In June of this year, I had to find my son a gift for his birthday. He really likes playing games on my Android phone, messing around on my PC and watching me play games on the XBox 360. My wife had suggested a Nerf basketball and hoop, since he’s still pretty young. The thing is – I’m a gamer. My wife’s a gamer. All our friends are gamers. It seems pretty natural that my son will be a gamer when he grows up as well, and now is as good as time as any to teach him moderation and responsibility through the lure of a video game. He was also going through late potty training (we had absolutely no idea how to motivate him to use the toilet), so I thought it would be a good incentive to withhold buying Skylanders as a reward for using the bathroom. So I convinced my wife to let me buy him Skylanders Giants for his birthday. He was absolutely stoked. Now, when I first had seen and heard of Skylanders, it was due to Penny Arcade and my friend Mike K. The first game was Skylanders Adventures. It featured a very familiar character (to me) – Spyro the Dragon.There were maybe … 40? … of the miniatures in existence. I figured that maybe I’d get him a few Skylanders and that would be the end of it. Mike had warned me that the game could be addicting. We delved into the game, and found out that there were over 60 new Skylanders, including all the old ones that now worked in Giants. You need at least one of every element to unlock all the game’s content, and then there’s the expansion sets that add a new map or two. Plus a Giant of every element (8 in all). There’s also exclusive Skylanders from different stores. So what I had planned on being 10 Skylanders ended up being 72+ Skylanders. My wallet wept from all the abuse.
When it was announced that Skylanders Swap Force was coming, my son was excited. I was cautious. The new figures could easily swap their tops and bottoms to create new characters, and there would be new single characters. This meant you needed to buy a new portal/core set. They mentioned old ones from both of the previous games would get a makeover. You could play with your old Giants, as well. I grudgingly gave in, and we pre-ordered the Dark Skylanders Swap Force edition, since it featured unusual figures. When October 13th came around, my son, wife and I all went to the store at 8 am to pick up our pre-order. I stood in line behind two women who bought literally all the Skylanders in the first wave (I’ll get to that in a minute), including the bags and guides. One woman bought two sets for her son and nephew. I discovered – after opening the box – that there are now so many Skylanders that I’m going to be poor when I retire. I spent $135 on the first day, and that’s for half the figures on the first wave. They are going to slow release all the figures over time in waves. It frightens me, to be honest. We don’t have a Sneak ability or a Dig ability Skylander yet, because we want one of the Earth and Life elements. I have to go wide, you see. I sense a Christmas gift in there, and hope that my relatives will help me get through this, barring an intervention. It’s not my son buying these things – it’s me. I’m the one who can’t stop. On with the review!
Skylanders Swap Force picks up where Giants left off. Basically, these games have the same plot – Kaos, the Lord of Darkness, is trying to take over the Skylands. He’s only resisted by the Portal Masters, and you are the last one in existence. There was another one, once, named Eon, but he became a spirit when Kaos blew him up a long time ago. So Eon calls you back to summon and control the Skylanders – ancient, powerful guardians – to fight Kaos. There’s a new plot in every game, but the goal is the same. Stop Kaos. Which isn’t really hard, to be honest. The guy is horrible and egotistical, and everyone wants to help you get rid of him. His butler, a goblin fellow named Glumshanks, spends most of the pointing out all the flaws in his plans.This time he has an even bigger plan, and you have the Swap Force Skylanders to help you stop him.
All the previous Skylander goodies are back, save now you have Skylanders who have not only one element, but they can swap their bottom halves to trade movement abilities. There’s Fast, Climb, Sneak, Jump, Dig, Rocket, Spin and Teleport. There are elemental gates that require you to have one or two elements to unlock them, and challenges that require a certain movement ability to complete them. They all provide fun mini-games that reward legendary treasures, maps or hats, as well as money to buy improvements for your Skylander. The Swap Force guys improve both their upper and lower halves, while the regular figures just buy the normal improvements. It makes playing the game your way more accessible.
