With stiff competition in the collectable figure market from Disney, Activision and Vicarious Visions had to come up with something that would set them apart. Their fantastic Skylanders franchise had already reigned uncontested for two straight years, first introducing a new way for kids (and adults) to play with their toys in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, and then further improving on the formula with the new giant figures in Skylanders: Giants. But will the third entry in the series offer enough to set it apart from the new competition?
Skylanders: Swap Force
Developed by Vicarious Visions / Published by Activision
Available on the 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and Wii U. Reviewed on the Xbox 360.
*Review copy provided by Activision
Just like the previous entries, Skylanders: Swap Force starts with a cry for help. Kaos, the main baddiefrom the first two entries, returns with another attempt to rule the world, and the Skylanders -protectors of the realm – must step in and foil his attempts. Thankfully, the Skylanders have a trump card in the midst. The Swap Force, a group of legendary Skylanders that have the ability to swap their legs and torsos with their brethren, and possibly gain two elements at the same time, have been released from the volcano that they were trapped in and are willing to lend a helping hand.
Swap Force’s story, while simple, is a fairly entertaining and humorous one, especially for the young ones. That doesn’t mean that adults can’t have a good time, though, since there’s plenty of moments that’ll have you chuckling, especially thanks to the fantastic voicework and comedic cutscenes.
The biggest feature of the game is, of course, the new Swap Force figures. These sixteen new toys are well constructed, detailed and look gorgeous, and are a bit heavier than your standard Skylander. They also come equipped with magnets, so that their torsos are easily pulled off and snap back after being exchanged with other Swap Force characters, and come with clear bases to give them that extra premium look. Functionally, they play the same as any other Skylander, though the legs and torsos independently have their own unique attacks, which are mixed and matched when parts are swapped with others. The new figures aren’t really that special as they don’t bring much to the table, but they are sure fun to play with.
Gameplay is more of the same, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible; in fact, it’s as solid as ever. Utilizing a new portal that is compatible with every Skylander figure to date, players can bring their team into the virtual Skylands and do what they do best: kick butt and collect loot. Navigating the terrain is just as easy as ever thanks to solid controls, and the new cast of enemies do a great job at challenging players without completely overwhelming them. Plenty of loot is available to collect as well, as defeating foes and breaking objects yields money that can be used to buy items such as equippable hats, new abilities, bonus challenge maps, and more.
Alternative routes full of riches and hidden collectables also return, both of the open and locked gate kind. However, the newest addition are gates that require two different elements, requiring the use of either two different Skylanders or one of the new Swap Force figurines. As was the case with the previous entries, this means that if you’re stuck with the Starter Pack or don’t own Skylanders of each element, you won’t be able to explore every part of the game and collect every single hidden item. This might not seem like a big deal to adults, but expect your children to hassle you for more figurines just so they can check out every nook and cranny.
There are also new mini-games that are only available to the Swap Force characters. Each Swap Force figure comes with a specialty in addition to their element, like climbing, jumping, boosting, etc, and can gain access to these challenges that ultimately reward coins and treasures. These side-missions are nice breaks from the main game, but as before, you’ll need access to a couple of Swap Force figures if you want to check all of them out.
In addition to the Skylanders, players can also buy DLC in the form of other figures that can be placed on the portal to add onto the game. Some of these add new locations to the game, like battle arenas, while others open up new items. As is always the case, these aren’t needed to progress through the game, but like magnets, they attract money.
In the end, Skylanders: Swap Force is pretty much the same game you’ve been playing for a couple of years. It’s got new figures and new mechanics, but at its core it’s still the same old grind. That doesn’t make the overall experience terrible, though, because adventuring, fighting, looting and leveling up is still as great as it was since day one. With new competition emerging from camp Disney, however, the Skylanders will need to truly reinvent themselves and add more than just new figures and gates if they want to stay relevant in the upcoming years.
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