The goal of a Skylanders game is more than just getting people to buy the game; it’s also about getting people to buy additional figures. This time around the twist is the Swap Force, Skylanders with interchangeable top and bottom sections that players can combine in different ways to create new characters. Skylanders Swap Force on the 3DS does a lot of things right in the game play department, but the game itself is disappointingly short.
The story is pretty typical for the series. Once again the Skylands are in trouble, this time threatened by Count Moneybone, who wants to turn everyone undead with his immortalizer ray. As usual, it’s up to the Skylanders to stop Moneybone from carrying out his plot.
Swap Force on the 3DS comes with three characters, Rattle Shake, Free Ranger (both Swap Force) and a series three Volcanic Eruptor. The Swap Force characters fall into the same type categories already established by the series, except since they can be combined so a character can effectively be two types at once. In addition, Swap Force characters have an additional power determined by the lower half of the character. Aside from these differences they play just like regular Skylanders.
Right out of the gate Swap Force differentiates itself from previous 3DS games in a significant way. Just like in previous portable games, characters can only be loaded through the portal in the hub world. However, where previous games allowed only two characters to be stored at a time, in Swap Force players can have many characters stored in the game. I don’t have enough characters to see if there is an upper limit, but the game can store at least four Skylanders per type, which is a huge improvement.
This change has two very important effects. First, it removed the need for me to carry my characters and portal with me, since I was able to simply load all of them in at the beginning. Second, by tapping a type icon on the lower screen and selecting a character I could summon them instantly, making the game play much more like the console versions. Having access to all my characters was great, since it meant I didn’t have to play levels multiple times because I didn’t have a character of the right type to access certain areas. As an additional bonus, when summoning a Swap Force character I had the option to choose the upper and lower half separately, allowing me to apply the swapping mechanic as needed.
The basic game play is the same as previous entries in the series. Characters can double jump and dash, and the basic attacks and platforming still have the same feel. Elemental gates return, and are joined by swap zones, which only open for characters with the matching lower half power. Unlike elemental gates, which must be opened by certain characters but can be played through with any character, completing a swap zone requires the power of the swap character type used to open it (better start saving up for extra figures).
Levels still have coins to collect, hats to find and objectives to accomplish. Unlike the console games, at the end of a level coins are converted to experience, rather than being used as currency to buy powers. When a character levels up they gain boosts in categories like damage or health, or new attacks. Earning new attacks is fun, but unfortunately in order to see what they were, I had to open the menu and page through my character’s attacks to find the new one. I wish the game simply displayed what the new attack was, rather than me having to go find it. (Note: In one instance after completing a level the game displayed a new attack that I had unlocked. It only happened on that one occasion though, so it’s unclear if it’s supposed to happen all the time and just didn’t work correctly.)
There are three stars to earn in each level – one for completing the level, one for completing the time challenge (which unlocks after the level has been completed) and one for performing four side activities, like unlocking all of the elemental gates or collecting a certain number of coins. It’s nice to have objectives, but as far as I can tell earning stars doesn’t lead to anything, so I felt no motivation to play through a level more than once. It feels like they’re only there to pad out the game, which I finished in just over five hours.
Visually the game looks just like the previous versions, which is to say it’s fine but nothing breathtaking. The levels have a lot of visual variety to them, and the soundtrack changes it up as well, keeping everything feeling fresh throughout. The 3D is easy to get along with, and seemed to have a wider viewable range than some other games I’ve played. There is the occasional drop in frame rate when a new character enters and a flat texture here or there, but overall the presentation is very solid.
I don’t generally care much about Streetpass features in a game, but swap force has a very interesting one. When Streetpassing with other players who have the game, Skylanders they have but I don’t will appear in my hub town. I can only use them for one level and they don’t gain experience like my own characters, but it’s a great way to try out new figures before buying them.
Skylanders Swap Force on the 3DS is a lot of fun. Playing with the new figures and combining them in different ways adds some depth to the game, and having another use for all of my existing figures is nice. As good as the game is though, I wish there was more of it. With a short campaign and no compelling reason to re-play missions, the experience doesn’t last very long. The removal of daily elemental bonuses also detracts from the replay value. It’s still a good game though, and the best portable Skylanders experience there is.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.