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Skylanders: Swap Force

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Family/ RPG/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

Skylanders: Swap Force is the next installment of the game that started letting you bring real-world toys into the videogame world, and just like Skylanders Giants, all previous figures can be brought into Swap Force.

While Swap Force keeps the kid-friendly, cartoony look, the game has had a graphical overhaul that makes it an impressive sight. While you won't see photorealistic levels, the Skyland's unique environments have never looked better. Between levels involving floating balls of water, dusty Wild West deserts, volcanic terrain and lush, green fields, every type of environment is represented. Oddly enough, since the game's style hasn't changed all that much, it takes going back and playing an older Skylanders title (on any system) to truly appreciate the bump in visual quality.

Skylanders continues to hit the mark when it comes to sound as well. While Swap Force doesn't have Hans Zimmer at the musical-helm, the feeling and style is still very present with Lorne Balfe's soundtrack. Voice actors like Patrick Warburton and Richard Steven Horvitz reprise their roles as Flynn and Kaos respectively, while new actors like Christine Baranski (Cybill, The Good Wife, The Big Bang Theory) as Kaos' mother step up to the mic. While I haven't been able to figure out the voices for the new characters that I've played with, the lines from the last game's casting all carry forward.


At it's core, Skylanders: Swap Force is the same game. You play through an adventure that pits your small army of figures against the forces of Kaos as he implements a new plot. Along the way, you will level up your characters (the new level cap is 20), buy upgrades and wear a plethora of silly hats as stat-boosts.

Last year, Giants added eight larger characters to the mix, as well as new characters and the Lightcore series. This time, the major new mechanic comes in the way of Swap Force characters. These 16 figures come apart at the waist and snap together via their magnets with other Swap Force characters. The result is a mix of elements and abilities that makes each swapped-pair more flexible than it was in its original form. The console versions of Skylanders: Swap Force come with the fire-type Blast Zone and the water-type Wash Buckler. Swapping their pieces gives you two new characters, each one a water/fire combination. One of the places this really comes in handy is the new element gates that require two different types of elements to get through. But wait, there's more. Both the top and bottom parts have their own ability tree. This is combined with new side-quests called Swap Zones. These are areas that only certain types of feet can access. Some are races in the air, some are a series of trampoline jumps, some are wall climbing, while others are pinball-style bouncing.

The end result is that Swap Force has a lot more gameplay for those that have the compulsive need to complete everything. After all, the game still has the single-element gates, extra objectives and lock puzzles (actually those have changed) as before. While you can run through the game's story and stop Kaos' current plan, doing so won't even get you to the 50% mark, so expect to be replaying the levels several times in order to get all the goodies and truly finish this game off. Of course, that's not really possible until all of the new figures come out.

So what is Kaos up to this time? Well, there is a volcano that erupts every 100 years. When it does, the magic of Skylands gets rejuvenated, but only if the four Elementals can get there and imbue the volcano with their magic. Kaos plans on using petrified evil to turn at least one of the Elementals evil. If he can do that, then the resulting magical explosion will turn all of Skylands evil. Of course, the Skylanders can't let that happen, so they journey with Flynn to Woodburrow, the town closest to the volcano, in order to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Outside of the game's lengthy single-player story, there are also Arena Challenges and Bonus levels. These can be unlocked by progressing through the story and earning stars as well as completing Swap Zone Challenges in the levels. The arena games include everything from Single-Player Survival to Co-Op and Vs. Survival modes. Ring Out and Arena Battle also return letting you and a friend try out some one-on-one fights without the distractions of the other modes.


As much as possible, I went through Skylanders: Swap Force with only the new characters that either came with the game or that we got in for review. These included the aforementioned Blast Zone and Wash Buckler, as well as the Series 3 Ninja Stealth Elf that the game is packaged with. I also had the benefit of reviewing the 3DS version which comes with Rattle Shake, Free Ranger and Volcanic Eruptor. These six characters, combined with the extras (Roller Brawl, Lightcore Flashwing, Mega Ram Spyro, Blizzard Chill and Countdown) were enough to let me see just about everything this game had to offer. In other words, the game can be beaten with all new characters, so gamers wanting to jump into this third-installment without an existing army of powered-up Skylanders shouldn't be too worried about getting in over their head (well, except maybe by the cost associated with buying all the figures).

Quite frankly, if the game is getting a bit too tough to handle, you can switch between the different difficulties on the fly. There are three to start off with (Easy, Medium and Hard) and once the story is beaten, the Nightmare setting is unlocked. These different settings mostly control the amount of damage the enemies deal out, but there does seem to be the added reward of more experience for each foe you take out.

Game Mechanics:

While the main new mechanic in Skylanders: Swap Force is the mix-and-match characters, there are other details added to this game that add just a bit more polish to the series. One change is the ability to jump. Where the past Skylanders titles fit nicely into the RPG category in my mind, the new mechanic and accompanying level design gives Swap Force a heavier platformer feel to it. You will find yourself hopping from floating object to floating object. You will have to jump across perfectly spaced chasms, and yes, you will fall. Actually, between this mechanic and the Rocket Swap Zone styles, fellow reviewer, Geck0 said that he felt like Skylanders: Swap Force felt a lot like the classic Spyro games during the character's first few years.

Swap Force also pays a bit more attention to the gamer, err... Portal Master. Where the focus of the past games have always been about leveling up and enhancing your figures, the Portal Master can now level up. This is done by earning stars as you make your way through the game, and while this is really just another way to show your overall progression, there is something satisfying about leveling up yourself along with your characters. There are a few benefits to this, and they are typically seen at Woodburrow. Your Portal Master level helps to unlock items in the shop for you to buy and it opens up various pedestals around the town. You can place the Legendary Treasures you find in the levels on these pedestals and the stat-boost they have associated with them get applied to all of your characters while you play through a level.

In the end, Swap Force feels like it is helping the game series grow up a little. I'm not saying that it is no longer a title that kids can enjoy, far from it. I just feel like the upgraded graphics and stronger attention to detail make it something that the older gamers can truly appreciate. If you've been following the series so far, then continue on with Swap Force. Your characters can level up some more, and if you haven't made the plunge yet, this is a good spot to jump in, plus you have a whole backlog of figures that you can pick up.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation 3 Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness Sony PlayStation 3 Skylanders: Swap Force

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