Game Review: Skylanders Swap Force

Jonathan Szafran delivers his verdict on action-platforming sequel Skylanders Swap Force, out now on Nintendo 3DS, PS3, Wii, Wii U and Xbox360.

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Another year, and another Skylanders game is on store shelves – but this time developer Viscarious Visions seems to have put more care into their work, and have put out a superb product that outperforms all of its predecessors. Skylanders Swap Force is not only the best Skylanders game to date, but it may be one of the best 3D platformers this year.

The tried and true Skylander formula remains the same here in Swap Force. The game comes with three new character figurines along with a new portal of power. Two of these figures can be taken apart and put together with other Swap Force characters, giving them new abilities and access to unique areas of the game’s diverse worlds.

These instances are usually only once per level, so most of the time the player won’t need to switch the top and bottoms of the figurines, but it is still fun to see what they will look like and what moves they will perform – especially when characters become fully upgraded.

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Much like the previous Skylander games, to get the most out of this new experience you will need to either have held onto the figures that came with Spyro’s Adventure and Giants, or buy new ones from your local retailer. However, Swap Force really hammers home the idea that you should go buy some new toys, as there are an exorbitant amount of locked areas that require either a certain Skylander quality or a mixture of two Swap Force figures that don’t come in the starter pack.

You can get through the game with what comes with the it, but when you see the score checklist at the end of each level it will almost always be low, because to find everything in each area you will need a large collection of Sklyanders. For a rabid loot collector like me, seeing a low score at the end of a level was disappointing and put a dampner on things – especially since I was having so much fun playing each world.

The story in Skylanders Swap Force involves the returning villain Kaos using his new weapon, the Evilizer, to well turn everything good into evil, and he has his sights aimed at the Ancients, who are the creators of the world of Skyland. It’s up to the player, the Portal Master, to once again thwart Kaos’ plans and save the world. New characters join, some of them returning favorites, but it’s Kaos who could use some evolution to his character or just go away altogether. In fact, I hear the 3DS version of this game has a new villain – and Vicarious Visions should think about bringing him over to consoles in the inevitable sequel.

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The graphics have been greatly overhauled and they outshine the previous two titles. Level design has improved from the previous games; they look great and have interconnected lands that players jump to a la Super Mario Galaxy. In fact, there is so much color and life in Skylander Swap Force’s worlds that it could rival any of the cuteness that Nintendo first-party offers. The game’s soundtrack is nothing new here however, as it is your standard action-adventure fare mixed with some whimsical tunes here and there.

One thing that the Skylanders formula could use is a distraction from the main game. Vicarious Vision would do well to watch what Nintendo does, which is incorporating mini-games into their titles. Yes, Skylanders has some side quests – but nothing along the likes of a shooter or racing mini-game. Activision says that Skylanders won’t turn into the new Guitar Hero, so time will tell if there will be be, say, a Skylanders Kart game. That said, Skylanders Swap Force is still a lot of fun in its own right, and well-deserving of critical praise.

Skylanders has become a giant franchise and this new addition is the best of the series. With all of its improvements there is always the possibility for more, and hopefully we will see that in time with the new generation of consoles. Sure, Skylanders Swap Force has its weaknesses, but there’s never been a better time to buy into this excellent game.

FMV Rating: ***1/2

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