Skylanders is a series that has grown massively over the past few years. Originating as a simple reboot for the Spyro series using toys grew into a massive success for Activison & Toys For Bob. But the series had the helping hand of Vicarious Visions, producing a mobile light-gun style game for the franchise. When the series went for yearly releases, Toys For Bob asked Vicarious Visions to make an original Skylanders game for consoles.
This birthed SWAP-Force, being a game taking elements from Vicarious Visions 3DS releases of Skylanders games and Toys For Bob gameplay structure. When it originally released back in 2013, many were impressed with the higher production values and more platforming-focused gameplay. Being the template for all future Skylanders games going forward, does SWAP-Force hold up as a great action platforming adventure?
Years before the game begins, the SWAP-Force were tasked with taking down Kaos’ Mom from ruining the eruption ceremony that powers Skylands. They save the day but years later, Kaos is trying to use dark crystals to EVILIZE the land and corrupt the beings in charge of erupting the volcano. So YOU, the portal master, takes the Skylanders on a new adventure to save the world!
Very basic plot, but it works really well. This is largely thanks to the charming cast you encounter throughout the game and just the enjoyment of Kaos as a villain. He is evil but so campy, you look forward to whenever he pops up during a cut-scene. Flynn is also a noteworthy character, as he is the bumbling-showboating hero that doesn’t get much done but acts like he’s full of himself. Similar to Kaos, he has this campy persona to him that makes this work.
This is largely accomplished through strong voice acting, as both Kaos (Zim) and Flynn (Kronk) are voiced by very funny voice actors. Other members of the cast you encounter across the game world are funny and have charming lines too, but Kaos & Flynn steal the show. Sadly, the Skylanders really have no personality. That is to say, they have no personality within cut-scenes. They have creative animations, one-liners and are voice acted. But they never speak during cut-scenes. Considering they can be mixed & matched at any point in the game with another character, it makes since they have no role.
While this is an issue for me, later games (specifically Imaginators) solve this by having Legacy Skylanders have major story roles. The overall story for SWAP-Force works well and is very enjoyable.
The Gameplay & Design
Skylanders was described is Diablo with Toys for the first two installments. While that is a fair statement to make, that doesn’t fully apply to SWAP-Force. In many respects, it blends the platforming roots from Spyro and the action elements from the first two games. The end result is quite interesting, making an action/RPG morph into a proper action/platformer.
Basic design is structured with a little hub area where your character can run around to upgraded your moveset using gold you earn through combat/exploration, buy hats that can upgrade basic stats, and venture out on story missions. Each mission is very long, lasting 40 Minutes to an hour. Levels combine action combat using a simple three-button combat system, mild puzzle solving and basic platforming.
Combat only grows as your Skylanders level up and as they get more moves from shops, they can mix things up. You could your starter pack Skylander (Swash Buckler) use sword attacks but you can later purchase the ability to shoot our bubbles to encase foes for a short while. But every Skylander has two upgrade paths and they are locked to a specific path (unless you reset their data in the options menu). This makes them unique and in many respects, unique to you as the player. Sure you could get two of the same character but sticking with the one you have is rewarding.
Every Skylander from Spyro’s Adventure and Giants works within SWAP Force and they offer tangible rewards; every basic Skylander can unlock elemental gates if their match it and Giants can break open special boxes. So if you have older ones, they have purpose here outside of playing as Spyro or Jet-Vac again. SWAP-Force’s big gimmick is that you can take the top off a Skylander and replace it with another one.
This has major differences for combat, each half of a Skylander is mapped to different buttons. Mixing and matching movesets offers of diverse combat options and leads to encounters being fresh if you have a lot of SWAP Skylanders. Combat isn’t the only thing they offer though, as the bottoms of the SWAP Skylanders unlock special challenge gates. The Base Starter Pack contains the ‘Climb’ and ‘Rocket’ bottoms, unlocking those specific gates.
