Skylanders Swap Force review: Toy Story

Skylanders Swap Force delivers on its promise to make you want more

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Wii U, Wii, 3DS, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Activision
Developer Vicarious Visions
Release Date Fall 2013

Skylanders Swap Force is a game with an agenda.

It wants you — or your children — to love it so much that you'll keep buying characters to unlock everything its world has to offer. And it makes its case, with well-paced action across smartly designed, sprawling stages.

The game opens up with a series of cutscenes that introduce you to the Skylanders' world of super-powered critters and cartoonish villains. We soon meet supporting characters Flynn and Tessa, two anthropomorphized woodland critters intent on saving the town of Woodburrow and the surrounding sky islands from the evil Kaos. The story is pure Saturday morning cartoon fare, written with the 10-and-under set in mind.

But you don't need to pay attention to the narrative to enjoy Swap Force — this is a colorful 3D platformer with a heavy emphasis on combat and the ability to swap characters on the fly. You'll run, jump and bash enemies through a series of primary-hued worlds, and in the process collect mountains of loot. Successfully navigating the story campaign means swapping from your collection of Skylanders — all of whom have their own associated "element" and their own special abilities.



The game ships with three "starter" characters — all of which are real-life figures that appear in the game when you place them on the "power portal." There are hundreds of creatures with which to play, if you care — and have the means — to collect them all. New to Swap Force is the inclusion of "Swap Skylanders" — figures with detachable halves that allow you to mix and match your heroes. Mixing and matching these guys was a lot of fun — I had a couple of trusty hybrids that became go-to characters after a couple of hours.


Swapping characters — and creating elemental mixes from the "Swap" Skylanders — is necessary to open special portals throughout the game, all of which offer bonus areas good for more loot. There are also Swap challenges that require you to have a Skylander with a particular ability to participate in.

This variety is Swap Force's greatest strength. Aside from the meandering paths, portals and character class-specific challenges littered around every stage, the core challenges of each level satisfied. I rode the rails of a runaway mine cart in a crazy Wild West town, beat up a German-accented evil crab in a crab-tank, navigated weird swamps with loud-mouthed frogs and solved simple jumping puzzles to restore music in cartoon saloons. I was never doing any one thing for too long, which kept Swap Force going strong throughout its relatively long campaign.

But the many mandatory cutscenes and character asides outlasted their welcome. Most story cutscenes are skippable — after a few moments, at least — but every time I wanted to upgrade my abilities in town, or visit the arena in order to level up, I had to sit through an aggravatingly slow dialogue scroll. Likewise, there were dozens of scripted events that required me to wait for a character's agonizingly dumb exposition to finish before I could set myself to task. Every time a new enemy appeared, a brief cutscene announced its presence. This quickly wore thin.



In any given level, I needed to collect coins to buy new upgrades, hats for combat buffs, story scrolls, "soul gems" that unlocked new powers, "legendary treasures" that gave game-persistent buffs and level-specific doodads that I'm still not quite certain what their purpose was. Swap Force is filthy with collectable material, which suits the real-world collection aspect as well. As the "starter kit" only comes with three characters, and you need action figures that represent each element, Swap characters with each ability and at least one of the previous game's Giants to unlock every path and bit of content — you'll need to amass a great deal of stuff in order to see everything Swap Force has to offer.

Swap Force also has a couple of troubling gameplay issues. Some characters simply move too slowly, lending a sluggish feel that carries over into their jumping ability. And while the automatic camera was typically OK, there were dozens of times where I wished I could make a slight adjustment to my angle. In one egregious example of both poor platforming and iffy camera placement, the camera was pulled out far and a UI element actually covered up my character at the point of her first leap. These oversights are unacceptable in a game that is, after all, a platformer.

Combat fares better. While it’s not exactly cerebral, there’s a pleasant depth to fighting and properly choosing and outfitting your hero. Each Skylander has a number of upgradeable abilities that serve them in fights, and enemy variety is impressive throughout, with a nice mix of ranged attackers and brawlers, many with their own elemental abilities. The need to level up your characters and spend cash wisely on new abilities adds a welcome bit of strategy to the game, and I quickly found myself building up my favorites.

Wrap Up:

Skylanders Swap Force delivers on its promise to make you want more

While only the dedicated — and deep-pocketed — will see everything Skylanders Swap Force has to offer, there's enough here to enjoy even if you only have access to the starters. The new twists to the formula — chiefly, the Swap characters — are a welcome addition, and the core gameplay is fast-paced and crammed with variety. If there's an agenda, Swap Force is worth playing despite it.

Skylanders Swap Force was reviewed using a downloadable retail Xbox 360 copy provided by Activision. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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