Skylanders SWAP Force features a whole new narrative set in the same universe as the rest of the Skylanders series. Kaos has returned to the Skylanders world and is now trying to harness the power of a magical volcano located on the Cloudbreak Islands to rule all of the islands that make up the realm. New creatures known as the SWAP Force will team up with new and former Skylanders to try and stop Kaos with a special ability that allows the new cast to swap halves to mix and match powers for the ultimate combination for any situation. The SWAP Force characters gained this power many years ago after being caught in the magical volcano's eruption while battling against an ancestor of Kaos. The tale featured in Skylanders SWAP Force is a good one that is full of humor that kids and adults can appreciate without the need of excessive violence or other offensive methods needed to tell its story.
The Cloudbreak Islands are the setting for Skylanders SWAP Force, and players will venture across the many different islands that make up the world to free it from the grip of Kaos. Each island typically consists of two different themes to a world such as the flooded corridors of Cascade Castle or the snow covered trees of Frostfest Forest that come from two of the eight elements featured in the game. Air, Earth, Fire, Magic, Tech, Undead and Water make up the various characters in the game (meet the cast here) including the toys used to play the game, and players will need to learn each element's strengths and weaknesses to make freeing the Cloudbreak Islands easier.
Completing each mission on an island can be a short endeavor, or it make take a bit longer for players looking to find all of the hidden items located in each world. Each character's element can be used to access different locations and find secret areas. Skylanders SWAP Force allows for combinations of elements to be used in the game at the same time, and there are some super special areas that require various combinations of monsters and elements to access. All of this is optional, and it's definitely possible to complete the game without using any characters beyond the ones included in the starter pack for Skylanders SWAP Force, but try explaining that to your 7 year old and see how far it gets you.
The usefulness of swapping characters comes into play during fights as well. Some enemies in the game have multiple weaknesses or may require the use of more than one element to land the most effective attacks throughout a battle. It's during these times where a player might be better off to combine a fire and water monster like the Blast Buckler combination that comes with the Skylanders SWAP Force starter pack or use some other combination to take down enemies rather than running into a battle with only one type of attack ready for use. There are 256 new combinations of characters that can be used in the game, and though that can seem like an overwhelming number, characters will quickly learn their favorite combinations of characters for exploring, combat and puzzle solving through a little trial and error.
Upgrading Skylanders figures is still a very important part of the game. New skills and attacks can be acquired for each of the new figures, and the Skylanders SWAP Force characters will actually upgrade each half of the figure and save the player's progress on the halves. Most of the figures have branching skill trees that will eventually force players to choose between moves to specialize in and ones that will be sacrificed until the highest levels are reached. The process can't be reversed, so it's important to carefully consider which moves are being upgraded for which creature or creature halve to give the most used characters flexibility in combat. Characters can now become more powerful than ever before with the new level cap of 20, and the new feature extends to all old characters to give longtime fans a reason to dust off their favorites from previous games in the Skylanders series.
One new feature that completely changes the way players experience Skylanders SWAP Force is the addition of jumping. The new character ability is available for all characters in the Skylanders series, and it allows the various islands in the game to be built vertically instead of one flat surface. The new freedom given to players affects combat with another way to dodge incoming attacks, but players will mostly use the new feature to explore all of the nooks and crannies in the Cloudbreak Islands. Jumping is used throughout the campaign creatively in mini-games that may require a player to carefully jump from one small, moving island to another in order to reach a prize at the end of the path, or characters such as the Wash Buckler can be used to climb walls with his sticky octopus tentacles, though any other SWAP Force character can do the same with his bottom half equipped.
One thing that any huge Skylanders fan can appreciate is searching the whole game over in pursuit of the elusive hats contained within the game. These are the most sought after hidden collectibles in the game, and they are back for Skylanders SWAP Force. Equipping hats to characters is reflected in the look of the character, but they are also helpful for gaining additional statistical bonuses as well. There are plenty of hidden items, collectibles and secrets for players to find in the game to give the new title great replay value for players that want to try the game with new characters or max out others to the new level cap.
