In its continuation of annualization, Activision is bringing another Skylanders game to the table with Skylanders: Swap Force. This year’s title is still a great platformer packed with collectibles and imagination, but unlike last year’s Giants, this entry only feels like a half-step forward.
Skylanders: Swap Force brings the titular Swap Force characters to Skylands, allowing for new play possibilities. These characters separate at the midsection, splitting into a top and bottom half. These can then be swapped (get it?) with each other to create entirely new characters; put Blast Zone’s torso on Wash Buckler’s legs, and you’ve got Blast Buckler. Swap Force characters also possess one of eight unique abilities like climb, teleport, or bounce. Couple this with the new dual elemental gates (gates requiring two different elements), and you’ve got plenty of reason to mix and match your little pals.
Or do you? Skylanders: Swap Force has a problem I can’t ignore: greed. With the original Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, the only thing needed to unlock everything the game had to offer was a character for each element. In Skylanders: Giants, you needed just one Giant to experience the content intended for Giant characters. With this entry, Swap Force characters are only needed for Swap Zones – sections that use the aforementioned abilities; dual elemental gates can be passed with two characters in co-op. Even then, Swap Zones only need to be explored for extra hats or bonus maps. In short, the Swap Zone characters don’t feel like a needed or fully-used addition to the series; they feel like a cash grab.
Beyond its figurine faux pas, Skylanders: Swap Force still has things to offer. With the addition of jumping (yep, Skylanders couldn’t jump before), platforming has been reinvigorated. Block pushing “puzzles” are still totally lacking, but being able to hop around does change the way levels are explored. As you look for additional hats, treasures, or the level’s unique collectible, you’ll enjoy moving platforms and timed moves more than in past entries. A few turret sequences feel forced, but the levels overall are fun to experience.
Skylanders: Swap Force couples levels with boss fights, and these are also extremely enjoyable. They do fall into Zelda-esque “dodge the pattern, then attack” setups, but the scale and intensity of the battle overcomes this. The penultimate battle is especially fun, not mention surprisingly innovative in its fourth wall shattering. Regular combat has gotten a boost too, with in-level upgrade pods. I never felt overwhelmed, always having an upgraded, up-leveled character ready to go.
It’s sad then, that Skylanders: Swap Force does feel like a half-step forward. The Giants from the previous game are made moot here, and the new Swap Force characters feel completely underutilized. Gone is the diversion of Skystones in the previous game, replaced with optional Swap Zone mini-challenges. Sure, you can unlock bonus missions, but they’re nothing more than an extension for Skylanders 2.5.