Three years and two titles has made Skylanders a force to be reckoned with amongst toy stores worldwide, and with praise ranging from the engaging platforming to creative character design it was inevitable that we would see a next-gen installment of the cross-platform figure selling franchise. As a series it combines the lure of collecting cool figurines with the added bonus of actually being able to play as said figurines, so if you can't see why the games are so much fun then the odds are high that you must either hate collecting toys or are simply allergic to a childlike imagination or sense of wonder.
Developer Vicarious Visions was kind enough to give us a hands-on look at the next generation of the Skylanders figure series, and a small taste of the gameplay that's soon to heavily expand upon the Portal of Power.
Skylanders: Swap Force is a game that literally oozes the word expansive. Though the levels themselves are fairly straightforward platforming the character selection is absolutely massive, including the entire line of original Skylanders figures on top of the Swap Force figures which have their own brand new abilities to add to the already extensive selection of attacks. It's a refreshing take in an industry that's more than willing to abandon older products in order to incentivize buying new ones, and a good sign for both kids and parents that the support for their toys should go well on into the future.
The Swap Force figures themselves looks great and are just as easy to play with as the original series. Each character comes with their own unique special abilities that are broken into the top or bottom half of the model, and naturally these can be pulled apart and swapped around as any player sees fit. So for example if you're enjoying the snake-slinging western antics of Rattleshake, but would prefer charge ability of Boomjet's rideable turbine you simply swap around the torso for either model and slap it back onto the Portal of Power. The loading time for the swap is incredibly minimal which leaves players to experiment with combinations at their own leisure.
To that effect playing as the Swap Force characters are a lot of fun, as the combinations actually lend a bit of customization to a franchise that already had a lot going for it. Want to shoot some snakes while drilling flower turrets into the ground? Done. Whirl enemies around as a mini tornado while calling in air strikes? You got it. Punch someone with your gorilla sized drill hands while rolling about on a sphere of energy? Sure. Just messing about with the characters is good for a few laughs, and with plenty of attacks sorted for both halves of the Swap Force figures it's hard to imagine the mechanic getting old anytime soon.
Each level has its own challenges which require a certain element skylander in order to proceed. Challenges are straightforward minigames such as racing or an enclosed pinball, and can actually require a certain degree of skill to work with. Because each challenge is only accessible by certain elements this at least ensures that most figures will see a rotation on the portal; a bit of an added bonus for anyone afraid that only one or two of the Swap Force figures would see too much screen time. Some challenges even require multiple elements, unlockable through either a single skylander that uses both elements or two skylanders (a second player) that have one matching element each.
Though the platforming may be straightforward world design appears to be quite vibrant; and the brief amount of time we played with the game had us visiting snowy fields, dense jungle, and cave waterfalls with a fair amount of exploration and puzzle solving all about. Players are further encouraged to swap figures by the occasional zone powering up a particular type of element, making skylanders of the matching element stronger.
Most importantly is the scope of the game, the idea that players are taking part in a grand cinematic adventure is what Vicarious Visions is really trying to capture. It has a certain vibe that draws heavily from Saturday morning cartoons, both in its animation style and sense of humor, only instead of sitting back and watching your favorite characters go through the drama you're involved in it. Everything from the fantastic level design to the intentionally over-the-top voice acting is meant to grab players into the excitement and never let go.
Although we'll have to wait for the final release to see whether or not the game manages to capture the full scope of that ambition things are looking very sharp so far.
Skylanders: Swap Force releases on both current and next gen consoles (including the 3DS) on October 13 in North America and October 18th in Europe.