CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Having blurred the line between traditional toys and video games, Activision's "Skylanders" franchise has become a juggernaut, with total worldwide sales eclipsing the $1 billion threshold.
After having had the market to itself up to this point, however, "Skylanders" now has some competition in the form of "Disney Infinity," which lets gamers collect and play with some of the most recognizable characters from the House of Mouse.
As the established leader in the genre, it would have been easy for developer Vicarious Visions to simply play it safe with its latest offering, "Skylanders SWAP Force," stick to its successful formula and watch the sales roll in. Instead, "SWAP Force" mixes things up - literally.
"Skylanders SWAP Force" introduces mix-and-match figures that can be combined to create all-new Skylanders with unique power sets. These 16 new "SWAP Force" characters can be transformed into more than 250 combinations. And these mash-ups aren't just for show - bringing together two different SWAP Force Skylanders grants the new creation the element and power of its respective parts. For example, combining the top half of Free Ranger with the bottom half of Hoot Loop creates Free Loop, a character of the air element (from Free Ranger) with the ability to teleport (from Hoot Loop). Certain areas can only be accessed by Skylanders with a specific element/ability blend, so you'll need to grow your collection of figures beyond what's included in the $74.99 starter pack if you want to see everything "SWAP Force" has to offer.
In addition to the 16 interchangeable figures (only six are available at launch), 16 core Skylanders, eight LightCore Skylanders and 16 new versions of classic Skylanders will also be made available. The good news for owners of either of the first two "Skylanders" games is that those old figures will work with "SWAP Force." Unfortunately the new "SWAP Force" figures are not backward-compatible with the previous titles.
The toys have always been a focal point of the "Skylanders" franchise, but it's still a video game at heart. And "SWAP Force" is the best pure video game in the series.
"SWAP Force" lets gamers explore a new section of the "Skylanders" universe, the Cloudbreak Islands. Cloudbreak is home to a mysterious volcano that erupts every hundred years to restore magic to the Skylands, and it's up to the SWAP Force team to stop returning villain Kaos and a surprise ally from harnessing the volcano's power for themselves.
While the new figures add some variety in the way you approach things, the core game play remains very similar to what we've come to expect from the series. From the hack-and-slash combat to the emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, "SWAP Force" feels exactly as you'd expect a "Skylanders" game to feel. There are plenty of collectibles to find, secret areas to discover and hidden treasure to uncover. Also, all Skylanders now have the ability to jump (woo hoo!).
Whether you're exploring Cloudbreak alone or with a friend, "Skylanders SWAP Force" is simply a joy to experience. My kids and I had a great time playing through the game together and they're already looking forward to getting the next wave of figures. My wallet, however, isn't quite as excited.