The old game formulas are still there – there’s timed challenges from the earlier games that you unlock by finding maps. Hats still confer bonuses. Sapphires give you a discount on Skylander improvements. Finding Soul Gems gives particular characters new powers. You still have story scrolls to find to read about the history of the Skylands. There’s also new mechanics that make the game more interesting. View scopes in levels allow you to pinpoint treasures farther in the level which give you more money. There are collectables unique to each stage that contribute to getting a star in the end. The portal master levels up, too, gaining levels from the amount of stars earned from each stage. Players can put legendary treasures on pedestals back at Woodburrow to give them even more bonuses. My personal favorite change was the locked gates – instead of rotating puzzle locks, you have spark puzzle locks. This mini-game is less mind wracking and gives you money for grabbing sparks while you solve the puzzle.
You spend just as much time in every stage trying to collect stuff, hoard money and unlock Easter eggs as you do in real life collecting Skylander figures.
There’s also a much better integrated two player mode that allows you to unlock double element gates and assist other players in completing the movement challenges. There’s still the problem of both characters having to stay within a certain distance of each other, because they don’t do the split screen thing in Skylanders. While that’s somewhat frustrating, especially during a platform stage, it’s not inhibiting to your enjoyment of playing two people at once. In fact, it’s the fastest way to level up your Skylanders and collect money. You can play survival mode together, or as competition. You can also play various battle modes, my favorite being Ring Out.
Swap Force is definitely more beautiful graphically than the previous games. The stages are all wonderfully rendered, the characters look fantastic, health and stat bars are cool to look at and the cut scenes are perfectly synced. The lighting and shadows make everything seem more realistic. The music and the sound are also great, even if some Skylanders repeat themselves often. The presentation of Swap Force is spectacular. The map for selecting different stages you’ve already beaten is intuitive. The only thing that threw me off at first was the NPCs talking in-game, since their mouths are not synced to what they are saying. But that’s so minor compared to all the vast improvements in style and presentation that it’s easily ignored.
Again, the only downside I can really find with Skylanders anything is the insane collectible aspect represented by the hundreds of figures available from all three games. It’s offset by the fact you can use figures from previous games easily, and they keep their levels in Swap Force. As of this writing, there’s only been two waves released of Swap Force, so we’re still waiting for more than half of the new figures to be released. I need Stink Bomb and Rubble Rouser so I have one of each element and one of each movement ability. For some reason, they are taking forever to release the new waves. They’ve made Series Two and Three Skylanders of older characters, which we’ve only bought a few (since the new figures are both neat and well done compared to past models). Still – if you want to
catch … err, collect them all, it’s a lot of work and money.
To completely play Swap Force, all you need is one Skylander of each element and one of each movement type. Collecting all of them is optional. If you have a young one who plays these games, it will be hard to limit yourself to just that, though. It does make a good motivational tool and holiday gift, as well. Just try not to go overboard, or you’re looking at $300 spent on one game easily. Which is odd, since none of the Skylanders have what I’d consider DLC (they do have figures that unlock extra levels, such as the Tower of Time set that comes with one Skylander, the Tower, a Hammer and a Diamond bonus figurine).
Overall, I rate Swap Force the best Skylanders game to-date, with all the improvements to graphics, gameplay and sound. The figures are fun to play with as well as they were painted better than the old figures. The story is somewhat more comical and more intense, and the ending is just as weird as all the previous endings. Kaos is still a big doody-head, according to my son. He really enjoys the game. I enjoy playing it as well as watching him play it. My family loves playing it together. There’s a lot to like about the entire trilogy of games, and I can tell they are going to keep making more of these games. It sells well, it’s fun and people generally enjoy collecting things (see Pokemon).
It is not fair to compare Skylanders Swap Force to Disney Infinity. They are two totally different games with different ideas about play. Infinity is a lot like Wil Wright’s games – it’s all about how you play with the toy rather than winning the game. Skylanders is more about winning the game while having a good laugh. There’s enough to do in both games, and it’s a shame that Infinity suffered somewhat from being released around the same time. Both are good games, in my opinion.
FINAL RATING: 8.5 (TAPPING INTO MY HOARDING BEHAVIOR IS NOT NICE, ACTIVISION)
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug.