Skylanders Swap Force Review

Can toys that split in half and the inclusion of jumping make Skylanders Swap Force the toy-based game to buy this year, or should you buy Disney Infinity instead?

Skylanders Swap Force: On the plus side

The third game in a series can’t really mess with the formula too much.
There’s simply too much at stake, especially when you’re talking about a game that has already made Activision Blizzard unknown squillions of dollars. I don’t have the exact figures to hand, but given the toys, lunchboxes, inflatable catamarans and other ephemera you can buy with Skylanders logos on it, it’s fair to say that a lot of cash has flowed into the coffers since the first game, Spyro’s Adventure.
That kind of momentum is hard to shift, and that’s probably why the changes in Skylanders: Swap Force aren’t that massive.

Countdown has rockets for arms. How on earth does he eat breakfast cereals?
Countdown has rockets for arms. How on earth does he eat breakfast cereals?

There are fundamentally two upgrades in Swap Force. The first is the most obvious; the Swap Force characters who split in the middle to form new combinations and play styles. That adds variety, as well as play possibilities if you’ve got kids you want to get away from a screen for a while.

The other major upgrade is the fact that you can independently jump in Skylanders Swap Force. It doesn’t sound like a major deal, but previous games relied on simple jump pads that forced gameplay in a particular direction.
Instead here, jumping is just a button press, and that changes the way that combat works, because you can now dodge attacks upwards, or for that matter jump into them. Motion is actually a key part of gameplay, because adding to the complexity of choosing Skylanders is the fact that the motion bases of each Swap Force character unlocks challenges based around that type of motion, be it flying, skating or scaling walls. They’re fun diversions in a game that is genuinely good fun to play.
I tested it playing a lot of Skylanders Swap Force with my kids, who were frenzied with excitement well before the game actually launched. One of Skylanders Swap Force’s solid selling points is they’re very good games to play as a family, because while there is challenge, nothing is too complex to understand and you can either guide younger players or allow them to guide you.

The level of detail is a nice step up from previous games, giving Swap Force a lot more character.
The level of detail is a nice step up from previous games, giving Swap Force a lot more character.

Skylanders Swap Force looks a whole lot better than the previous games, with a smooth visual style that gives the in-game characters just a little bit more life than they had previously. It’s not as though they were a particularly quiet bunch to begin with, but anyone who’s played the previous games will immediately notice the upgrade. The voice acting remains a highlight, and while the inherent narrative isn’t exactly original, it’s entertaining to work your way through.

Skylanders Swap Force: On the minus side

Like previous Skylanders games, or for that matter Disney Infinity, Skylanders Swap Force can get expensive exceptionally quickly. Skylanders pioneered the toy DLC model, where all the code for characters is already on the disc, but you can only unlock them by purchasing yet more pricey toys.
Skylanders Swap Force goes all out with new split characters, different models for existing characters, lightcore characters who glow when put on the portal of power, and even a separate “Dark” starter pack with different coloured characters. Activision Blizzard would very much like your money, and they’re in no way shy about it.


After three games, it’s probably fair to assume that those who are keen on Skylanders already own a few toys. If you don’t, be prepared to shell out even more, because the way that the new Swap Force toys work introduces yet more areas that are locked off based on elemental powers and even the ambulatory nature of the toy in question. You’ll also need at least one of last year’s Giants to gain access to everything within the game.
It is true that you can complete Skylanders Swap Force without purchasing any other toys, but you’ll be walking past a lot of gates that tell you that you require a Skylander of a particular type or types before doing so.
If you’re playing with kids (or adults who only pretend not to be big kids) the odds of you not feeling a little miffed if you don’t have that figure or element is quite high. The solution is to buy more figures. See how this all (still) works?

It’s a minor grumble, but Activision’s also redesigned the Portal Of Power for Skylanders Swap Force, making it more slender. That would be a plus, but it’s not backwards compatible, and that means if you have made an investment in Skylanders previously, you’ve got to keep both types of portal to hand. It’s a storage hassle, if nothing else.

Skylanders Swap Force: Pricing

The basic Skylanders Swap Force starter pack retails at $99, while individual figures cost between $9-$30 depending on the figure type and where you buy them from.

Skylanders Swap Force: Fat Duck verdict

There’s an obvious point of comparison for Skylanders Swap Force, and that’s Disney Infinity, which I reviewed here.
Both games use the Toy-as-character metaphor and both are aimed at younger gamers, although I know plenty of older gamers who delight in this kind of thing as well. Whether or not you like the unlock-DLC-with-plastic idea is somewhat irrelevant in this context, because clearly enough people do to make them viable.
The thing is, and it took some serious play of Skylanders Swap Force to uncover this, is that they’re quite different games. Disney Infinity is remarkably free-form, not just in its Toy Box creative mode, which I still adore, but even within its themed game packs that recreate classic Disney properties. That free-form gameplay gives it a lot of possibilities, but it also means that some experiences aren’t quite as refined and honed as they might be.

An Octopus with rocket boots. And they say the Japanese have the monopoly on weird game ideas...
An Octopus with rocket boots. And they say the Japanese have the monopoly on weird game ideas…

That’s where Skylanders Swap Force excels. It’s the third generation product where Disney Infinity is still finding its feet first time out, and the gameplay is very well balanced. There’s solid challenge on harder difficulty levels for more experienced players, good backwards compatibility with existing figures to play with one more time and a focus that isn’t entirely part of the Disney Infinity experience.
In an ideal world (or if you’re stacked with cash), you’d buy both. If you only had the inclination to buy one, I’d weigh them on this axis; Disney Infinity has better creative potential, because you can’t really “create” in Skylanders Swap Force to speak of. Conversely, Skylanders Swap Force offers a more finely tuned gaming experience if you like platforming adventures with a consistent narrative focus.

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