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Skylanders SWAP Force Preview: more than just another children's game

28 August 2013

The Skylanders series has quickly become one of the most profitable franchises in entertainment, and for good reason. The toy infused video game series has created a real sense of physicality in video games by bringing your toys to life. Skylanders SWAP Force, the series' upcoming entry, takes this mechanic to a new level by allowing players to fuse or “swap” two different characters into one new character. 

Vicarious Visions will be introducing a new lineup of sixteen SWAP Force characters all capable of performing the aforementioned ability, and each will have their own unique abilities and element types. Including the top and bottom halves, there is a total of 256 combinations between all sixteen characters. Apart from creating fun looking creatures, swapping two different characters can provide serious advantages when taking on different enemies or it's sometimes needed in order to get past certain elemental gates that require two different element types. In addition, each SWAP Force character’s upper and lower halves' special abilities associated with it, making each combination interesting and fun in its own right.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to get some hands-on time with Activision’s latest addition to the Skylanders universe. After watching a quick demo of the PlayStation 4 version, where I witnessed basic platformer gameplay and a couple racing mini-games, I got my turn to explore the comical world. But before being given complete freedom, I was told to test out a mini-game behind an elemental gate. To play this this mini-game, I was told I would need a Skylander with “spin." an ability that turns your lower half into a swirling tornado and also the ability of the bottom half of chicken SWAP Force character Free Ranger. I decided to combine Free Ranger’s legs with SWAP Force character Rattle Shake, a pistol-toting snake with arms dressed like a cowboy. With their powers combined, they formed Rattle Ranger, a trigger-happy snake with chicken legs.

In order to get to the mini-game, I needed to cross though a snow-covered level that was littered with little cyclops enemies and was told I could use anyone I wanted until reaching the mini-game gate. Much to my delight, Spyro the Dragon was among the playable toys and I immediately took control of my favorite purple dragon. Yes, this means that all past editions of Skylanders toys will be playable in Skylanders SWAP Force. Controls were smooth and felt familiar, as if I were playing one of my favorite platformers.

After roasting and head-butting anything in my path, I reached the elemental gate to launch the mini-game. I switched back to my creation of Rattle Ranger and jumped in. This mini-game consisted of three giant rotating, circular platforms with a statue at the center. The goal was to destroy the statue without falling off. The statues were surrounded by various breakable and not-so-breakable objects that caused you to violently bounce around when you came into contact with them. Each platform got progressively more challenging and, in order to win, all three statues had to be destroyed. 

Once I completed the mini-game, I was rewarded with a piece of a map, whose purpose wasn’t revealed during my time with the demo, only that it was uncommon to get. The common reward for beating mini-games is a hat that can be equipped to your Skylander, providing a stat boost of some kind. There are dozens of hats within the Skylander’s universe, making the continual completion of mini-games worth your time.

Before the presentation was complete, we also got a chance to see a cutscene of the game’s main antagonist dramatically revealing his plan for total domination and bellowing orders at his subordinates. Much to my surprise and also making me very happy was hearing that the villain was being voiced by Richard Horvitz, the man behind the voices of my favorite animated characters Daggett Beaver from Angry Beavers and Zim from Invader Zim.

Overall, Skylanders SWAP Force exceeded my expectations and my time spent with the title proved to me that it is far from being just another game for children. It has the wit, charm, and polish that came to be expected from some of PlayStation’s most iconic franchises, like Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank. The quality of my brief experience immediately made me think that if I had kids, picking up Skylanders would be a no brainer, and, even though I don’t have kids, I’ve been tempted to pick up a copy and some toys just for myself. Skylanders SWAP Force showed itself to be a game that any kid, regardless of age, would have fun playing. Those same kids may even have trouble fighting off their parents when they see it in action.


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