Skylanders: SWAP Force is an action-adventure game with platforming elements for the PlayStation 3 (also on Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii and 3DS; upon launch it will be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One). Vicarious Visions developed the game (for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and next-gen) with Activision publishing the title. This is the first timte Vicarious Visions has handled major development duties on the series after working on 3DS, Wii and iOS version of earlier Skylanders’ games. It is the third game in the Skylanders series that uses NFC technology in toys to switch out different characters in the game. SWAP Force sees the addition of swappable characters, as well as newer Series 3 characters.
Every few hundred years, ancient elementals come together at the Cloudbreak Islands to power a mystical volcano that replenishes the magic of Skylands. As a group of Skylanders battled near the volcano, they were caught in one of its eruptions. This concentrated magic gave these Skylanders the ability to swap out their torso and legs becoming the SWAP Force. After gaining the ability though, the SWAP Force went missing, but now the Portal Master has recovered them gaining the power of the SWAP Force. It lucky too because the evil Kaos is back again with a new plot to destroy the Cloudbreak Islands with petrified darkness. This time the Portal Master and the SWAP Force must thwart Koas’ plan to use the newly discovered petrified evil to evilize on of the ancient elementals before they come together to rejuvenate the magic of Skylands. By infecting just one, Kaos can turn the entirety of Skylands evil. It is up to the SWAP Force to stop him and save the Cloudbreak Islands and all of Skylands.
As with most games aimed at a younger audience, the plot revolves around a familiar villain plotting another malicious plan to destroy the world while the heroes need to prevent that from happening. It is not hugely complex by any means, but the story gives the game a decent way to structure level and story progression. With the addition of four elementals that need to be saved, it does a very Zelda-esque job of setting up visible goals to hunt down. As the Skylanders learn of each elementals’ whereabouts, there are any number of complications preventing them from going to them directly. Thus requiring them to get some bauble or trinket to clear a path to the elemental. When they finally arrive, it is generally a matter of stopping the evilization process either by fighting a number of enemy hordes or a mini-boss or boss. Once an elemental is rescued, it is on to the next one until all are safe and the Skylanders can fight the big baddie directly. The writing has a level of pluck and humor that should keep its intended audience invested (there is a generous use of the word awesome because that is what the kids like).
SWAP Force’s gameplay revolves around using the various toys at a player’s disposal (the Starter Pack comes with two SWAP Force characters, Blast Zone and Wash Buckle and an updated version of Stealth Elf). The gameplay itself mainly involves fighting hordes of enemies with a Skylanders’ base moves as they destroy them and move through the level. A Skylander starts of with one of two moves, an action move and an evasive move. Fighting becomes mainly about learning basic enemy patterns and knowing how to take advantage of the evasive move then waiting for an opening to attack. Players can upgrade Skylanders by collecting gold/treasure during levels and buying new moves at an upgrade station in the main town hub or sometimes during levels. By destroying enemies, Skylanders collect experience that upgrade base stats making them stronger, tougher and faster. The enemies get progressively tougher, but still fall into basic patterns, and the various boss fights are actually fairly interesting. The action is decent enough, it is easy to learn and pick up, which means it lacks a bit of finesse.
Graphics and Sound
The game looks solid. While these are not the most hugely impressive graphics, given the game has to animate and handle the growing collection of Skylanders’ figures and their upgrades, the game does a good job creating the new Cloudbreak Islands and new levels. There is a level of charm present in the visuals that is admirable. There are moments in the game, particularly, a boss fight during the third elemental that looks excellent. It has a great mixture of charm, level design and music. The soundtrack by Lorne Balfe is impressive. There is a great mix of songs that creates a great pacing throughout the game. Various songs capture the feel of their worlds incredibly well and Balfe composed a terrific score.
Skylanders: SWAP Force will please those who have been invested in the franchise for the last few years. It adds a decent amount of depth with the inclusion of the SWAP Force and their ability to switch body parts to create different power combinations. The visuals are solid and the music is excellent. To those who have not been hooked on Skylanders, the game is solid with a decent variety to gameplay, but the lack of finesse to combat may make fighting through enemies and finding widgets a bit tiresome after a while. The novelty of swapping toys in the game goes a long way, but luckily beneath that there is a sturdy foundation to entertain when the novelty wears off.