Surprisingly addictive gameplay and replay value; robust two-player co-op; charming dialogue and storyline
Some platforming quibbles; obvious need to buy figures for certain gated game areas
As you might know by now, the Skylanders series revolves around the colorful, expressive figurines– the eponymous Skylanders– which, when placed on the bundled “Portal of Power,” can be summoned as in-game characters. This process is just about as awe-inspiring as you might expect. While Ninja Stealth Elf might look sufficiently dynamic on her pedestal, she only lives up to her name when she’s zipping around in-game. And of course, the same goes for Spyro, whose dearly deceased series started this whole shebang. Fortunately for us, Skylanders SWAP Force, the latest game in the Skylanders series, is far better than any of Spyro’s old games– and more fun than it has any right to be.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: yes, Skylanders SWAP Force is mercenary. While in-game, there are literal gated regions, which can only be opened by Skylanders of certain attributes. For instance, the Skylander Magna Charge is of the Tech Element, with a SWAP Force power of Speed. (Translation: his abilities are technology-related, and he gets around on wheels.) Therefore, he can open up gates that have the Tech Element emblazoned on them, and complete special levels only accessible via Speed. But it gets more complicated. SWAP Force introduces, well, the SWAP Force: Skylanders with detachable upper and lower halves that can be mixed and matched.
Here’s Rattle Shake, of the Undead Element and the Bounce SWAP Force power.
If I mixed Magna Charge with Fire Kraken, a Fire Element Skylander with a Bounce SWAP Force power, I could get Magna Kraken or Fire Charge: Skylanders with dual elements and movement abilities based on whatever their bottom halves are. This would let me open gates of either Fire or Tech element, or let me open gates that have both Fire and Tech elements on them. Why yes, it is pretty disappointing when you have to pass up a door because you don’t have the corresponding figure– though as far as I could tell, the gates never barred you away from anything completely gamebreaking.
So it’s easy to see why a parent might end up getting suckered into buying every single Skylander for their kids, of which there are almost too many to count. Not only are the figures well-sculpted (though the figures in my starter set were glued to the package, causing the paint to rip as they were pulled out), they’re also hefty. Considering they’re virtual toys as well as physical ones, I’m inclined to call an extra Skylander a good investment for the $10-$20 they cost, not including special edition toys. (Yes, these collectible figures abound on eBay.) One for each element, though? You’ll probably want to start a pool with your friends and share.
Now Rattle Shake’s been mixed with Magna Charge, and has the Speed SWAP Force Power.
Now that we’ve called a spade a spade, I’m going to backtrack a little, because while it’s definitely annoying to see a gate you can’t open without a certain figure, the game remains absolutely robust even with the starter set. SWAP Force plays like some extremely colorful Diablo or Gauntlet game. Players jam buttons to punch, shoot, and vomit (yes, really), and new to the series, jump, which makes the game a bit more of a platformer than previous entries in the series. Unfortunately, this also makes the game dependent on the movement capabilities of some Skylanders, and it was painful when certain Skylanders just didn’t have what it took to platform as well as the others. Some Skylanders are downright slow, or jump-impaired, and considering there is such a thing as a game over in this game (unlike in Lego games, for instance), using an objectively poor Skylander might cause some frustration. (You can avoid level restarts, however, by switching your injured Skylanders out for– you guessed it– brand new ones.)
Skylanders do improve over the course of the game, though, by leveling up and gaining new skills, purchasable via Mario-like coins. Skylander leveling and talent progress is saved for each figurine, and since talent trees culminate in a specialized, branched-off Skylander, there’s definitely a level of uniqueness even between similar Skylanders. This also means you can take your Skylander to a friend’s place and play with your character there, which is nice, because the game supports two-player cooperative mode. (This makes hat-finding really, really competitive.)
This gate is of the Life Element, meaning you’ll need to run out and pay $10 for someone who can run through it. And you’ll like it, too.
While the storyline of the game is standard Saturday morning fare, the dialogue is incredibly charming and sometimes downright hilarious, and the Skylanders’ various catchphrases often endear you to them even more than the money you paid for their figures. (Okay, I’m over it.) An almost endless variety of collectibles makes sure that even the most die-hard of gamers will want to keep replaying the game, and taking a page from Valve, wearable hats (with stats!) are hidden all over the place. While the game’s certainly at its best playing with wide-eyed new-ish gamers, pumping up the difficulty makes it great even for experienced ones. This, more than most any other “kid-friendly” game, is a game deserving of its E for Everyone rating.
Skylanders SWAP Force may seem like a cash grab in some ways, but the game their figures belong to is just so charming and, well, fun, that this doesn’t really seem like an issue. The gameplay’s addictive, the figures are well-built– screw the haters. I’m a Skylanders fan.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.