Skylanders SWAP Force Review – Xbox One
Sharp visuals, addictive gameplay, ability to jump, and New SWAP Force characters
Expensive in long run if you collect all the figures; Not all new Swap Zones are accessible at launch
There’s only so much time that a series can remain unrivaled in the gaming world and the marketing marvel that is Activision’s toy-meets-video game franchise Skylanders is no exception as Disney moves in on their turf this year with their own toy-based franchise. I’ve played both the original games and after the last game I wandered just how they could up their game in the face of competition. Giants introduced a larger than life way to interact with the world of Skylands which was different though it pales in comparison to the depth of Activision’s newest addition, Skylanders: SWAP Force, for the Xbox One.
One of the biggest things to remember about Skylanders other than it’s going to involve a lot of money out of the pocketbooks of parents is that it’s largely designed for kids. This doesn’t mean that a kid at heart of my age doesn’t appreciate the effort that actually went into the story of this new adventure. Skylanders: SWAP Force tells the tale of a volcano that when it erupts replenishes all the magic in the Skylands. This volcano has been protected by a group of Skylanders known as the SWAP Force until one battle against evil when the eruption blasted them apart mixing their powers with others to create new Skylanders. It’s once again time for the celebration of the eruption and evil is once again plotting to cover the world in darkness.
As with the previous game your favorite Skylanders from all previous versions carry over into Skylanders: SWAP Force utilizing the new Portal of Power. It’s the titular characters that really drive this new adventure though with some new and unique features. One major new feature that has to be mentioned is the fact that all your Skylanders can now jump! This feature while it sounds small is a huge advancement for the console versions as it brings an added challenge to the experience and brings back some of the platforming heritage that the Spyro franchise is known for. Unlike its “narrow path” predecessors, SWAP Force now feels a bit more open and flushed out with multiple layers and more involved puzzles. There are plenty of hidden paths to discover though none of them are like those seen in the first game where the correct element was needed to trigger a secret path.
Elements still play a big part of Skylanders: SWAP Force like characters being stronger in certain areas or getting through element gates, but Vicarious Visions has taken things to the next level with the SWAP Force characters. These new characters while falling into one of the elements are designed to be separated at the waist and combined with the tops or bottoms of other SWAP Force characters to create 256 new and lethal combinations. The top half of these characters are your primary means of attack while the bottom halves will feature one of the eight movement abilities like teleportation or whirlwind. These new movement abilities not only allow your Skylanders to move faster in the levels once upgraded but gain you access to new Swap Zone challenge areas. Completing these fun yet sometimes tough and optional challenges with the proper character not only nets you a higher completion rate of the chapter but also unlocks more challenges outside of the chapter.
SWAP Force characters are heavily integrated into practically every asset of this new game like the fore mentioned challenge areas. They also are used to gain access to the newly created Dual-element gates which as the name suggests requires both of the required elements to be present near the gate to open it. The cool part is that this can be accomplished a few different ways especially when two people are using the drop-in/out cooperative play feature. You can either have two people with the required elements from any usable Skylander approach the gate or use the magnetically attached halves of two SWAP Force characters to do it which would be preferable in single player sessions. The downside as of this review is that several of elements needed like Earth element SWAP Force characters have yet to be released so 100% is almost impossible for single players. This goes for the special movement areas as well as the Stealth zone characters have yet to be released.
For those of you just joining the world of Skylanders, the important thing to remember about the highly detailed figurines you use to virtualize the character into the world is that they have brains in them. This allows each individual character to remember the skills you teach it, hats you put on it for stat boosts, coin count and if you so choose you can name them. That last part is useful if you or your kids plan on playing it over at a friend’s house and they have the same characters. The jewels you collect either by defeating enemies or breaking items act as your form of currency in the game. Each character has their own individual bank so it’s a good idea to share play time with your Skylanders so you can gain enough money to purchase upgrades. Skylanders: SWAP Force once again takes things farther with leveling up you Skylanders. Unlike traditional Skylanders figurines that only have one main upgrade path with a choice of offensive/defensive trees in the middle (i.e. Stealth Elf’s blades or decoy; SWAP Force characters have one for each half of their bodies. This way you can improve Free Ranger’s lower body whirlwind moment abilities while working on Blast Zone’s upper body fire and bomb based abilities at the same time if you so choose.
Skylanders: SWAP Force is the first title to hit a new generation of consoles so there’s always going to be discussions if it’s justifiable to switch over to a different system to play the next chapter in a franchise based on graphics alone like Skylanders especially given the cartoony nature of the series. As a reviewer, I own all three games now and not a one of them is on the same system, which matters little as they figurines are universal amongst their respected games and comparability. Skylanders: SWAP Force for the Xbox One definitely gains a leg/tentacle/claw over its last-gen counterparts in the graphical department though. The character models even on Series 1 figurines look sharper than ever before and the animations are crisp as ever. Due to the ability to jump this time around the new developers definitely used the opportunity to create some really pretty and complex worlds that are a beauty to behold. The boss fight with Mesmerelda which takes place on a theatre stage is easily one of my favorite set pieces in the game and was a blast to take on.
