(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 2 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 2.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 3.5 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 2.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
Skylanders SWAP Force
- Street Date:
- October 13th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- November 8th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Vicarious Visions
- ESRB Rating:
- E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)
Version reviewed is the 'Skylanders SWAP Force' for the PS3, provided by Activision. There are some special versions such as the Dark version and the Adventure pack version, which are not covered here.
In October of 2011, developer Toys for Bob, backed by the publishing powerhouse that is Activision, released 'Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure'. It was an experiment that seamlessly blended a physical toy line with the video game universe of the same name. Individual Skylander toys are placed on the 'Portal of Power' and are magically brought to life to be fully controlled on your television. Developed for console, PC, and handheld, it quickly became the vehicle by which Activision was able to print their own money. Millions of children found addiction among the eight separate (and separately purchased) Skylander elementals – and across 32 standard characters – that helped the game to become one of the highest selling new IPs of 2012. Now, two years and two iterations of the Skylanders adventure later, Activision, with the development efforts of Vicarious Visions, is taking the toy / video game concept to the next level with 'Skylanders: Swap Force.'
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
While the core game mechanics remained consistent across the 'Spyro's Adventure' and 'Giants' iterations of the franchise, 'SWAP Force' reflects a more serious attempt to make the gameplay more in line with (young and old) gamers' expectations. (Hurray jump ability!) At the same time, the 'Skylanders: Swap Force' story is just distinct enough from previous titles to further increase sales of the Skylander toy line while providing a surprisingly deep video game experience for children and adults alike.
Every 100 years the four ancient elementals combine their powers atop a volcano that replenishes all the magic within Skyland. During the last volcanic eruption the elementals were attacked by dark and evil forces. Coming to the elementals rescue, the Skylanders were trapped within the volcano's eruption, a blast that gave them an amazing new power and transformed them into the Swap Force. As epic as this may sound, it really boils down to the ability to mix-and-match (aka swap) the upper and lower halves of each individual Skylander from the Swap Force series.
The starter pack of Swap Force comes with the game, portal pad, and three individual Skylanders: Wash Buckler of the water element, Blast Zone of the fire element, and an un-swappable character from the life element, Ninja Stealth Elf. Conveniently, Skylanders from previous games will also be functional within the realm of Swap Force and may be used as playable characters.
During the mostly linear experience, players have the opportunity to work together to stop Lord Kaos and his evil plot to capture and transform the four elementals before the next volcanic eruption. The story is easy to follow and provided enough excitement and laugh-out-loud moments that both my daughters (ages 7 and 8) had a memorable experience.
Enjoyed as a co-operative game for the PlayStation 3, my daughters were quick to manage the controls and always understood their objective. The game did a wonderful job of prompting them in the right direction and provided constant tips and tricks for successfully navigating each level. A quick reminder that certain Skylanders are stronger in specific areas, or are required to unlock specific gates and chests, helped them to better strategize and work together more effectively while never diminishing the fun factor.
As an adult who has enjoyed gaming for many years, I was surprised by the depth Swap Force provided. More than a simple game designed for children, each playable character has the ability to level up from experience gained and treasure found, and each half of the Skylander – upper and lower – can be leveled up individually, making the swap ability all the more intriguing. Combining individual Skylander elements has the potential for incredibly powerful Swap Force creations.
While Playing Swap Force, I was reminded of games like Diablo 3 where loot was so integral to the overall experience. Although on a smaller, and less mature scale, Swap Force isn't much different. The importance of gathering loot while completing missions, and the benefits of doing so, is enough reason to search every nook and cranny for the next chest or breakable object typically associated with loot drops. While the gameplay of Swap Force is light, the addictive loot collecting and deeper-than-expected RPG elements make 'Skylanders: Swap Force' an enjoyable experience for gamers of every age, alone or together.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
When searching for a family movie to stream over Netflix, or rent from the few remaining brick-and-mortal stores, there is an obvious distinction between children's animated movies. There are the 'Toy Story' and 'Monsters Inc.' of the world, and then there are the one-offs and direct-to-video titles that inevitably never live up to your children's hopes and expectations. The video presentation of 'Skylanders: Swap Force' falls into the latter of those categories.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the presentation of Swap Force, the quality of it was on par with direct-to-video rentals. The animations were just good enough to keep the story moving while consistently entertaining a younger audience. For those more mature gamers – those accustomed to 'Uncharted' and 'The Last of Us' – it was a bit lacking.
The environments, although varied, were always a bit bland yet still maintained a colorful palette. The lip synching with the audio was always just a vowel or two off. And the bigger, more epic, moments of the story never fully lived up to their intended effect. Of course, none of this altered the overall enjoyment of the game, but it was clear that the developers were more focused on gameplay than on presentation.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Some of the voice actors from previous Skylanders games make a repeat performance with Swap Force. Characters like Lord Kaos and the bumbling yet lovable Flynn (wonderfully portrayed by Patrick Warburton) absolutely steal each and every scene they are in. Additionally, as you progress through the story, you'll encounter an impressive amount of new characters, each with their own voice (lip synch issues aside) and personality.
Unfortunately, I found an odd, and somewhat annoying, issue with the volume levels of Swap Force; particularly when jumping from in-game play to cut scene. There was never much consistency, and I always found myself adjusting the volume of my Denon receiver. It was an unfortunate side effect and one that I'm uncertain is specific to just the PlayStation 3 version.
The replay factor of 'Skylanders: Swap Force' will very much be a catch 22 for most gamers (or parents of gamers). On the one hand, there is more than enough added value provided to continue playing Swap Force for an extended period of time. However, it is required that you purchase additional Skylanders in order to do so. When considering the initial cost of the starter pack for Swap Force, parents might second guess adding to their child's enjoyment of the game as often as they may be asked to do so. But, therein lies Activision's marketing genius. It has been a remarkably successful formula for them since the release of Spyro's Adventures and it is unlikely they would want to change now.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
As the campaign progresses, players will have opportunities to unlock a variety of challenges that then become available to replay from the main start up screen. These challenges can be played solo or with a second player and are added to other arena type challenge missions. In the end, there's plenty to keep even the most enthusiastic of gamer occupied for hours on end.
As a father and dedicated gamer, 'Skylanders: Swap Force' is that rare game that satisfies on a variety of levels. It makes me proud to see my daughters handling a PlayStation 3 controller with near pin-point accuracy, and puts a smile on my face as we mutually enjoy the same game when played together. As I have already come to realize, these gaming opportunities with my children will not last forever and I appreciate the effort Vicarious Visions put into the development of Swap Force. It was a pleasure to play solo and should not be missed if you are a parent of younger gamers.
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