Skylanders SWAP Force Review
Here we go again.
For the last few weeks my kids have been pretty busy. They’ve been looking in their closets, under the couch cushions, and behind every piece of furniture in the house. The reason for this is because Skylanders SWAP Force was about to be released and they were trying to find all of their missing characters in time. Skylanders are like drugs to kids (at least mine anyway), and they’ll do just about anything to get us parents to buy them a new character. My kids didn’t really seem to concerned, but my main question with SWAP Force was: Can Activision keep their newest money train rolling, or will it grind to a stale halt. Let’s find out.
Skylanders SWAP Force takes us to Cloudbreak Islands, a new location in Skylands, where an ancient volcano is ready to erupt and restore magic across the land. This event only happens every 100 years, and waiting in the wings is Kaos, as he wants to exploit the volcano’s power and use it to help his evil plan to, once again, rule over Skylands. This means that it’s up to the Skylanders to protect the volcano and keep its power from ending up in Kaos’ diabolical hands. They set up camp in the nearby town of Woodbury, which serves as your hub to all of the different game modes, upgrading your characters, and shopping for new hats, items and other in-game content.
The gameplay in SWAP Force is mostly untouched, but there are a couple of major changes that really help keep the series from getting stale. The biggest change is in the name itself, SWAP Force, which is a collection of Skylanders that protect the Cloudbreak Islands and they are able to swap parts with each other and create new combinations. Each of the 16 new SWAP characters are split in half and you can mix and match to create over 250 new characters. The starter kit comes with two SWAP Force characters, Wash Buckler and Blast Zone, and one new regular Skylander, Ninja Stealth Elf. The new SWAP toys are really well made, with strong magnets keeping them locked together if they are dropped or fall off of a shelf or something. They’re also made with safety in mind, as they magnets won’t come out easily, so they don’t pose a risk to kids taking them out and swallowing them.
The other big change in the game is that all of the Skylanders can now jump! I know that it sounds weird to be excited about something as simple as jumping, but it’s something that has been missing from the series and it really adds variety to the gameplay and the level design. Being able to jump allowed Vicarious Visions to really expand on each of the new levels and create environments that look and feel fresh, and even add variety to the new puzzles as well. There are also new platforming areas that require you to either jump across sections and/or up multiple levels without having to use those old jump pads. It’s also helpful in battle, as you can now jump to avoid enemy attacks, which is really handy when you’re low on health. I still wish they had added the ability to manually spin the camera and some sort of sprint to every character, as some of them are still slow to move, even new ones like Wash Buckler as he slithers around on his tentacles, but jumping is a welcome addition.
As you hack and slash your way through each chapter, you’ll find plenty of money, EXP, legendary treasure, hats, winged sapphires, story scrolls, and soul gems to collect. With the addition of the SWAP Force characters, and the Giants from the last game, SWAP Force has an enormous amount of optional content to complete. There are SWAP Force challenges that only the new characters can complete, chests that only Giants can open, areas that only certain elements can open, bonus missions to unlock, time attack modes, score attack modes, and plenty of secret areas to find. It’s definitely the biggest Skylanders game yet, and you’re going to need all 16 of the new SWAP Force characters and at least one character of each element to complete everything in the game. You can complete the main story with just the three characters from the starter kit, but you’ll need a larger collection to complete all of the optional content.
Not only can you upgrade each Skylander, and learn new abilities, but you can now increase your Portal Master level and unlock new content. As you complete different modes, you’ll earn stars based on your performance, and every six stars you reach the next level and unlock new content in the in-game shop. This content includes new legendary treasure, bonus mission, charms, and even new hats. While this new feature is pretty cool, it’s disappointing to see that Skystones, the awesome card game introduced in Giants, is nowhere to be found in SWAP Force. Unless it’s hidden away really good and I didn’t find it, it’s been cut from the series and it’s a shame to see it go.
The SWAP Force starter kit comes with a new Portal of Power, which is required to use the new Skylanders, and it will work with the two previous games as well, but you can’t use the old Portals with SWAP Force. You can use any of the old characters in SWAP Force, but the only new characters that you can use in the old games are the Series 3 Skylanders, not the SWAP Force ones. The 10 new Series 3 characters are some of the most popular characters so far, with a new look, new abilities, new upgrades, and a level cap increase to 20. Compatibility wise, Activision does a nice job of making us buy new hardware, but also still letting us use what we’ve already bought as well.
Just like the previous games, Skylanders SWAP Force only supports offline play for the two player co-op modes and the competitive multiplayer modes. You can play through the story together, you can play the survival modes with or against each other, or compete in one on one arena battles and ring out battles. I prefer to play with my kids, rather than against them, but the multiplayer modes, albeit simple, should satisfy those looking for something a little more competitive.
The biggest, and best, change to the co-op modes is that both players will now receive health, EXP, and money whenever one of you walks over it, instead of only the player who grabbed it, like in the previous games. I love that more games are following the trend of rewarding both players instead of making them fight over things. This makes the co-op modes more enjoyable and you can concentrate on fighting bad guys and solving puzzles, instead of racing your partner to the rewards.
The disappointing part about the co-op and multiplayer modes in Skylanders SWAP Force is that they still only support two players and they are still only available for offline play. It’s time to take Skylanders to the next level and add three or four player co-op and allow for online play. It’s the next logical step for the series and I really hope that Activision realizes this sooner than later. With their main competition, Disney Infinity, offering online play, I expect to see the Skylanders series move in that direction as well. It’s just too bad that we have to wait another year for it.
Skylanders SWAP Force will once again put a stranglehold on your wallet, but with new game and character mechanics, more content than the previous games, and a whole new line of great characters, long-time fans will have a blast with it. Much like the LEGO games, Skylanders are great games to play with your kids. It’s not too childish that parents will get bored, it’s easy and accessible enough for young kids to play it, yet it’s mature enough that even older kids still have a good time. Skylanders is an expensive franchise to get into, but SWAP Force is easily the best one yet and the perfect time to jump in.
Release Date: October 13th, 2013
Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, 3DS