I should have known when I first started seeing offers in the weekly ads or on bags of Doritos for free Skylanders figures. Activision wants to get these figures into kids’ hands at all costs, and for good reason. The system was built from the ground up to be collectible and even a rational adult like myself can feel the pull of the void calling me to go buy more figures. It would all be for naught if there wasn’t a decent game to back it up, so let’s check out what Skylanders: SWAP Force has to offer.
We’re introduced to the world of Skylanders by an introductory cutscene outlining the story so far. Magical creatures were attacked by evil creatures and the Skylanders stepped in to save the day, but were waylaid by a portal and were sucked in. The story has the depth of a Saturday morning cartoon but that’s the point. The writing and jokes were hovering at or above the quality of your typical kid fare, with the talents of Patrick Warburton (of The Tick, Seinfeld, and The Emperor’s New Groove fame) and Richard Steven Horvitz (Invader Zim, Angry Beavers, Psychonauts) stealing the show as the lovably stupid Flynn and Lord Kaos, respectively.
The central conceit of Skylanders is the ability to swap out characters on the fly which means they take the back seat once the exposition arrives. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s not really an issue, especially since the characters they introduce are funny, if a bit forgettable.
The design of the game is quite simple. Each character has its own stats, use the character in order to level up its abilities and attacks, once a character goes down you can either switch characters or restart. Choose to stick with one Skylander and you may end up with a bunch of underpowered alternatives if your main character goes down, or spread the experience too thin and you aren’t really making progress with enough characters. The joy comes in finding whose attacks you prefer and learning how to maximize those powers. In SWAP Force, any of the special SWAP Skylanders are divided into a top and bottom half, each with their own powers. If you mix an eagle with a robot you end up with a character who can create tornadoes and shoot its gun for a ranged attack. I could see mixing and matching being a lot of fun for younger kids, but I never felt like I needed to maximize effectiveness in that way.
The real-world purchases come in when interacting with the in-game world. Certain bonus locations require certain types of Skylanders, of which there are eight types, but there are many configurations on top of that, and it would require a sizable collection in order to unlock every single location. Anyone looking to 100% this game is going to have to make some investments, both monetarily and with their time.
Skylanders: SWAP Force is deceptively lengthy. If you’re taking your time to unlock and explore, the investment could be well over a dozen hours. Factor in different difficulties and multiple arena game modes and this game has the possibility of keeping kids’ attentions for much longer than the first week or two.
The visual component has some room for growth. On my 1080p display there was evidence of upscaling leaving a blurry and washed-out look to the game. The colors and design, on the other hand, are top notch. Each level has its own scheme with large setpieces and convincing art direction. The music also factors into that, with some catchy tunes being played for each location. It was good enough to notice, but not so overbearing that I paid it too much attention. The sound effects were also great which really reinforced the Saturday morning cartoon feel.
It’s easy to see why kids love this series and on more than one occasion I laughed at loud at one of the ridiculous puns the characters would say. The jokes are obvious, and so are the money grabbing attempts and level of collectibles, but it’s not enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. If I were a parent looking for a fun game that would be too challenging for a little one, but not so dumb that it feels like a waste of money, I wouldn’t have second thoughts on investing in Skylanders: SWAP Force.
(Reviewed on Xbox 360. Review copy supplied on behalf of Activision. Thanks)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 8/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Ratings: E (ESRB)