But others like ‘Dig’ and ‘Wheel’ unlock unique challenges to complete. They don’t offer much content wise outside of extra gold and more challenge levels to complete through harder versions. The ‘Rocket’ challenge is fun, with you hovering across gaps and getting to a goal area. If you do so while collecting special objects, you get more gold and a hat as an reward. While I don’t have issue of these challenges being locked behind the figures, my issue stems from the dual elemental gates. In Co-op, you can use any of the basic Skylanders to unlock them if you have the right combination of elements. But in Single Player, you cannot do that, which irks me as you have to use the SWAP Skylanders. Similar to the challenges, they don’t offer that much extra content so I’m not that bothered and the SWAP gates aren’t present much in the game.
With the basic level design outside of the above mentioned elements, I enjoyed many of the levels. They mix up mild puzzle solving and platforming challenges well. My favorite was the Forstfest Mountain, as it has a lot of platforming across icy pits and fun puzzles to solve. Levels also mix things up, with you frequently having turret-guns sections and rail grinding sequences.
Platforming is very basic due to the lack of a double jump but level design offers enough platforming to where it never gets to stale. Through a combination of combat that offers depth, fun level designs and engaging gameplay, Skylanders SWAP-Force is a well rounded package despite the Toys-To-Life money-grabbing elements creeping in time-to-time. Even then though, the Toy element (swapping parts of Skylanders) is really fun and mixes up combat in a creative way.
Skylanders SWAP Force is a beautiful game filled with great animation work and high production values. This is the game where Skylanders jumped from basic and static visuals too almost Pixar-level productions. The entire game world is oozing with color, having levels mix up themes and tropes often. You can find yourself in grinding on vines of a tree one moment and the next explore the dangerous frosty landscapes. Visuals never get stale and with effects adding depth to the game world, it continues to impress even later in the game.
Cut-Scenes should get special mention, as they have great squash and stretch making it feel as if you are watching a charming cartoon. Voice acting is great as well, with the cast really having fun within their roles. Kaos and his Mom specifically are great characters that bounce off each other well.
Music and sound is impressive, with the voice acting for well over 50+ Skylanders being filled with charm and unqiue personality. Basic sound effects are good, having the impact needed to feel important. Music impressed me, with an orchestral score having catchy beats and genuine atmosphere. Forestfest Mountain Theme 3 is a track that stood out to me the most, having a catchy theme but also feeling ‘mysterious’ in a good way.
It will take you about 6-8 hours to fully complete the main story mode but you can play completed levels on higher difficulty levels. You also have access to special arena challenges which can test how strong your Skylanders are. Co-op is fully supported across most (if not) all versions. Playing the game with different Skylanders adds replay value as while they all have the same functions, minor differences make replaying the game very enjoyable.
You also have time trails to complete as well, making one specific Skylander (Roller Brawl) very useful. This game has a lot of content for both single player and multiplayer.
Version Differences & Price
Skylanders SWAP Force released on many different consoles but the base game is the same. The PS4 and Xbox One versions look the best, running at 1080p and having the most stable frame rate out of all the versions; it looks fantastic on those platforms. The PS3/360/Wii U versions look great too, with the resolution being lower but the colors and performance still being strong.
The Wii version is the same content wise but took the biggest hit with visuals. Content wise it’s similar to the other versions, so if you want to play this, the only major difference is visual quality. Lastly, the 3DS version is a completely different game that focuses heavily on 3D platforming.
When this game launched, it was pricey but now you an find it really in-expensive. I got the Dark Edition of this game at my local GameStop for 17.99$ with an addition 20$ being used to get a few more Skylanders. So you can find this for a good price.
Overall: 4 out of 5
SWAP Force honestly surprised me, as instead of being the money-grabbing game many label the Skylanders series being, I was treated to a visually impressive title that offers fun gameplay. The game is nothing amazing and was clearly designed for younger gamers in mind, but the varied gameplay, tight combat mechanics, fun gimmick with the inter-changeable Skylander pieces and fun story help cement this as a quality family game.
Highly recommend this to any fan of the action/adventure genre and while it’s platforming feels limited, that is solid enough to recommend this to fans of platformers. Great game that started the formula the series continue to do down today.