STAFF REVIEW of Skylanders Swap Force (Xbox 360)

Thursday, October 31, 2013.
by Stephen Cameron

Skylanders Swap Force Box art It’s that time of year again where parents, kids, and those nutty gamer collector types are staking the local department stores for their Christmas toy fix. Two years ago Activision and Toys for Bob released an industry revolution called Skylanders Sypro’s Adventure. It was based on the Sypro franchise, but came with a twist; the toys! The game and toys turned out to be a huge success story, selling over 500 million dollars in retail sales, and it was crowned the number one toy that holiday season (2011) by several media outlets, including us!

This year Activision has decided to hire the services of the notorious developer, Vicarious Visions. This studio is well known for titles such as the Transformers series, a few Tony Hawk games, Guitar Hero series, and believe it or not, Skyanders. Primarily for iOS and the 3DS! So, right off the bat we’re were left in good hand with this experienced developer. I’d like to believe that Activision is maybe doing the Call of Duty thing, where one developer alternates with each other every other year, but that remains to be seen.

As you first load up the game, and if you have the previous, bulkier “Giants” portal plugged in, it will quickly ask you to replace it with the newer shorter version. I guess there new stuff in that there portal and I suppose it's to accommodate the new magnetized Swap Force Skylanders. However, every single Skylander will work on the new portal, even Trigger Happy and Gill Grunt from the vanilla days so it’s all good.

On with the game itself. The menu system look awesome, the graphics team that put this one together did an awesome job and everything is well placed and easy to find. As I navigate forward, the first thing I noticed was that there were only three save slots, though I have no idea why they’ve scaled this back, it’s only hard disk/cloud space after all. Strange change overall.

Once you’ve selected you’re save slot for story mode, you get to pick from a few different difficulty levels. If you’re got small children, put it on easy. Why? Vicarious Visions has really tweaked the AI from the last two games and now making the difficulty ranking is more accurate than the previous two titles.

The Skylanders franchise is heavily focused on the cinematics and storyline. For my kids that’s an awesome thing. My son gets all excited when he defeats a boss, or Chaos for that matter, because he’s seen the evil backstory from the previous two games, and that’s really cool. It teaches him to pay attention and focus, because we all know some children have the attention span of a gerbil right? (Just kidding son) The only real pet peeve I have with the spoken dialogs (in the cinematics) is that you can’t fast forward thru them, and that needs to be changed.

Within minutes, you quickly realize that this version Skylanders is different, but yet very familiar. The visuals are where the biggest and the most noticeable upgrades are. You are getting a game that is getting ready for next-gen systems. Although the past games looked decent, Skylanders Swap Force looks incredible. In the past it always felt like we were getting a Wii port, thus the graphical integrity would take a step back. This time with the new developer, I think they took it upon themselves to give the franchise a kick in the butt, their own way. What this means is (without disrespecting Toys for Bob) this developer has taken the franchise to a whole new level.

The visuals, the music, the sheer size of the levels, and the little things such as the framerate stutter is gone when you drop a new Skylander on the portal. Everything is pretty much a five fold upgrade! To be quite honest, with the little bit I saw at E3 this year I was going in to this version of Skylanders thinking it was going to be another Guitar Hero type of upgrade; too little for too much. Man I was wrong. Giants to me felt it was a lesser upgrade than this one, meaning the bang for the buck.

As I mentioned before the levels are HUGE this time around, and lot larger than the previous two titles. I’ve also noticed that they feel significantly less linear. As you play through the first few levels you will also quickly notice on the harder difficulty levels that you will get your low level Skylanders killed at a higher rate. Sometimes even “one shotted”... especially in the 1-6 level range.

The character selection this time is very impressive as there are less “old” recycled Skylanders this time, meaning you’re not going to end with five different Trigger Happy’s. There are more original characters and that's refreshing! Although there is a significantly better selection, my daughter, who which loves this franchise, quickly noticed the lack of female characters. She didn’t like that at all, plus she’s five. My son on the other hand was just happy to play another Skylanders game! He’s usually my co-pilot in these crazy adventures and loves to try them all. Personally, I’ve stuck with same Trigger Happy character from Day one. Why? I’m not sure. Possibly it's just that I'm getting old. Another great addition is that all the characters can jump now! Finally! Not sure why this wasn’t there before.

Another welcomed upgrade is the in-level upgrade purchase eggs. What this you ask? They are blue egg-shaped objects that allow you to buy and upgrade your powers on your Skylander. Inside the levels themselves, no need to run back to the village to buy powers! Very nice!

The folks over at Vicarious Visions have added a new portal master ranking system. Not sure what the cap is but, it boils down to the move you play the more you rank up. With these level you can unlock and buy more stuff, such as levels, hats, etc. I don't think I need to dive into this too much, but we'll see how this level thing plays out later. The familiar character levels are there and the cap has been increased to level 20.

The various arenas modes are very fun! Think of it like horde mode with Skylanders! My eight year old son found it tough, but he quickly got used to it. But, when he saw the payoff, he loved it. Well done!

What I wish existed was a method to transfer the gold from one character to another. If it’s been added, I never saw it. We’ve got in our Sklylanders collection to over 60+ now and coffee table looks like a small mountain made to characters. Kind of freaky. But, truth be known, my kids love this franchise!

The one last request is to add Xbox Live multiplayer for arenas or coop play. Don't stop giving us awesome stories and gameplay for this franchise. As stated in the past, there aren’t many games that we can play as a family, but this gives it to us!

Overall, Skylanders Swap Force is definitely worth getting because you really don’t need to buy all the new regular characters, you can just buy the new Swap Force gang, and use all your old characters from the previous two titles (if you own them). DISCLAIMER: Buying this title is highly addicting if you are the hoarder, collector, or straight up gamer! You’ve been warned!

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.2 / 10
Sound: 9.1 / 10


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