Skylanders SWAP Force review: Once you SWAP the fun don't stop
I spent a lot of money on Activision's Skylanders Giants. When you have a four-year-old that looks at you with his adorable eyes and says, “Daddy, we don't have that one; we should buy it,” it's pretty hard to say no. So, after hemorrhaging cash out of my bank account to buy countless Skylanders Giants and Disney Infinity figures, Activision squeezes more money out of me with Skylanders SWAP Force, and it's worth every penny I've spent.
The story of Skylanders SWAP Force is simple but fun. For years and years, the SWAP Force protected a huge volcano that replenished the Skyland's magic. During an epic battle to protect the volcano, the SWAP Force were caught in the eruption, which blasted them apart and gave them the ability to swap powers. Now with their new powers, it's up to you, the Portal Master, and the SWAP Force to save Skylands.
SWAP Force lives by the idiom “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” Indeed, SWAP Force does not try to change what isn't broken, and instead improves upon parts of Giants that needed improving. Visually, the game looks stunning – leaps and bounds better than Giants, especially on the Wii U, which is what I reviewed it on. The new characters feature completely awesome animations and voice sets, but they also look genuinely impressive.
SWAP Force comes with a new Portal of Power that is a mandatory purchase with the starter kit due to the new technology of the SWAP Force characters. The SWAP Force characters are the special figurines for this game, kind of like the Giants from Skylanders Giants. While they cost more, they'll be required to access certain parts of each level. SWAP Force characters feature interchangeable top and bottom halves. The figurines have an awesome design to them, and the characters are a lot of fun to play as.
Swapping and combining the tops and bottom halves of different SWAP Force characters will create specialized characters with different abilities, elements and movement. For instance, combining the top of Wash Buckler and the bottom of Blast Zone will create Wash Zone. Wash Zone will be a combination of the water and fire elements of his counterparts, the abilities of Wash Buckler, and the movement of Blast Zone. Not only does this allow you to play as funky combinations of characters, but you'll be able to get through areas that require two elements to pass through, or a certain movement type. That movement type also affects the animation of how your character gets around and unlocks challengers or races meant for that movement type. It's like the Giants requirement from the last game, but 10-times better and more fun.
The game plays out the same as past Skylanders games. Each level involves a fair amount of platforming, hacking and slashing, and the combat feels better than ever. The biggest addition is the ability to jump – finally! In Giants, you had to use jump pads to vertically climb and get to higher platforms. Seriously, jumping makes SWAP force so much better than you could possibly imagine. Since I play with a four-year-old, it's easier for him to follow me around the jumping portions of the level instead of running up to a jump pad and trying to be shot up in the right direction.
Complete with new puzzles, loot and food being shared between players, tons of secrets, treasures, collectibles and hats to find, and side missions, this is the biggest Skylanders game yet. None of the puzzles get too hard to the point where younger gamers can't complete them, but there are definitely parts that my four-year-old can't do. I'd say six and up should be fine on their own. Even if you increase the enemy difficulty – which thankfully poses a bit of a challenge to more experienced gamers – the puzzles stay pretty much the same.
The Arena makes a return, with PVP and co-op matches, and it's a nice change of pace to the game. Everything you want to know about your character is displayed on the Wii U's GamePad, and if you want to play it on just the GamePad screen, it supports off-TV play.
SWAP Force is the best Skylanders game to-date. Yes, you have to spend quite a bit of cash to get the most out of the game, with figures ranging from $9.99 to $14.99. Trust me, though, it's worth it. The new characters and their swapping ability is a really cool feature and freshens up the game. With better visuals and gameplay that both young and old gamers can enjoy, Skylanders SWAP Force is an addictive adventure through the Skylands that I'll be playing for the foreseeable future.
[Reviewed on Wii U]