Over the past couple of years, Skylanders has become a surprisingly effective franchise for Activision, selling $500 million worth of games and figures alike over the last couple of releases, including 2012's Skylanders Giants. For its third go-around, Skylanders: Swap Force innovates even further, adding new characters that not only add a new dimension to the proceedings, but also the ability to change with them physically.
Kaos has once again returned, and this time he wants to sap the power of a magical volcano for his own evil deeds. In order to stop him, you guide characters known as Portal Masters, each with their own special abilities, against his evil forces, while working with a number of allies and collecting necessary goods to get through the game. It's not really too much of a change in formula from the first two Skylanders offerings, but there are new additions this time around.
First up, your character can jump. Yes, Skylanders do know the laws of gravity this time around, and can leap to higher ledges, rather than having to work their way across ledges to get to a specific gate. Vicarious Visions, filling in for long-time series developer Toys For Bob, did a good job addressing this specific gameplay issue with Swap Force.
The real draw, obviously, is with the new kids on the block. As with previous games, new Skylanders will be introduced across eight general classes – Fire, Tech, Water, Magic, Life, Air, Earth and Undead. Each one not only has abilities that tie in with those sources, but can also access special areas devoted to them that others cannot. For instance, one level may require you a Fire area, but you'll need to pick up a Lava Barf Eruptor – yes, that's a character – or Jade Fire Kraken, among other Fire characters, to get there.
Attacking is quite easy in Skylanders: Swap Force. As you journey through each pre-set level, you'll come across sets of enemies, whom you can unleash your powers on. Each character has two general attacks, either long-range or up-close, and players can swap them out on the portal at any time if they run out of energy or just don't feel like they fit with the current battle situation. Don't worry, the game will go back to the Portal screen anytime you do, so you don't risk game progress.
While some characters are being introduced as simple one-piece models – along the lines of the ones introduced in the first two games – others will fit into the Swap Force mantra, by featuring interchangeable top and bottom halves. These can change up their powers and maneuverability quite a bit, and you can change them on the fly at any time. 16 characters will be introduced with these powers, including Blast, Boom, Doom, Free, Freeze, Grilla, Hoot, Magna, Night, Rattle, Rubble, Spy, Stink, Trap, and Wash. The powers they can use include Zone, Stone, Shift, Shake, Shadow, Rouser, Rise, Ranger, Loop, Kraken, Jet, Drilla, Charge, Bomb and Blade.
How you play through the game depends on how you combine these abilities together. For instance, a Wash Zone Octopus/Pirate combo can travel faster while brandishing a cutlass and a gun, while a Rattle Zone will combine a top-half snake cowboy with bottom-half for both speediness and dead-eye aim with his pistols.
Upgrades will continue to play a pivotal part in Skylanders: Swap Force. With each character you use, you'll have the chance to earn new powers and make your Skylanders stronger, whether it's enhancing their gunfire or upper body strength, or speeding them up. Like previous characters in the game, your experience points stay with your figure, so even if you take them to a friend's house to play, you don't have to worry about starting over. Skylanders veterans will also be pleased with the fact that they can use their original figurines in Swap Force, without worrying about having to upgrade anything.
Along with the general story missions – in which there will be plenty of complete for hours of fun – Skylanders: Swap Force will also bring back the Versus arenas, where you can put two Figurines on a Portal and have them battle in a number of locales. Swap Force also has a slew of secret areas and mini-games that you can take part in, which open up a number of items that you can add to your collection. It'll take you a while to find all the bonus hats and goodies this time around, we assure you.
With bigger levels to explore, a number of new Skylanders to play with – along with your old ones – and plenty of bonuses to unlock through exclusive and hidden areas, Skylanders: Swap Force could very well be the best game in the series to date. It's also nice to see that Activision isn't just limiting the fun to current-gen consoles, as it'll be arriving on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 next month as well. Because you just can't stop the Skylanders, right?
Skylanders: Swap Force releases on October 13th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS; November 15th for PlayStation 4; and November 22nd for Xbox One.