One of the things that I’ve always admired about the Skylanders franchise is that despite the games being marketed towards kids and families, there is a lot of love and detail put into its audio package. For starters, Lorne Balfe returns to deliver another amazing score feature hints of the Skylanders theme that I’ve come to love. There’s also the little show tune you get to see before you get to fight Mesmerelda that I found entertaining and very Vaudvillian in nature. The other thing that I have to mention is the amount of voice work that went into Skylanders: SWAP Force. Not only does it feature entertaining cutscenes backed by the easily recognizable stylings of Patrick Warburton, but there’s a rather impressive list of 58 voice actors lending their voice to the actual Skylanders you get to control don’t get to play her, I absolutely fell in love with the voice work of the Frost Elf Avril. The kids that this game is marketed for probably are not going to care about the voice actors behind their favorite characters but Skylanders: SWAP Force wouldn’t be nearly as fun to play without them as they bring character and life to the world they inhabit.
I have to say that Skylanders: SWAP Force is easily the deepest in the franchise both in story and content. Oh yes there is plenty of content for both the young kids and for someone like me who likes to 100% games of this nature. Skylanders: SWAP Force features a fairly long 17 chapter campaign with only a few of those being actual boss fights. As I’ve mentioned above it’s still impossible to 100% a chapter at this time but the nice thing is you don’t have to do everything in a single run. You can go back and do the missing areas or challenges like not having a single Skylander defeated throughout the level. As you play through the main game you can unlock new Bonus Maps, Challenge Maps and even complete quests for your individual Skylanders over time. Upon completing the main game you also unlock a Score Attack and a Time Attack Mode that adds a bit of a challenge to some already tough levels depending on difficulty. Score Attack mode has you going through a selected level tasking you with achieving the highest combat score possible by chaining attacks while Time Attack mode has you rushing through the level as fast as possible. Each mode earns you stars based on your results.
Skylanders: SWAP Force this time around also contains a rather cool Portal Master feature which rewards you depending how high your Portal Master rank is. Your rank is determined by nearly every facet of Skylanders: SWAP Force. Completing chapters earns your stars but so does defeating so many enemies or collecting so many winged sapphires (used to reduce cost of items and abilities) along the way. You even get rewarded for collectively placing so many of a certain element on the Portal and for trying all 256 different variations of SWAP Force combinations. Raising your Portal Master Rank also allows you to place Legendary Treasures (found in the Story or bought) on pillars scattered around the game’s central hub of Woodburrow. Each pillar is unlocked at certain level requirements and earns you the effect of one of the Legendary Treasures placed on them while playing such as raised defense against melee or ranged attacks or an increase in gold or XP earned. There is even a daily bonus that players get that would otherwise be unknown to you if it weren’t for reading/interacting with the sign at the starting area of the hub every time you play. The effects are random though all of the ones I experienced while playing like a Elemental Boost for example were quite useful in combat.
Skylanders: SWAP Force offers players plenty of opportunities for combat both in and out of the story. Separate from the story, though accessible through it, is the Arena Mode that allows a single player or friends and family to battle co-op or against each in one of the following battle types: Solo Survival, Team Survival, Rival Survival, Battle Arena and Knockout. Battle Arena and Knockout are the two true one vs. one modes where the only real difference is that one is won by knocking your opponent off the playing field. A nice ability here is that you can level the playing field if you or someone else has characters that are much higher than your own if you want to by selecting it in the match options. The Team And Rival Survival modes pit you and friend cooperatively or counter cooperatively against waves of enemies that want to take you down. Whoever has the highest score in Rival Survival however wins compared to a collective win in Team Survival.
I could go on and on about all the little details and features of Skylanders: SWAP Force but that would make this article longer than it already is or spoil things that need to be discovered and experienced by you the potential player. Honestly I had some reservations on either or not Skylanders: SWAP Force had what it takes to remain a strong and enjoyable title before even sitting down and playing it. Apparently my fear of this adventure not holding the level of magic and wonder that the original did was unwarranted as Skylanders: SWAP Force is every bit if not more enjoyable than the first entry. Skylanders: SWAP Force offers players a huge amount of content, plenty of replay value and a charming story with enough humor that even adults can love. If you’re just now thinking about checking out Skylanders or are a fan of the franchise already and own an Xbox One then this is a fun and must-own adventure to add to your collection.