The main selling point of the Skylanders series has always been its ability to bring action figures to life. By placing physical toys on the bundled Portal of Power device, they instantly appear in the game with their own statistics, abilities, and personalities. Each character has its own experience, skills, and level properties. And this means that each must be levelled individually in order to unlock all of their abilities.
The narrative in Activision’s latest instalment, Skylanders: Swap Force, sees you attempting to prevent a generic bad guy from taking over the world. It’s nothing especially outstanding, but the characters are well designed and the events that occur are usually interesting enough to be entertaining. Humour plays a huge role in just about everything in the game. The jokes are silly and the dialogue is humorous enough to bring a smile to children of all ages.
Killing enemies, smashing boxes, and completing challenges will all yield treasure which can be spent on improving the Skylanders’ abilities. Most of these are unique, and they offer a compelling enough reason to sample many different types of Skylanders in order to see which suits your style best. You can also customise each character with a variety of hats.
The physical figures are extremely well made and full of detail. The big twist with this iteration is, of course, that you can swap parts of the Skylanders in order to create fresh characters. With hundreds of toys to obtain, it should keep the collector embedded inside of you busy for a while. Of course, keeping up-to-date with all of the pieces of plastic is a costly endeavour, too.
As already alluded, the big twist with this iteration is the ability to create hybrid heroes. In a way, this allows you to customise the game to your personal tastes, so if you don’t like the rolling attack of Wash Buckler, you could perhaps mix in the boosting rockets of Blast Zone to create Wash Zone. Incredibly, each individual part levels up independently, and boasts branching skill trees.
Gameplay employs traditional hack-and-slash mechanics. Some of the Skylanders have more unique battle strategies, but most require you to spam the square or circle buttons in order to eliminate foes. After you’ve beaten a handful of enemies, the combat starts to grate a little, and unfortunately it remains that way for the rest of the game.
There is a fairly large array of enemies with unique abilities that help to keep things feeling somewhat fresh, but many of them share similar attacks, animations, and strategies. The boss fights offer a slight challenge, and are generally well designed, but the combat rarely feels rewarding in spite of this.
Each area in the game will grant power bonuses to a particular type of character. While this is rewarding to those that own various types, the title also locks many locations to a certain breed, too. This is undoubtedly a fantastic marketing strategy, but requiring you to buy certain characters in order to enter specific zones feels a little shady.
Still, when you finally do access those areas, you’ll finally about to leap through them. Unlike previous instalments, each Skylander now has the ability to jump – it’s just a shame that this mechanic often feels sluggish and unresponsive. Timing some hops is overly difficult due to static camera angles and proves extremely frustrating. Considering the target age group of a game like this, more forgiving and responsive diving mechanics would have made the addition to the title much more fun.
Even with questionable jump systems, the game introduces many different minigames throughout the story in order to help mix up the slow paced action. Some of these are puzzles that require moving blocks or lighting up panels, while others are as bizarre as racing up a mountain using octopus legs. These are well spaced and serve as an enjoyable addition that prevent the game from getting bland.
Adding a second player to the battle does make the title immensely more enjoyable, too. While the release only supports two people, each participant can swap their Skylander at any time. The title is even clever enough to adjust the enemy difficulties so that if your friend brings a toy at a much higher level, it won’t turn into a total bore. Working together to solve puzzles and clear out waves of enemies is absolutely the way that this game was designed to be played.
It’s apparent that a lot of work went into the voice acting as well. Each character has a clearly defined personality that’s brought to life by the top-notch voice work that perfectly complements the style of the game. The combination of the sold acting and energetic soundtrack make for a pleasing audio accompaniment to your journeys.
That said, it doesn’t exactly scream next-gen in the visuals department. The textures are still bland, and the polygons are often a bit jagged. Nevertheless, each world is still brightly coloured, and the unique environments augment plenty of variety.
Skylanders: Swap Force is clearly geared towards a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean that fans of hack-and-slash platformers should ignore the title entirely. The idea of physical figures that you can control in the game is brilliant – if expensive – and it results in a solid experience that thrives with friends. Sadly, the slow pacing, repetitive combat, and awkward jump mechanics let the gameplay down in places, and prevent it from reaching its full potential.