skylanders, Swap Force is the best one yet and if you’re contemplating introducing these characters to your family, just be prepared to spend a good chunk of money.
Skylanders: Swap Force is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on: Wii U, and Xbox 360.