Skylanders: Swap Force

You Got Your Washbuckler In My Hoot Loop

I switched placed with my kids for our Skylanders: Swap Force review.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 13, 2013
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It might not come as a surprise that a new Skylanders game has appeared a few short months after Disney dipped their oar in the collectible-video-game-character-model-thingie waters with Disney Infinity. You can’t let your competitors get newer product to market. You might be surprised to find that Activision handed the development of Skylanders Swap Force to Vicarious Visions rather than Toys For Bob (who had developed the first two games). Did a breath of fresh air breathe new life into the series for me (and more importantly, for my kids) after Giants felt like a step back?

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Swap Force. Your Skylanders can jump. Yes, that basic difference makes a huge difference in the game. If nothing else, getting around in so much easier now that you aren’t stuck going through a maze of ankle-height walls that you just can’t traverse. Naturally this change is retroactive and all your Series 1 and Series 2 Skylanders have learned the ancient art of jumping so they won’t be left behind.

Beyond that (major) change there’s also quite a bit more change to be found in this iteration. Obviously the Swap Force name isn’t there spuriously, so you’ll find that 16 of the three dozen or so new Series 2 Skylanders are members of this titular force. To be in this elite Swap squad you first need to have the ability to swap. The basis for this is of course explained in a series of scenes featuring Flynn and our other old friends and it’s all necessary to stop that rapscallion Kaos who’s still causing all sorts of issues in his mega-maniacal way. These daring defenders have developed the ability the separate their upper half from their lower half and merge with other Swap Force members to create all new guys.

What’s the point, you ask? Well, the deal is that the lower half controls the “locomotion” type for a Skylander while the upper half contains most of the attacks. There’s also generally an attack associated with the lower half, but its primary purpose is to act as a separate set of ‘elements’ and gating off certain challenges if you don’t have the appropriate bottom to enter. Yes, it’s impossible for all but the most naïve of parents to not see this as yet another way to sell more Skylanders because that is exactly what it is. Sure, the pair of Swap Force characters included with the starter set will give you a taste of the new content but 75% of it will be locked up for you.

We could go on debating the economics and ethics behind endlessly adding more stuff that requires more (expensive) purchases but that’s not what we are here for. Just know that there is a new portal with this technology and you’ll need a new starter set that comes with 2 Swap Force characters (Wash Buckler and Blast Zone) along with a Ninja Stealth Elf non-Swap character. The Swap Force guys are held together with a pair of strong magnets that keep them from coming apart without serious application of force. I’ve always admired the character design in this series and this year’s figurines are as detailed as ever. The whimsical designs catch my fancy and I’m also seriously impressed with how well random Swap Force characters seem to mesh together when you swap them around. Given the 256 combinations you’d think it might look messy when you join an owl body to octopus tentacles but it’s better than anything Dr. Moreau ever did.

Another great swapping feature is the way they made the names combine as well. Hearing the announcer declare the arrival of Hoot Ranger and Doom Drilla to the field never gets old. Swap Force characters also have a standard element role along with their locomotion which will come into play when you reach some of the dual element locked doors. You’ll either have to grab a second player so you can have a guy from each element or you’ll have to make a Swap Force guy with a part from each element. Thankfully there aren’t that many of those dual-element areas.

The new forms of locomotion aren’t just for show. They allow access to a new set of challenge areas that really expand into new areas. I found that even for me some of them were tough to get a hold of. The challenges are designed around each motion type, so ladder guys will be doing climbing challenges while darting guys might fly through canyons. I saw probably close to a dozen different minigames during my playthrough and I definitely didn’t see them all. It’s nice of this series to add in some depth like this, and it makes sense that they lock those harder parts behind alternate content so the core youth audience won’t feel too frustrated.
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