Skylanders: Swap Force sits at a bizarre precipice on the Nintendo 3DS. When we take a look the console version the entire package is really easy to break down and digest. Physical toys that you play with, easy to access co-op, very simple portal system, and of course the iconic characters that tie it all together. It's something meant to be sat down with and enjoyed in front of a television, a time investment that you or your family makes all together. But the Nintendo 3DS violates that logic just by being a handheld and in doing so raises a quite a few questions, the most important being: where does this game fit in?
The good news is that Swap Force 3DS does have a place, though it is in a very different place. Players familiar with the series won't find themselves too far from the console version, with most of the core mechanics finding themselves intact on the handheld. The game is still heavily oriented around platforming, moving from one point in the level to another with all kinds of explorable bonuses in between. Having a wide array of Skylanders at your disposal makes it easy to engage in most of the content, and players will still require particular Skylanders to access certain portions of each level.
Challenges, though not as numerous, are still present throughout each zone and must be unlocked using a particular element of Skylander. Other collectables throughout the zone, such as hats, are still present and are often hidden in really creative spots; sometimes requiring players to double back to a challenge or keep an eye out for unusual hidden platforms. Nothing ever becomes too difficult, nor does it ever reach the level of engagement on the console version of the game, but what's important to keep in mind is that Swap Force for the 3DS isn't a direct port but rather a complimentary companion.
Level design follows suite as well and players will find themselves moving through a wide range of environments as they travel about the world. Every level has a theme that you progress through, split into multiple stages broken into smaller story elements. It all follows the same theme as the console version with each level taking on a particular theme (a forest level, a sandcastle level, a robotic factory).
Of course everything revolves around swapping Skylanders around, which almost seems like a burden on the 3DS given that the Portal of Power is such a dominant piece in the Skylanders equation. Fortunately the system for the 3DS is simple, and only ever requires players to place their characters on the portal once in order to have the information saved to memory for good. From there players enjoy swapping through characters by simply using the touch screen, which can be done at any point in time.
Skylanders still level individually, and many of their mechanics remain intact, although there are some exception. Instead of leveling a character and selecting which upgrades you want, all characters now earn individual experience and unlock new abilities depending on their own level. Additionally some characters may have slightly different moves from the console to the 3DS version, to compensate for the change in level design. Stealth Elf is a great example, as she is able to do far more from the start of the 3DS version than she is in the console port. This makes a lot of figures more engaging on the handheld in some ways, while at the same time staying true to the core personality of the character.
Unfortunately there are a few downsides to the portable version of the game, mainly oriented around content. Rarely is the game ever as engaging as the console version, nor does it really encourage the use of the Swap Force figures as much. It's fun, but lacks the enthusiasm brought forth on the big (less portable) screen; and the absence minigames and small handful overall challenges is a disappointment as well. The lack of a real co-op component diminishes some of the franchises' fun factor as an icing on the cake, and though it's a bit unfair to compare the handheld game to Swap Force for the Wii U, it's hard not to be reminded of what the console version of the game has to offer.
Graphically the game holds its own, and although the 3D effects won't be blowing anyone's mind the level design is flashy and memorable, staying true to the colorful theme of the franchise. The game also offers some decent voice acting during story or Boom Town cutscenes, which is great to hear.
Swap Force 3DS isn't a title that stands out on its own very well from a development standpoint, but as a feature to a much larger string of franchise properties it gets the job done quite nicely. If you're someone who enjoys the console version and wants a way to get extra mileage from your figures the 3DS game is a godsend, adding plenty of extra things to do with your favorite characters. Most of its limitations are only noticeable because a superior product (the console version) already exists, but removing that from the equation leaves the 3DS game still standing as a bit of decent fun in the Skylanders world.
|Character design very well-tuned for the 3DS|
|Swapping characters is very easy and portable friendly|
|Platforming challenges are fairly engaging|
|Lack of Swap Force challenges are a disappointment|
|Not quite as interactive as the console counterpart|
|No character ability customization is a let-down|