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Games

Published on November 27th, 2013 | by Chris Scott

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Skylanders: Swap Force Review

Two years ago, Activision took the game and toy industries by storm with their introduction of the Skylanders. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was a game designed around its use of physical toys that would magically be transported into the game via a special portal hooked up to the gaming device. Buoyed by a somewhat familiar gaming brand (Spyro) and strong, if somewhat simplistic, game design, kids ate it up. Since its debut, Skylanders has become one of the toy and gaming industries’ shining stars.

But what was popular yesterday does not dictate popularity today and despite making it a yearly entry in its gaming line-up, Activision has continued to grow and evolve the series. Last year the game evolved into giants, delivering massively sized Skylanders that while awesome, left a bit to be desired in terms of gameplay. This year the series takes a more drastic approach, allowing for players to swap the tops and bottoms of the new characters in Skylanders: Swap Force.

At its core, the Skylanders brand of gaming is basically a kiddiefied Diablo. Players take their hero, working through various levels, killing enemies and collecting treasure along the way. The hero gains experience upon defeating enemies and levels up, making them more and more powerful. What makes Skylanders stand out, is the physical toys that need to be placed on the portal of power. The character toys placed on the portal allow for their use in the game. So if you place Spyro on the portal, you can play as Spyro in the game, leveling up and collecting treasure, as long as he remains on the portal. All of the progress gained per individual toy is stored in the toy itself, allowing for quick changing in-game as well as use across different games and even systems, meaning you can use your toys anywhere Skylanders: Swap Force is being played.

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At first glance, Swap Force seems very similar to its two predecessors. The core game functionality is still very much Diablo-lite, but this iteration introduces two game-changing features. The first is in the swap characters themselves. Similar to the giants last year, the swap characters are a special line of toys (the starter set comes with two) that allow for the interchanging of the tops and bottoms. Taking apart Wash Buckler and matching parts with Blast Zone creates Wash Zone and Blast Buckler, two entirely new characters, and more possibilities arise the more swap characters you have.

This new combo approach allows for some interesting aspects to the game, including mixing character elements to create new zones that can only be accessed by certain character combinations. The other addition to the swap characters is the special abilities that each have, indicated by an icon on the toy itself. These special abilities unlock additional challenges throughout a level to grant new treasure and collectibles, as well as bragging rights when one does it better than their friends.

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Of course, to access all this requires getting more characters, which requires more of a financial output, but that is kind of the crux of the game, and one you either buy into or don’t. Thankfully, while there is certainly that content that one can’t access with just the starter pack, none of it is required to complete the game.

What is required to complete the game, though, is the magical new jump button. It may sound silly, but somehow the first two Skylanders titles skirted by without having a jump button. The jump button makes its glorious debut in Swap Force and adds a whole new dynamic to traversal and combat. Levels now have more verticality and traversing them is faster than ever before. This adds a certain degree of variety not seen in the past titles, and it makes everything seem fresh. Additionally, the inclusion of a jump button allows for new attacks that make combat a bit more tactical, and also more fun, than before.

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For the past two years, the Skylanders have run unopposed but others have now caught on to the lucrative strategy of mixing videogames and physical toys for a unique experience. Activision now faces stiff competition from the House of Mouse in the form of Disney Infinity. Skylanders: Swap Force is a better game game than Disney’s in nearly every way. While it doesn’t have the familiarity of the Disney characters, it does offer a better playing game, toys that seem sturdier, and more interactivity with those toys via the new swap functionality. There is after all, something to be said for experience.

Skylanders: Swap Force might not change the core game much, but it adds enough new functionality to make it the best in the series. It may struggle going forward, especially as Disney improves their core game, but as it stands, the Skylanders are still the king of the toy/game castle, and as such, are easily recommendable regardless of if you buy into getting more toys or not.

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