by Brian Robbins

  The invasion of toy based video games happened two years ago with the release of Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. Of course Activision isn’t one to just release one successful game where a franchise could be– just like with Call of Duty,   Skylanders has had annual releases and 2013 brought Skylanders: Swap Force and the only difference this year was that Disney released their own version of the genre with the incredibly ambitious Disney Infinity. Finally we can determine which one truly deserves your  parents’ money.

The real selling point for this year’s Skylanders is the ability to switch the bodies and legs of your new Skylanders. When you buy the starter pack you’re given a new portal, the game, two swappable characters, and a regular non-swappable Skylander. To switch the Swap Force characters is pretty easy; just unsnap the characters’ magnets, then change out the tops.  My favorite aspect of the Swap characters is that the bottom and top portions have their own leveling tree for different powers. Just like in the previous installments of Skylanders, there’s plenty of variety.

Upon release, there was a very limited selection of swappable Skylander characters. Activision concentrated on different sculpts of previously released characters  rather than making new ones. Though as of the beginning of this year, Activision has been doing a spectacular job with churning out more characters. It was just a shame that at release the selection was so limited.

After a lengthy cutscene in the beginning of the game, you’ll finally be in control of your choice of hero. If you’ve played any sort of third person action RPG you’ll feel right at home. It’s your standard beat-em-up, gain access to the next area, more enemy characters appear to block your path. Rinse and repeat for the entire portion of the lengthy single player. There are some puzzles that require cooperation (like moving blocks to gain access to a path) and other fairly standard puzzles. This won’t be difficult to anyone under the age of ten, so keep that in mind.

The real charm of the series has to be the overly stylized cartoonish aspect of the worlds and characters. Some players might find the aesthetic appeal of the overall package somewhat annoying and in your face but in my opinion it works quite well for a game like this. The version I played was for the Wii U so the bright colors and loud characters made the game feel right at home with other Nintendo products. As a parent, you won’t ever feel like your child would catch a joke he wasn’t supposed to hear.

Again when it comes to actually playing the game, nothing has really changed except for the new addition of Swap Force characters. The game essentially feels like the previous Skylanders titles. Which could great for younger fans of the series but for veteran gamers, it’s more or less eye roll inducing. I will say the combat is a bit more engaging than Disney Infinity. Here in Swap Force, there wasn’t any frame rate stutter as the game kept up with all of the action on screen.

Of course with a game franchise as big as Skylanders, most likely whoever is playing Swap Force will want to experience the cooperative play and this is where the game truly shines. If you’re playing the game by yourself, it can be a bit boring and stale. With another person playing right next to you, you can experiment with different character choices. Heck, you could even switch your Swap Force characters around for added quirkiness. For some odd reason, this game still lacks online co-op and this is a serious misstep for a title like this. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it’s marketed for younger gamers but even Disney Infinity included this feature. I would categorize this as developer and publisher laziness.

When it comes down to it, you have to ask yourself if this game is truly worth the hefty retail price of $74.99. To me, absolutely not but then again I’m not the target audience. If you want a solid game that will occupy your  child or sibling, Skylanders: Swap Force is a great choice. Though at the price, I would suggest taking a look at the superior Disney: Infinity as well. It’s mostly apples and oranges but either choice will keep your little ones happy.

2.5-star-turtle