Skylanders SWAP Force
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Price: $75 (starter pack only)
Platform: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii, Wii-U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
A PS3 & Wii-U copy of Skylanders SWAP Force was supplied to us

Parents beware, it’s Skylanders SWAP Force season.

It’s time for the next Skylanders which means that Kaos has of course returned to try to take over the Skylands, but after realizing how incompetent he is his mother has decided to help him out. The story still has its sort of childish charm and can be genuinely funny at times which is a definite improvement over Giants’ story. The first thing you’ll notice when you start playing is how pretty everything looks. This is the first genuinely HD looking Skylanders game and it’s damn good looking.

SWAP Force is also quite a bit longer as well. In the last game it’d take me around 30-45 minutes to beat a level but this time around you can expect to spend closer to an hour per level. There’s more stuff to do like new SWAP Force zones and there’s a bit more variety this time around. Unfortunately the skystones mini-game has been axed which is sad to see since it was a neat enough diversion before (even with the AI cheating hard).

The gameplay has remained largely unchained from the previous titles in that you should expect the same brawler combat and simplistic puzzles. You can still level up each Skylander and use your hard earned gold to purchase various upgrades that unlock new moves. Your older Skylanders can still be used (even the giants) and they will retain all of their upgrades, gold, level, and even whatever hat they had equipped. The combat in this game definitely feels a bit faster but unfortunately your character still walks incredibly slow. I don’t know if this is done because children can’t handle when someone walks at a decent speed or what, but it makes getting around areas a bit of a chore at times. Of course the biggest change to the game (besides the swap force toys) is the ability to jump which adds a new platforming elements to the game. Unfortunately the series still has a sort of half-assed level up system in that you’ll earn XP to level up various stats, but the game never tells you what’s increasing or how much of a difference it’s making. You never really feel like you’re getting stronger; buying new moves on the other hand can really spice things up if you can find some good combos through the SWAP Force characters. The Wii-U version doesn’t really add anything super interesting through the game-pad; you’ll use it to see the stats of your Skylander or the level challenges. And of course you can use it for some off-TV play as well.

Now unlike the giants from the previous game that were pretty dumb, the new swappable Skylanders actually spice up the gameplay in really cool ways. The starter set starts you out with two of these guys and they’re held pretty firmly together with magnets. Simply pop the top off one and replace it with the bottom half of another and you’re ready to play Frankenstein. With 16 different swap characters there’s quite a lot of combinations you can play with to find the one you like best. These special Skylanders also have two separate upgrade trees unlike the single tree normal Skylanders get; one for the top and the other for the bottom. Now the best part of this is that if you have the bottom half of Wash Buckler attached to Magna Charge’s top and you upgrade Wash’s bottom half the upgrades will transfer over to whichever other Skylander you attach it to. I was somewhat worried that I’d have to re-purchase all of the upgrades I had put into Wash’s bottom half when I started playing but thankfully this wasn’t the case.

Besides splitting Skylanders apart like you’re some sort of nuclear physicist you’ll also be able to access special SWAP Force zones specifically for these swap folks. Each of these swap characters has a symbol on their base that will allow you to play a mini-game that’s dependent on the bottom half you have. For example, Blast Zone has rocket feet which allow him (or anyone with his bottom half) to play any rocket required zones you come across in the game. I’d recommend picking up a speed character because their speed zones are crazy fun.

Co-op returns along with a variety of modes to play together in. Of course considering the progress made on one Skylander will transfer to whichever profile you play it on I’d recommend playing through the game in co-op with someone who was going to play the game. It can be a bit of a drag to share a few Skylanders and see that the other person playing spent your hard earned money or went down an upgrade path you didn’t want. Besides that there are also a variety of modes such as solo/team survival where you’ll fight off hordes of enemies, rival mode which is the exact same except point focused, a ring out mode where you have to knock the other player off the ring, and of course the battle arena returns once again.

The constant advertising never stops in this series with SWAP Force going out of its way to remind you to go buy more toys. There are quite a few times where it stops to mention how there are 200+ combinations you can make from the SWAP Force characters and there’s even a chart showcasing all the SWAP Force characters you’ve combined. There are also new dual elemental zones that require you to combine two SWAP Force characters to unlock the door. Don’t have the right elements? Tough luck, go buy the toy. The fact that more than half of the SWAP Force characters aren’t even available for purchase yet is just kind of lame. These are optional areas but it’s still a constant reminder every time you see one. Of course this is all cleverly designed to advertise to kids (as is evident by the action packed trailers that play when you find the soul gem for a toy you don’t have) so I suppose I’m in no place to criticize something that clearly isn’t being marketed to me.

The Final Word
SWAP Force is a fantastic sequel that does nothing but improve on an already successful formula for Activision. With how neat the SWAP Force mechanics are it’s going to be interesting to see how Activision tops it next year.

- MonsterVine Rating: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair