The Skylanders series for the first time since its debut saw its first real competition this year with Disney releasing their rival product Disney Infinity. Very similar in style and execution, Disney also had the advantage of dealing with popular brands from its history like Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars and Toy story. With a threat like this Activision needed to step up their game for what will now be the third entry in the Skylanders series. Have they managed to deliver the best Skylanders game yet?
The overall structure of the game remains the same as past Skylanders titles, splitting its campaign into seventeen fairly lengthy stage based chapters. Most of the time you’ll be battling it out with armies of increasingly tougher enemies using each Skylander’s range of close combat and projectile attacks to your advantage. Each character starts with two unique abilities with a third unlockable using treasures you find. These abilities can also be upgraded with extra perks such as higher damage, better range (if using a projectile weapon) or even summoning a small snake to attack nearby enemies. Every Skylander is truly unique offering something new to try and even better news is the fact you can use any of your figures from Spyro’s Adventure or Giants taking ranking them up to a new level cap of twenty.
The battling system retains the same pick-up-and-play style as past Skylanders titles, the game promoting you to eliminate an arena of its enemies before moving on. Likewise exploration is handled via locked gates housing treasure or hats and only accessible if you have the correct elemental Skylanders. A notable addition however is the ability to now jump. While it may seem like a small thing, jumping now allows for some light platforming elements to be added to the mix and even makes battles more interesting as you’re often required to leap in order to avoid ground attacks. The game feels less restricting because of this and to some degree better paced thanks to the variation in fighting and platforming.
Of course the big new addition this year are the Swap Force Skylanders, sixteen new characters that split into a top and bottom section and can be switched around to create a brand new hybrid. So if you want abilities from two separate Skylanders such as Blast Zone’s bomb throwing top half and Magna Charge’s speedy single wheel bottom you’re free to do so. It makes for an interesting idea that now allows you to customize your characters even further. Of course sixteen new regular Skylanders are introduced too including the likes of Countdown (literally a walking talking bomb) and Rollerbrawl (an undead girl on rollerblades and wielding actual blades). Much like last year reposed and lightcore versions of existing characters are being released too.
While the eight elemental types make a return, the Swap Force characters also have their own ability type used for unlocking small bite sized challenges called Swap Zones. Magna Charge for example falls under the speed ability allowing him to compete in a racing mini game complete with ramps and obstacles while Wash Buckler can use his tentacles in order to climb vertical walls as you attempt to avoid falling rocks and pots. They offer a nice break from the usual smashing of enemies and with eight varying play styles the hits definitely outweigh the misses.
The amount of content in Swap Force is impressive. While the seventeen chapter long story mode can be finished in roughly eight or so hours, there’s plenty more to tackle once the final credits have rolled. Time trials, score attacks and extra bonus missions extend the game’s life vastly. An unlockable forth difficulty should cater to those looking for a challenge while a milestone system constantly rewards you with stars for completing certain objectives throughout the game. These can be as simple as completing chapters in story mode or using eight Swap Force characters while others focus on more specific tasks like collecting treasures and hidden hats. The more stars you earn, the higher your portal rank rises unlocking access to collectable hats and extra perk slots in the game’s hub area.
While the game itself is great fun you can’t help but think that we’re now in year three for the series and the original novelty of collecting cool looking and ever increasingly expensive figures is starting to wear off. Sure if you’re a veteran of the series then chances are you’ll have past figures to help you unlock all the hidden extras Swap Force offers, but for those trying things out for the first time, the cost of the starter pack and any extra figure isn’t cheap. At fifteen pound for a Swap Force figure and around ten for a regular one it all starts to add up if you want one of each element or in some cases all of them. While you could argue the starter pack alone still offers plenty of bang for your buck, it doesn’t help that the game has seen little attempt to really shake things up gameplay wise. You’re still performing simple moves to attack enemies and still exploring the same looking worlds. You have to wonder how much longer Activision can keep doing this before kids and collectors alike grow weary of the formula. At least for now Swap Force proves there’s still gas left in the old Skylander tank.
Visually Swap Force has seen a significant boost over its previous two outings thanks to a new graphics engine. The Skylander’s world feels rich and full of life whilst the character’s animations expressive and a joy to watch. A majestic soundtrack and some goofy but wholly charming voice acting, round off what is a wonderfully presented package overall.
Skylanders Swap Force has managed to do what many doubted it could, craft a third game that manages to deliver what could arguably be the best adventure in the series yet. Absolutely charming visuals, enough new tweaks and ideas and a tonne of content make this a good starting point for newcomers while also giving fans just enough reason to take another trip back to the Skylands a third time.