The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
My living-room floor resembles a battlefield on the Island of Doctor
Moreau. Severed legs and torsos from various animals are scattered
across it; warriors with weapons raised high stand triumphant over the
grisly tableau. Making like the Doctor, I rummage through the sea of
body parts, attaching the tentacles of a squid to the upper body of a
parrot. I place the spliced abomination on the Portal of Power and it
comes to life, a mighty beast possessing the powers of both wind and
water. Tentacles streak across the terrain, thwacking any foe foolish
enough to get in his path, and razor-sharp wings dance furiously to fend
off any attacks from the flank. My created beast excels in close
quarters but has no way of defending itself against volleys from afar.
Maybe I’ll swap the parrot parts for those of a gun-wielding
snake.No matter what bizarre creature you craft,
Skylanders: Swap Force handles the empowerment of playing god
convincingly. The amalgamated beasts that now roam Skylands open up new
combat and traversal possibilities, and also add another much-needed
wrinkle to this series’ well-worn gameplay formula.Creating your
own monsters – even if it is as simple as snapping two pieces of an
action figure together – is more fun than I expected. I spent a fair
amount of time experimenting with these hybrids, seeing which upgrade
paths best fit their unique dynamics, and made a contest of unleashing
the most ridiculous-looking beast possible (the owl-snake wins). Even
if you’ve assembled a hefty war chest of Skylanders figures from
Spyro’s Adventure and Giants, you’re going to feel the itch to run out
to the store to purchase more of them – and you have to if you want to
see everything this game has to offer. In addition to the eight
elemental types and the Giants, this installment introduces eight new
“ability” zones that can only be entered by Swap Force figures. These
areas are not extensions of the levels like we’ve seen with the element
types, and are instead standalone minigames – all of which are quite
Zoo Lou is the Skylander equivalent of a Green Lantern. He's just one of the great new core figures
The minigame tied to the Spin ability should give any gamer who’s
played a Sonic the Hedgehog bonus stage a nice blast of nostalgia; the
character bounces off of bumpers in an attempt to chisel away at blocks
that are protecting a prize. Other challenges include timed races,
platforming sequences, and frantic Q-Bert-like hopping across rings.
These sections reward the player well with hidden items, and stars that
feed into the new Portal Master rank. Leveling up the Portal Master
allows you to activate more Legendary Items, which carry various
attribute bumps like +10 armor and +5 gold.You need the help
from those bonuses; this is the most challenging Skylanders game yet.
Kaos’ desire to “evilize” everyone produces a more lethal crop of foes.
Many of them are armed to the teeth with weapons that rain down death.
Others soak up immense amounts of damage. Some are heavily shielded.
Many are invincible during their attack phases. All of these foes demand
different strategies, and make you work for your experience.Developer
Vicarious Visions, which is on its maiden voyage with the console
version of the series after previously developing the 3DS ports, works
wonders with the enemy formations, giving players a true run for their
money in most combat situations. In some battles on the normal
difficulty setting, I lost five or six Skylanders in a level. On hard,
many stages led to a dozen-plus casualties. Two or three hits is all it
takes to fell a level 15-plus critter.
All of the Skylanders characters are now equipped with the ability to
jump, which is used frequently to navigate elevated terrain and
platforms (not to mention a few fun sidescrolling sequences), but is
most effective in giving the player a new way to dodge ground-based
blasts. It’s a nice addition that gives combat another layer of skill
and strategy. I rarely could plant myself in one spot in battle
sequences; I was almost always on the move, sprinting and leaping to
find attack windows or safety zones.Although most encounters are
exciting, the level designs are often rote, clinging for dear life to
the “everything in video games has to happen in threes or more” cliché. A
nice sense of scale accompanies most stages, but isn’t enough to shake
the feeling of repetition that eventually hits halfway through most of
them. Several stages lean heavily on concepts from previous entries,
such as redirecting light to doors, and pushing blocks in the right
sequence to create passages. A tedious new lock-picking minigame also
rears its head far too often. That's not to say there aren't original
and great moments in many of the levels. I enjoyed firing
suicide-bombing snowmen into airships. The rail sliding moments are
always entertaining. Most of the elemental bonus zones bring variety and
their own enjoyable missions.
Some of the bonus areas require two elemental types be used at once.
This either means digging through your toys to create a Swap Force
character comprised of both elements (which I found to be an annoying
little task), or playing the game co-op, which I recommend if you get
Swap Force's overall gameplay package delivers everything you’ve come
to expect from this series: collectible hats, crates filled with shiny
treasures, and plenty of unwanted guided rail-gun sequences. It’s still
the same experience at its core, but it just pushes players to be better
on the battlefield. A wealth of post-game content is offered to extend
the experience. I wasn't too keen on the Time Attack stages, but did
enjoy Score mode. Both of these avenues feeds into the Portal Master
rank.Despite the level designs sapping some of the fun out of
this adventure, Vicarious Visions has crafted an excellent continuation
for this annual series. The story unfolds across beautifully animated
sequences loaded with hilarious Kaos and Flynn banter (and yes,
Glumshanks is abused heavily for our amusement). The new roster of
characters ranks right up there with the first game's. I got a big kick
out of Zoo Lou's summon attacks, and Roller Brawl's speed comes in
handy. The most impressive aspect of this installment is the focus to
deliver a more challenging experience, one that pushes the player to
experiment and find strategies that work best for specific scenarios.
And that plays right into this title’s hallmark feature of building
Frankensteined monsters to meet these demands. Sure, it may be a design
that pushes the player to use more toys (and perhaps buy more), but the
result is a more thrilling adventure.I feared of franchise
fatigue going into this review, but this installment shows us that a few
great ideas can keep this action figure-based experience alive and
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.