When it debuted in late 2011, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure took the retail world by storm, thanks to its marriage of great ideas, excellent technology and outstanding marketing. Sure, the Toys for Bob developed and Activision published I.P. sort of aped what is arguably the world’s greatest slogan, that being Pokemon‘s, “Gotta’ catch ‘em all,” but there’s no denying that the more recent release is its own intelligently designed entity, as opposed to any sort of rip-off. After all, it brought forth some remarkable new tech via the Portal of Power, which lets players (who get to call themselves ‘Portal Masters’) influence the in-game world by placing real-life figures on a specially designed pedestal, and tied that into some relatively standard yet very enjoyable platform-action gameplay.
It’s been about two years since people first started lining up in front of stores in order to get their hands on uncommon Skylanders characters, and little has changed. What was once just a single game has now become a cash printing juggernaut, having been bolstered by the release of two very successful follow-up titles, last year’s Giants and this fall’s Swap Force. Like their digitally crafted grandfather, both games are now available on just about every modern video game device, with the latter one standing out as the series’ first foray into next-generation gaming, thanks to its launch title utilization for both Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.
Not too long ago, my friend and co-worker, John Fleury, took a look at Skylanders: Swap Force on the Xbox 360. For all intents and purposes, that article serves as our main review of the game, but I wanted to share my thoughts regarding the next-gen iteration. That is, the Xbox One version.
While the first Skylanders game introduced us to the Portal of Power and its ability to transfer uniquely designed characters from action figure form to video game interactivity, Giants expanded upon the formula by adding large-scale heroes into the mix. Now, with Skylanders: Swap Force, developer Vicarious Visions’ brainstorming sessions have resulted in something that’s admittedly a bit gimmicky, but is neat nonetheless. That would be swapping – an idea that allows players to mix and match the tops and bottoms of different characters, in order to create superior combination types. This is accomplished through the use of magnets, which keep things safe and free of breakage.
Unless you’re a completionist who can’t stand missing things in video games, you won’t need to worry about mixing and matching your colourful protagonists much during gameplay – that is, unless you really want to. Although it’s the main selling point of this pricey second sequel, said technique is rarely forced upon players. In fact, out of the three figures that come with the Starter Set – a list that includes a water-based (squid) pirate, a metallic and fire-based bomb thrower and a sneaky ninja elf – only two employ the design. That means that you’re only looking at two possible combinations from the start. Of course, more can be discovered through purchasing extra characters, which has always been the basis of these games, but not all folks will want to do so, and that’s perfectly fine as the game is fully playable without them.
Early on, Swap Force makes sure to remind players about its interchangeable heroes, through clearly labelled and easy to find ‘secret’ areas. However, outside of those doors, the namesake mechanic is never forced upon the experience, allowing players to make their own choices. Now, fire and water combo doors aren’t the only ones that dot the game’s fifteen or more stages, but the others all require the purchase of other elementally-based figures. That’s where they get the obsessive users who love to collect and play with each new protagonist, though I’m admittedly not a part of that particular group. People can collect whatever (legal) items they want, though, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with spending some cash to form a great Skylanders roster.
Despite my lack of interest in spending much real world dough on extra figures for the game, I’ve enjoyed this series since I was first able to preview it back in October of 2011. There truly is genius behind this brand, and it’s not all related to the tech. The marketing is fantastic, and Activision deserves kudos for that. However, though I wish that the gameplay would’ve evolved more than it has over the first three entries, that lack of progression hasn’t bothered me too, too much. Just be warned regarding the fact that, while Skylanders: Swap Force sounds like it’s quite different from its peers, it’s generally just more of the same. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The familiar schtick relating to how one must fight his or her way through different stages, while using each figure’s unique and upgradeable abilities, is still quite fun even if it’s a bit old hat by now. Plus, the franchise’s established platforming and action elements have been refined, meaning that things play out with more polish and speed than ever before. Additionally, what little variety there is comes via some on-rails shooting scenarios, which aren’t half bad.
The idea behind this particular 12-15 hour-long quest line is a bit out there, but all you really need to know are the basics. Simply put, a new type of Skylander evolution has been forced into play, in order to protect a series of idyllic landmasses known as the Cloudbreak Islands. Of course, the overarching locale, which presents a variety of different environments, from wintry wonderlands to dangerous forests and metallic contraptions, is being threatened by evil at the hands of the series’ regular villain, Kaos. Said pipsqueak is once again interested in ruling the world through evil, and has taken an interest in the Cloudbreak region, which just so happens to surround a volatile volcano.
For a kids game, the aforementioned storyline is pretty good. It’s well fleshed out and relatively interesting, which is surprising given the genre. However, that’s not to say it’s anything special. If it wasn’t for the included humour, which is prevalent throughout the Skylanders‘ universe, things would be less interesting than they are. Thankfully, though, the writers know their target audience and have done a good job of catering to them with comical writing and humorous animations that will appeal to family members of all ages. It would’ve been nice if they’d sped up the delivery, though, because the experience is quite often bogged down by wordy explanations that cannot be skipped.
Once the story content is underway, bonus missions and arena-based battles start to unlock. A lot of these relatively enjoyable one-offs are graded based on time and point-based scales, which end up boiling down to an unsurprising three-star rating system. Said scale is also used following completion of the campaign, as both time trial and score attack modes then become available.
Now, you’re surely wondering if Skylanders: Swap Force is the same game on Xbox One (and PS4 to be technical) as it was on the other systems. The answer to that question is a resounding yes, meaning there’s no reason to go out and spend any extra money to upgrade unless it’s really burning a hole in your pocket. Even then, I’d advise you to stick with whatever version you have, because there’ll surely be an even better-looking Skylanders game next fall. However, if you’ve yet to pick this game up, you won’t go wrong by choosing this version. It looks good, runs very well and also sounds pretty solid. Simply put, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Being that this is a multi-platform release, it’s easier to give it concessions based on its visuals. Still, I must warn you that what you’ll get for your seventy-five odd dollars will not blow you or your friends away after it’s been inserted into and installed onto your brand new console. What John said in his review, regarding the fact that Swap Force looks a lot better than its peers, is true. However, it’s still a multi-platform game, not to mention one that is targeted towards children. This means that you can expect some stilted animations, mouths that don’t necessarily match up with the voices they’re supposed to be emitting and a lack of definition during darker segments.
In the end, recommending this game is quite easy. While it’s certainly not perfect, and can be quite repetitive, there’s a lot of charm to be found within Skylanders: Swap Force. However, its next-gen appeal will depend on personal preferences and the amount of people who’ve either waited for its second release or plan to upgrade for some reason. It’s really hard to go wrong with this one, but let’s hope that Activision will invest some money into brainstorming ways to flesh out the gameplay that will makes its way into its next series release. After all, it goes without saying that there will definitely be one.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided to us.
Although it's arguably the definitive version of the game, the next-generation iteration of Skylanders: Swap Force is nearly identical to its console-based predecessors. Those who enjoy family friendly action-platformers, and have been waiting for this release, will surely find a lot to enjoy. However, there's no reason to upgrade if you've already purchased and played through the title on another device.