You've been hankering to send a team of elite heroes to fight the forces of evil. Luckily, Skylanders Swap Force, the third game in this charming series, has arrived to sate the needs of returning collectors and newcomers alike. Like its predecessors, Swap Force places you in the role of a portal master, commanding the Skylander warriors to defend the Cloudbreak islands and prevent raving villain Kaos from plunging the Skylands into darkness. To summon your warrior, you place a Skylander figurine on the game's Portal of Power accessory; the game detects the figure and swaps it into play within a matter of seconds.
Swap Force is a solid action adventure game complete with a wide variety of lush, colorful environments, an extensive array of enemies to slay, and fun characters to interact with. This is a ridiculous, Saturday-morning-cartoon world, with goblins, trolls, frost giants, mechanical golems, bats, goo-based monsters, and startled sheep being hurled at you as you fight through the single-player campaign. The game's outstanding voice acting, complete with over-the-top performances from Invader Zim's Richard Steven Horvitz and Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton, adds warm humor and characterization that make the cutscenes a joy to watch. Horvitz provides a nigh-on-maniacal vocal energy in his role as Kaos, while Warburton slathers on intentional cheesiness as the pilot character Flynn. Little touches, such as a hot-swappable difficulty setting through the options menu, make it simple to adjust the difficulty to an easier setting if you are having trouble completing a level. Additional content, such as unlockable Time Attack and Score modes, offers new challenges and replay value to boot.
Swap Force has a good underlying structure that makes it easy to enjoy. The game's responsive controls make things feel snappy as you blast away at enemies from afar or venture in close to stun or bash those around you. Swap Force pushes the enemies to swarm you as you jump and dodge out of the way, fighting back all the while. As the levels progress, you learn to manage the battle around you, stunning or taking out weaker or ranged-attack enemies first before going after stronger enemies. In the more frenzied moments, I found myself using melee attacks to buy distance to move in, ranged attacks to take out clusters of enemies in relative safety, and a special attack to telepathically hurl either a kitchen sink or a nearby opponent at nearby enemies to clear space.
Although each enemy type tends to be limited to two or three basic attacks, Swap Force remains diverse by throwing a wide variety of foes at you. Each level features its own distinct units and works to a fevered pitch in which you simultaneously fight simple melee combatants, ranged attackers, and tougher, higher-end enemies. Role-playing elements deepen this simple but exciting foundation, allowing you to upgrade your character, equip items that improve your stats, gain new abilities, and become more formidable. One of the game's joys is that it doesn't spend too much time on any one thing. It's not just a straight shooter in which you slay hundreds of enemies in a given stage, or just a platformer in which you leap from one moving surface to the next. Instead, the game evenly blends melee fisticuffs, ranged battles, and environmental puzzles into a satisfying mix that draws you in and holds your attention.
Swap Force taps into the sheer joy of experimenting with new character combinations.
With Swap Force, you can physically split the magnetically attached top and bottom sections of your Skylanders figurines, joining them into new combinations and then warping them into your game. Once they're warped in, you can purchase new attacks and abilities for the top and bottom sections of your new characters on the fly via power-up stations found throughout the game and create cool new combinations, such as the half-robot, half-eagle warrior that I wound up using as my main character. Using these combinations don't substantially change the gameplay, but there's considerable joy in trying new combinations. In the case of my own character, I was able to blend my Skylander into a new unit complete with both strong ranged and melee attacks to create a character that could handle most combat situations it encountered. It's this kind of mixing, matching, and customizing that makes the game enjoyable to play, especially once you begin to experiment with new combinations.
There's a definite sense of accomplishment in reaching your character's next level, though the game doesn't tell you which attributes, if any, have been upgraded upon reaching the next level. Instead, you see more defined changes to your characters through purchasing new abilities, attacks, and wearable inventory items, which might increase your health, boost your standard attack, and so on.
In addition to a solid single-player campaign and unlockable Time Attack and Score modes, Swap Force features a Battle Arena mode where you can fight in Solo Survival, Team Survival, Rival Survival, and Ring Out modes, fighting with or against a human teammate. Arena battles work well enough, but don't evolve beyond basic button mashing, and feel like a side dish instead of a main course. Worse, Team Survival mode is punitive; players who die early in the game have to wait until their teammate beats the round or dies, because Swap Force fails to offer additional lives or a means of resurrecting friends. This flies in the face of the rest of the game's philosophy, which goes out of its way to be friendly and accessible; it's boring to wait around a few minutes before getting a chance to play some more.
No matter how old you are, you might get annoyed with Swap Force's static camera, which doesn't always provide the best possible angle and will have you longing for more control of your view. A greater annoyance is also a returning one: you can't unlock certain sections without purchasing specific Skylanders figurines or collections of them, which can come at a steep price. True, the game arrives with either three or five Skylanders figures, but it also frequently subjects you to advertisements for new toys, which can make the whole experience feel like a crass marketing campaign. The game's mechanics also encourage you to run to the nearest toy store. In certain circumstances, the game states that your character has run out of energy, and needs to rest so that another Skylanders figurine can be swapped onto the Portal of Power and pick up where your other character left off.
Despite its push to have you run out and buy additional figures, Skylanders Swap Force remains fun and charming for kids and adults alike. The new character combinations enhance the gameplay, expanding on what can be created and adding an interesting mechanic to the game. You may wind up shopping for new figures to unlock new content, which isn't a cheap habit to build, but Swap Force taps into the sheer joy of experimenting with new character combinations and building them from there.