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January 3, 2014 / Jett

Skylanders: Swap Force Review

The Skylanders franchise fell victim to the sophomore jinx.  Skylanders Giants failed to address the issues of its predecessor while its biggest innovation was a boring character class that actually made the game less fun and more difficult to play. Clearly having learned its lesson, the Skylanders are back in their best adventure yet.

New to the mix are Swap Force characters. These figures split at the hip, which allows you to mix-and-match them in a number of different combinations. As far as the figurines go, I think they look great and the swapping process is a breeze. The fact that they hold together via magnets is genius, since they swap very easily while eliminating the chance of breaking the connection points. Every copy of the game comes with two Swap Force characters so that you can immediately take advantage of their benefits.

The swapping mechanic comes to life in a number of different ways. Each Swap Force character has different abilities mapped to their top and bottom halves. For example, Blast Zone can throw bombs with his top half and rocket dash with his bottom half. Each half even has its own skill tree, which gives you more flexibility in terms of how the character evolves. There are also gated areas in each level that require you to either have a specific Swap Force character or a specific mash-up of characters to enter. On one hand, yes, it’s a devious attempt to get you to buy more characters. However, I think they do a good job of making those areas worthwhile. For instance, having access to Blast Zone’s rocket legs opens up a flying section in specific levels that spices up the gameplay mix. Because of all of this, I think the Swap Force characters are the best innovation to the franchise yet.

Innovation didn’t stop with just the figurines. Created by a new developer on a new engine, the guts of the Skylanders experience has been refined quite a bit. On the PlayStation 4, the combination of great art direction, 1080p and a solid framerate make for a game that is stunning to look at. This is a big jump, as I’ve never felt that these games ever did much for me visually. Better yet, characters can now jump, which has been a glaring omission since the original. The ability feels perfectly natural here while adding a new level of complexity to the level designs.

It all comes together in a way that finally realizes the franchise’s original vision. Every level is a joy to fight through and explore with however many Skylanders figures you have handy. Of course, having more has its benefits, but you’re not missing out on the core experience with the three you get in the box. The series has struggled in the past with finding ways to keep the action fresh (such as the awful Skystones mini game in Skylanders Giants) but it handles the action outside of the core combat with ease while making it fit perfectly with the overall experience. I also appreciate how the game on PlayStation 4 maintains its gorgeous look at 1080p without any sort of dips in the framerate. Whether you have any experience with the franchise or not, Skylanders: Swap Force is something I can heartily recommend as a solid action adventure game.

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