Seeing this review hit the rack here at DBG, you may be wondering what’s going on here? Why is DBG doing a review on what is seemingly a kids game? I could give you a diatribe about the future of gaming, mixing kick-ass figurines into our adult games and the like – but really that’d just be a load of BS to fill the pages.
The real reason is it’s all that has been spoken about for the last 3 months in my household and as a new contributor here at DBG, I figured what better game to start with than one that gives parents the world over much needed peace and quiet!
Swap Force is the third instalment of the Skylanders franchise, yet another incredibly successful title from the Activision stable. Quickly to recap – Skylanders is the game you have seen advertised everywhere that takes a character in physical figurine form and via a portal (plugged in via USB to your console), transports that character into the game. You can then run around as that character saving the day, all individual progress is saved to the character, gold, abilities, power ups and the like – so that you can then take your figurine over to a friend’s place, put him on another portal and play your own guy in your friends game.
When it was first released it was a huge hit and a mammoth technological advancement – now we see titles such as Disney Infinity following suit and no doubt there are more to come – now back to Swap Force.
Like the first two titles in the franchise, Swap Force has its own batch of kooky, crazy characters to run around with. Though as we’ve come to expect from each new Skylanders game there is a twist – 16 very special “Swap Force” figurines can be pulled apart and have their top and bottom halves mixed and matched…
For example one of the starter pack SF characters you get is Wash Buckler – a blunderbuss and cutless touting octopus – another is Blast Zone – a fiery knight with a love of explosions. You can take the top half of Wash Buckler and the bottom half of Blast Zone and connect the two to create “WASH ZONE!”
A character with the capabilities, weapons and powers of Wash Buckler’s top and Blast Zone’s bottom.
Don’t worry you’ll get it when you’ve got the characters in hand. The really big thing about this new twist is it creates hours upon hours of extra game play as you attempt to complete all levels, tasks, quests and the various mini-games with each character and all of their combinations.
On top of the new standard (i.e. not swappable) Swap Force Skylanders, the 16 Swappable figurines allow for over 250 possible combinations.
The entertainment value in these new swappable’s is really something special for the kids – my two boys still love the fact they can put a figurine on a portal and watch as he gets zapped into the game – but now with the ability to pull these figurines apart and re-create them in any combination they want – they’re going absolutely nuts. It’s like they get to be that evil kid from Toy Story, the one who pulls off toys heads and sticks them on skateboards……or just blows them up!
But how does the actual game play factor in? We’ve seen various novelty items hit the shelf in the past and they just don’t measure up – often they’re very quickly tossed aside for the next thing to come along.
Well Activision and Vicarious Visions made one monolithic change to the game mechanics of Skylanders Swap Force, something so huge that it has completely altered how you interact with the world of Skylands.
Your Skylanders can now jump!
Now I know what you’re thinking if you’ve never played this game before – “Your characters couldn’t jump?!?!?! What the?” And you’d be forgiven for thinking that.
The Skylanders got vertical in the first two titles via the use of bounce/jump pads – using these they could get around the world without too much hassle – but even still as a long time gamer, who has played everything from Alex the Kid, the original Zelda through to World of Warcraft and Call of Duty; something just felt like it was missing.
Adding the jump ability has completed that game play jigsaw for the Skylanders franchise and as a result, it has become neigh impossible to put down – even now at 32 years of age, playing just for the purposes of “reviewing it for DBG” – I don’t want to put the controller down.
Visually the game has really improved as well – in some areas there is an almost World of Warcraft feel to the visuals, nothing overt, just that faint recognition of “I’ve seen that before and I approve.”
While there wasn’t anything in the media that linked the WOW design team to the development of Skylanders, it’s not a huge stretch to assume the sharing of design ideas between the development teams happened. Especially seeing as Activision and Vivendi (who owned Blizzard) merged back in 2008 to form Activision Blizzard Inc.
All of that aside, the proof is in the pudding and visually the game is stunning – it is incredibly hard to fault.
But for parents there is something that will really prove to be an ace in the hole for the franchise (if it hasn’t already) – ALL of your Skylander figurines from the previous titles are compatible AND can be played in Swap Force! In fact to get some special items, treasure chests and access to special areas you will need some old characters from Giants and the original.
Why is this an ace in the hole though? Well because this backwards compatibility means all those old Skylanders have just been given a new lease on life. It is not a case of a new title – a completely new series of characters that have to be purchased – there are many many many more gaming hours to be had from your original Skylanders and Giants Skylanders (as well as your new Swap Force characters).
This backwards compatibility could really teach the industry a thing or two and it shows that Activision is really understand whose wallet is paying for the product.
Skylanders is really a great family oriented franchise, there is no guts and gore, any violence is comical and hilariously slapstick – the blunderbuss carried by Wash Buckler, fires bubbles and as it gets upgraded…..bubbles with piranhas in them!
It’s something that your kids can play and enjoy (and you too, but we won’t tell anyone) – and you don’t have to worry about how it might be influencing them. Though you may need to referee the occasional battle between siblings as they fight over who gets to play which character.
At the risk of sounding overly gushy in my first review here at DBG, and knowing how much we do not pander to publishers/developers egos – I still have to give Skylanders Swap Force a 5 out of 5 – it is simply a masterpiece of family gaming. Well played Activision and Vicarious Visions.