by Brian Robbins
In 2011 Activision released Skylanders, which was set in Spyro the Dragon’s universe. The game was innovative, and the folks at Nintendo probably kicked themselves for not coming up with it first. Basically, you have action figures that you set on this portal device and the toys come to life in an action beat-em-up brawler. It was immediately the most sought after toy for Christmas that year. Activision followed up with a sequel in 2012 and a third installment will come out this year as well.
This year’s iteration is Skylanders: Swap Force. The
gimmick innovative gameplay feature of this game is that you can switch the character’s body and lower torso around. Want a powerful robot with octopus legs? You got it. The toys themselves have little magnets in them to make the switch easy and hassle free, though I can totally see kids losing the toys all around the house and making clean up time an all-day event.
The E3 demo I had hands on time with was basically the same Skylanders game that’s been on the market for two years now. There was absolutely nothing new or fresh about the game. Obviously, being able to switch in and out the Skylanders that you already own seems cool but that’s to be expected. The only new-ish feature they had was that the new Skylander figures can activate “travel powers” with the B-button (Xbox 360) or the Circle-Button (Playstation 3). It seemed the characters can jump higher with some of these activated abilities, but they didn’t really add anything as a whole. The Giants from last year’s game have a running charge attack instead of the traveling powers.
One of the good things for previous fans is that the level cap seems to be raised to level 20, instead of 15 from last year’s game. It lengthens the time you’ll spend with the game but it is disappointing when that’s one of the bullet-points for a brand new game. One of the major problems I had with the previous Skylander games is the obvious lack of online co-op. This is inexcusable for a game like this, which at its core is basically a dumbed-down dungeon crawler. This feature has been missing from previous games and it needs to be added. I could see four player co-op play being really fun in a game like this as well.
In terms of the new Skylander figures, I’ll admit that they do look cool– if I were in the targeted age group, I would be all over this. If you look at the game as a serious gamer you won’t find much, but it’s really not for them. Skylanders has always been about having fun with your friends or family; it’s excessively forgiving and designed not to frustrate younger players. I feel like Skylanders could rope in older kids as well if the gameplay would just evolve a little bit. With a game like this, Activision is more interested in selling toys and accessories than in bringing a robust gameplay experience.
This year, Skylanders will face its biggest test with Disney’s new game Infinity. Basically, Disney decided to get into the collectible video-game-action figure hybrid market as well. They’ll be bringing all sorts of recognizable characters and brands to their own game. It’ll be interesting to see if Activision will be able to hold its own against the potential goliath that game could be. Heck, Disney even owns Marvel and the Star Wars brand now so they could dip into even larger universes.
It’s a shame that Activision has chosen not to evolve too much from the core of Skylanders. They’re really sticking with the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Kids immediately eat this stuff up but at some point they’ll toss it aside if there isn’t anything really new or exciting to enjoy. This game is a younger person’s Call of Duty; every year it’ll come back and every year people will still buy it. Maybe that’s why Activision isn’t concerned with changing too much with either franchise. That’s all I can really say about Skylanders: Swap Force: there just isn’t anything new about it. It’s a fun and mindless action game for kids and until they add more to it, that’s all it will ever be.