Editor’s Note: The Skylanders SWAP Force review has been updated as of December 11, 2013 to reflect my time spent with the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
The third time around, Activision has passed the reigns to Vicarious Visions, the developer behind the previous 3DS versions ofSkylanders, along with an impressive new engine. With 32 new Skylanders – 16 core characters and 16 new swappable characters – along with a new portal of power, players must stop the evil mastermind Kaos and his endless supply of lovable chompies from taking over the Cloud Break Islands.
As I did with Skylanders Giants, I immediately brought the game over to my nephew’s house, who would be considered the target audience for the game. His current Skylanders collection is quite impressive, comprised of what seems like every one released. Playing through the entire Story Mode with a seven year old is quite the experience. Pulling apart the two included swappable figures in the Starter Pack – Wash Buckler and Blast Zone – we immediately created two brand new Skylanders, having both fire and water powers. Blast Buckler became my favorite, tossing bombs at everything and shooting ink from his eight tentacle legs. Sadly, the voices for the Skylanders don’t update when you swap pieces. Blast Buckler would repeatedly reference being “in the zone” even though “Zone” was dropped from his name when combined with a different bottom piece.
Gold and experience are handled through the top pieces for swappable characters, allowing you to upgrade skills for ether top or bottom pieces. The core gameplay in Skylanders hasn’t changed all that much since the original. Exploring colorful and detailed environments, Skylanders have gained the ability to jump to navigate the environment, which are comprised of small islands that require you to make your way across. Gated areas are abundant, especially in the later levels, forcing you to switch to various types of Skylanders to advance, such as an Earth, Magic or Tech type. Requiring the correct bottom piece of a swappable Skylander, new minigame sections can lead to bonus treasure chests and a large amount of gold. When played cooperatively, the other player can activate special abilities to assist the player controlling the Skylander in the mini-game.
At the end of the levels, which end abruptly (I didn’t even have time to collect experience pieces from a boss), show the stats about the level, telling you if you missed any hats, treasure chests and many other hidden collectibles. Even if you scour ever inch of the environment, if you are missing a single Skylander type, you may be missing a bunch of collectibles behind a gated section. Being a completionist, I had to make a stop at my local Target to purchase a few Skylanders for the remaining few types I was missing. Combining Free Ranger and Night Shift, I fell in love with Night Ranger, an undead air type. Checking the prices of the Skylanders across GameStop, Toys “R” Us and Target, I found them to be cheaper at Target than any other store. Of course, if you already have Series 1 and Series 2 figures, they can be used as well carrying over any hats and experience already earned in the first two games. The environments are varied, consisting of colorful and cute themed stages, such as a Western themed level complete with land sharks.
Just as it was with the original games, the Skylanders are slow moving, with combat that boils down to mashing your most powerful attack until everything has died and you can move on to the next area. Playing the game from Hard, the game offered a decent challenge, as Skylanders (regardless of level) are defeated in only a few hits. Vicarious Visions’s focus on improving not only the visuals, but the narrative in the game helps flesh out SWAP Force. Increasing your Portal Master level allows you to activate more legendary items at the same time.
As with many of the next-generation launch titles that released on last-generation platforms simultaneously, the content in the game remains virtually untouched. The most notable difference is the sharper looking visuals, running at a smooth 60fps at 1080p, compared to the PS3 version of game that was limited to 720p.
Since all of the character data is stored in the figures, you don’t have to worry about losing any character progress, but there isn’t a way to carry over your save file. Moving from the PS3 to PS4, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about starting from the slow-paced beginning of the narrative with my already leveled up Skylanders. I actually ended up resetting the stats on a few of them, instead of only using the three included in the Starter Pack. Unlike Activision’s other launch title, there isn’t any $10 upgrade program for SWAP Force. It’s an odd choice considering portals and figures can be used across platforms.
Through first-hand experience, I can safely say that the appeal of collecting cool figures and seeing them brought to life in the game hasn’t gotten stale. Coming across the Soul Gems, which show a quick preview of a cool Skylander you don’t own are just as tempting as they were in Giants. Patrick Warburton reprises his role of the enjoyable and humorous pilot Flynn, and steals the show during the cinematics. A Skylanders cartoon series can’t be far off. Boom!Note: Skylanders SWAP Force was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A physical copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.