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Skylanders: Swap Force

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

My feelings towards the budding Skylanders franchise are conflicted. On one hand, I wish I could have played this game when I was a kid; it would have been nice to have had a proper initiation into role-playing games that was actually meant for children my age. Instead, my two first RPGs were Final Fantasy VI and Diablo: hardly kids' games. On the other hand, perhaps that's a blessing in disguise; these games ask quite a lot of you. The hardware/software bundle trends towards the more expensive games on the market, and if you want to see absolutely everything they have to offer, it is a continuous investment. That being said, I had a ball with Skylanders: Swap Force. I absolutely understand what the fuss is all about; if you're into collectibles or have a kid who's really into toys, it really doesn't get any better than this.

Skylanders: Swap Force is visually pleasing, regardless of whether you're looking at the television screen or the artfully created portal and figurines required to play the game. Skylands is a place you want to exist in. It's full of color and cheer, even when you're dealing with the not-so-friendly elements. This game is just ten kinds of adorable and, technically, it's no slouch. I personally appreciate the Wii U Gamepad integration; if you like to be completely on top of what kind of statistics and levels you're rolling with each character, the default display on the touchscreen is essentially an electronic version of the paper card that comes with each figure.

Charm, charm, and more charm. That's what pours out of your speakers during every second of Skylanders: Swap Force. It's impossible not to love the supporting cast, though certain exceptions in the main cast (most notably sidekick hero Tessa) are bland heroic. Perhaps the gold star goes to Richard Horvitz (as it does in most everything he's in), who voices series mainstay villain Kaos with impish petulance. The immediate runner-up is Patrick Warburton, who returns to the role of the buffoonish pilot Flynn. Everyone else sounds straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the result contributes to the game's best quality, which will be discussed later. On the inanimate side of the sound design, effects cover the spectrum of elements. Good thing, too, since the elements play a huge role in this universe.


Skylanders: Swap Force sees our heroes (or rather, whichever of the many available figurines you own) return to the fray to counter yet another threat from that pesky little bald kid, Kaos. You'd think some Rogaine and a trip to the orthodontist might boost his confidence and keep him from being eternally browbeaten by his equally evil mother, but alas, it is not to be. The diminutive little jerk is essentially the cartoon hybrid of George Costanza and Darth Vader. He'll never learn, but he'll always be looking for something to help him achieve the dominance over Skylands that he will never have. The flavor of the week -- or should I say flavors -- the Elementals who govern the forces of magic of Skylands from atop the Cloudbreak Islands. The volcano that supplies Skylands with magic is about to erupt again and Kaos spots an opportunity. Your job as Portal Master is to preemptively shut his ambitions down.

So for you, the player, this means hours upon hours of light dungeon crawling, fun combat, and simple quest-following. Skylanders: Swap Force is constructed in a simple, quasi-linear way. Each diversion is marked very clearly and you'll never have to worry about where you need to go. That being said, if you want to upgrade your Skylanders and find as much loot as you can, you'll gravitate towards each and every locked gate.

Multiplayer offerings are fun, though most players will probably view them as an expedient grinding tool they can use to boost their Skylanders up to the new level cap of 20. Horde-style Survival modes pit you (and a friend, if you so choose) up against legions of increasingly numerous and difficult baddies. The variants include Solo, Cooperative, and Competitive (where points mean the difference between victory and defeat). Battle Arena and Ring Out put two players in the same room up against each other, and while the option is nice, the lack of online play and the fact that no more than two can play at a time feels like kind of a missed opportunity.


I know I'm not the target audience of Skylanders: Swap Force, even though it's primed to have a rather all-inclusive welcoming vibe about it. But perhaps the best example of this is in how I almost immediately switched to the Hard difficulty. I didn't do it because the game was too easy, but because I wanted to jump right into the experience and loot bonuses. For me, playing on Hard was the equivalent of playing the default difficulty for most other dungeon crawlers.

Since the game always makes it abundantly clear which type of Skylander you need to proceed at any given point, it's less about knowing which ones to use as it is which ones you actually own. Don't have a Life type Skylander? You might struggle against certain enemies. Found a treasure chest with a Giants symbol on it and don't actually have a Giant? Well, you'll either have to go without the treasure or take a trip to your local retailer.

But in terms of the actual gameplay, Skylanders: Swap Force is a breeze, provided you've learned your way around the skills of your Skylanders. The forces of Kaos aren't terribly threatening, even in the endgame. Your Skylanders, however, are once you reach that point. Whether it's combat, platforming, or puzzle solving, this is a very effective gateway to one of the more complex genres in video gaming.

Game Mechanics:

Buy figurines. Place figurine on Portal of Power. Play to your heart's content. The core formula that fueled the success of the Skylanders franchise remains fundamentally unchanged, but with the raising of the level cap to 20, you'll find yourself returning to old figurines that you'd previously maxed out. Growing your Skylanders through experience and currency acquired in combat is a lot of fun, even if the in-game Skylanders don't undergo any sorts of physical changes at all. Taking a Skylander through its cycle and leveling them according to your desired specs establishes a sense of ownership, even though the skill trees are merely binary.

Each new Skylanders game thus far has introduced a new gimmick and incorporated it into its name. Skylanders: Swap Force introduces a slew of new guardians, each of whom has a pretty neat trick. Since the magic volcano blasted each of them into exactly two halves (convenient!), they can mix and match with each other. Never mind the logistics of two halves of two different living things, because it's actually pretty clever in context. So if you have two Swap Force Skylanders you really like, you can split each one at the mid-section and literally switch halves between Skylanders. Each Swap Force Skylander has a top and a bottom. The top usually deals with offense while the bottom usually has to do with locomotion. But in several cases, you can get the best of both worlds by swapping. And at key moments in the game, swapping tops and bottoms are integral to your progress.

Swap Zones are locked out until you come up with the right combination as displayed by the color/symbol-coded locks. Once you make it through, you'll have a challenge to complete. These can range from speed challenges to platforming challenges and beyond. And if you succeed, you'll find that Skylanders: Swap Force takes every opportunity to shower you with rewards.

I've saved the game's best quality for the end. Skylanders: Swap Force is something of a comfort food. There isn't too much substance to the game itself, and it isn't challenging or demanding in the slightest. But all the polish, variety, and charm make it irresistible. It's an investment, perhaps more of one than even a new videogame console, but families with children in particular will see strong returns.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation 3 Skylanders: Swap Force Nintendo 3DS Skylanders: Swap Force

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