In Skylanders SWAP Force, players once again use the Portal of Power to load their characters into the game world. This can be done at pretty much anytime throughout the game with the major exception being during cutscenes. The new pedestal keeps track of which halves are making up the current figure or if the creature comes from a different set entirely. All toys from the Skylanders series is compatible with the new game, but to play Skylanders SWAP Force, it is required the player use the new portal from the new starter pack. Skylanders SWAP Force is designed to be a seamless gameplay session, so new players can join the current game with no loading screens, and characters in the game can be swapped just as easy to allow players to get right back to the game action.
The figures featured in the all new Skylanders SWAP Force set are easily the most unique the series has ever seen. Each of these special figures can swap halves with another from the same set to create a whole new creature to use in-game. The toys are designed so that all data associated with the monster is saved to its halve, so it's possible to use one fully leveled top to help level up weaker bottoms and vice-versa. The toys are high quality as other figures from previous sets, and they connect with a strong magnet to keep the figures from ever breaking or being lost. The character design hasn't dipped with the new set either, and some of our favorite figures ever are included in the new SWAP Force set. We're looking at you Roller Brawl.
Skylanders SWAP Force is roughly the same game across all platforms, though we primarily tested the game for review purposes on Xbox 360. Players can use each figure across all platforms, but a separate Portal of Power is required to play on specific platforms. Since the character's data is saved to the figure rather than a console memory unit, this allows for cross platform capability, so players can visit their friends or swap figures and still have a toy that is compatible with any console. One noticeable difference between the many platforms the game is available on is the increased graphics performance from handheld to current generation consoles, and from the current systems and testing the game earlier in the year when we went hands-on with Skylanders SWAP Force on PlayStation 4. Players that want to get their hands on Skylanders SWAP Force immediately can go ahead and pick up the game for their console of choice, but the definitive version is on next generation consoles for players that don't mind waiting and spending a lot of extra money for a new platform to play their game on.
The Skylanders SWAP Force starter pack comes with the new game, the Portal of Power that is required to play the game, three new SWAP Force figures and some other goodies like trading cards and stickers. Players looking for more content in their Skylanders SWAP Force experience will want to pick up additional figures valued at around ten bucks for each figure, which is a pretty good price considering it unlocks additional items, missions, mini-games and more scattered around the game world plus another character to play as. There are currently over 40 new figures available in the game including 16 new Swappable characters, 16 Core characters, Dark versions and new Lightcore characters including our favorite, the female dragon and earth elemental, Lightwing. Needless to say, there are plenty of new figures available for Skylanders SWAP Force, and players will obviously have to shop around to decide who their new favorite characters are, but there is definitely a nice selection here for all ages and interests.
Skylanders SWAP Force is a great new title for all gamers. What the game lacks in challenging gameplay, it more than makes up for in creative character design and plenty of hidden secrets that will quickly find players addicted to exploring the colorful game world of the Cloudbreak Islands. The new game features one of the best storylines in the series with plenty of humor that all gamers can appreciate, and everyone loves collecting toys in real life, only now there is a purpose beyond the figures sitting on your shelf at home or desk at work. Skylanders SWAP Force, like other games in the series, will require a decent investment to purchase a starter pack and some additional figures, but its a worthwhile investment for a game that is this popular and a high enough quality for kids and adults to enjoy. Purchase the game for your kids, but play it for yourself, or even better, join a session together in local co-op and spend some good quality time with those that matter most. Skylanders SWAP Force a really fun game that should be picked up for every gamer this holiday season. Skylanders SWAP Force is by far the best family-friendly game we have played all year, and you will have to FORCE yourself to put down the controller. Skylanders SWAP Force was the best time my children and I have had together on a game in a long time, and we had just as much fun swapping out characters to come up with new combinations as we did playing the game.
Skylanders SWAP Force is now available from all major retailers for the MSRP of $74.99 and can be purchased for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November. Skylanders SWAP Force is rated E by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. For more information on the game, check out the official Skylanders SWAP Force website
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii & Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 13, 2013