Hands on with Skylanders SWAP Force

Skylanders-SWAP-ForceAccessory-based gaming. Almost a dirty word in the industry nowadays, with the relative fall from the peak held by Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour five years ago precipitating in giant boxes of non-moving product. So when Activision pushed out Skylanders in 2011, it was a bit of a surprise.  To Activision?s credit, the game was a complete success.

So with the third iteration in SWAP Force, as well as the first venture of the series to PS4/Xbox One, what does anyone expect but a laundry list of new features? Anything? Because that laundry list is here, and it?s a comprehensive overhaul that makes me wonder how hard it?ll be to look back at previous chapters.

Skylanders SWAP Force_Countdown

?Every character can jump now,? stated the PR rep on the gameplay session as I jammed the button to leap from platform to platform, ?that?s been something we?ve been working on.? It?s jumping, it?s platforming, it?s textbook game design, and it answers one of the biggest critical complaints levied against Skylanders (look at a review of Spyro?s Adventure or Giants and try not to find the topic raised).

Already a bit curious, and spurred on by the deadline, I started reassembling the varied figures to different configurations. As bottom and top halves changed, so did the entire animation. Grilla Drilla?s simian gait was completely different from Rattle Shake?s bouncy march. Even more different are Magna Charge?s one-wheeled locomotion and Boom Jet?s titular jet turbine. The top halves reacted well enough to the bottom halves? proclivities that I kept switching and walking a few steps just to see what the next combo would bring.

Even past the SWAP Force crew?s amazing animation, the game looks stellar. Environments are deeply rendered, living and dense in a way that makes each world feel amazing. Environmental effects are crisp and well-executed. Some details, such as Giant boxes, underscore one major point: backwards compatibility.

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Not only do previous figures still work, some things necessitate an older figure. Aforementioned Giant boxes require a Giants figure to unlock. Other existing figures will still work, although the full extent of their necessity is unknown at this point. What is known, however, is a higher level cap: 20.

While I have no idea where Skylanders will be in five years, I know the current chapter on next-gen hardware looks seriously promising. Hopefully the developers can keep building the franchise to greater heights in the future.

Eds. Note: impressions based on playable PS4 version