- Publisher: Activision
- Developer: Vicarious Visions
- ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
- Genre: Family Action
- Pros: Great Voice Work, Fun Character Design, Addictive Gameplay
- Cons: Repetitive Combat, It'll Cost You a Fortune
The “Skylanders” games are essentially variations on the hit “LEGO” franchise in that they encourage kids to replay levels by forcing them to use different characters to access all the areas to play and puzzles to solve. Like the “LEGO” games, they also work from a hub-to-level structure, feature hundreds of collectibles, and encourage destruction. Bash the environment to collect currency to upgrade your characters or just buy cool new outfits for them to wear. And then take your characters with you. Where the “Skylanders” franchise financially bested “LEGO,” is in the fact that the characters can be pulled in and out of the game via the Portal of Power. Take the figure out of the packaging, put it on the Portal, and take him on adventures. It’s the kind of addictive gameplay that I would have LOVED as a teenager who collected action figures. Why play with your action figures in the backyard when you can put them in an actual video game built around their skills?
The Skylanders this time have an added variety to their gameplay courtesy of the “Swap Force.” The 16 new characters have interchangeable tops and bottoms with different power sets, many of them based on natural elements like fire and water. It results in 256 combinations of characters that your kids can obsessively try to chronicle and spend time playing within the game. However, you can play through the majority of the game with what’s included in the Starter Pack. Every once in a while, bonus sections of game levels need Skylanders with certain powers to open them. I was lucky enough to get two separate Skylanders with the Starter Pack and there were still numerous sections I couldn’t access. I could only imagine the kids jotting down sections that they couldn’t get to and bugging their parents to buy new Skylanders.
I expected this new mechanic of swapping to be little more than a way to get more money for this mega-franchise. It’s not. The combinations of tops and bottoms clearly gave the developers renewed energy. What happens if a bird has a robot body? How can we use that to inspire gameplay? What about an octopus-like top and a fire-based body? How would that look and how would it interact with our puzzles and enemies? “Swap Force” was constantly surprising me with the inventiveness of its gameplay. In terms of actual level design, the game falls closer to the platforming genius of “Rayman Legends” than the uninspired nonsense of “Infinity.”