I’ll admit it – I’m too old to play certain videogames. But when the Skylanders franchise became a steady force near the top of videogame sales charts, it became clear that games for a younger audience are in no way a niche product. Unfamiliar with the phenomenon, we dove head-first into Skylanders Swap Force, the third and latest entry in the series.
What Skylanders is all about is blending the videogame world with physical toys. It does so using a usb-powered portal that you connect to your console of choice – Swap Force comes out for all major consoles, including the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One. Placing a Skylanders toy on top of your portal starts up a sequence that children must surely experience as magical; within seconds, the toy is recognized and its digital counterpart appears on screen. The game also saves your character’s progress on the toy itself, so you can take it with you and insert it into other games while keeping your abilities intact.
The technology is fascinating, as is the marketing concept. There’s a whole line of compatible toys available, with each character offering different attributes and thus gameplay styles. Think of it as DLC, but in a non-downloadable, physical form – and at a higher price. We’ll elaborate more on this later.
In addition to the cool concept of blending the physical and digital world together, Skylanders Swap Force also offers a rich and diverse gameplay experience. Geared at younger gamers, the game is always accessible, but still manages to mix up a few different gameplay styles. There are platform elements that have you jumping and climbing around the various regions that make up the Skylands, but a fair share of the game sees you engaged in combat with the forces of evil. The combat is a basic form of hack and slash with simplified controls, but becomes ever more interesting when strategic elements are added.
This element of strategy often correlates with the different toy characters’ attributes and skills. Some (boss) enemies will require you to stay on the move to avoid getting hit, while others require sheer force. Going into the fight or challenge with the right attributes is the key to success here, and this is where the Swap Force part of the game comes in. Developer Vicarious Visions is introducing a number of special toys for this Skylanders adventure that allows you to mix and match the top and bottom parts of your toys to create all kinds of wacky and useful combinations. Swapping out your fast-feeted character’s torso with that of a powerful brawler might just give you exactly what you need, but might not be right for a future scenario that requires a more ranged approach.
The move towards swappable characters is brilliant, because it adds a layer of depth to the game that mature gamers will appreciate while still keeping the game as accessible as ever to kids. It also works as a marketing concept, because certain parts of the game are simply not accessible without owning a character that has the attributes needed for that section. As a parent, I could see myself cringing at the thought of having my kid beg for a new 15 dollar toy to unlock the rest of his game after just spending 75 dollars on the game itself. And then to go though the same thing a couple more times before the game is complete…
Still, battling through the storyline is fun and rewarding, with plenty of depth and character development along the way. It’s great to see that the developers did not treat the portal technology as a mere gimmick but incorporated it into an already very rich gameplay experience. The game would probably work as a ‘standalone’ title with all of the characters included in the game without needing the actual toys, but the addition of the portal create an element of real life magic that pushes the package from ‘good’ to ‘great’. To all kids who are asking for Skylanders Swap Force this holiday season – we totally get it now.