Skylanders SWAP Force Reviews

236,904 (156,375)
TA Score for this game: 2,103
Posted on 26 November 13 at 22:02, Edited on 26 December 13 at 15:22
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Skylanders SWAP Force was released for the XBox One a few days before the Nov 22 2013 console launch date. It had previously been released a month earlier on the XBox 360, the PS3, the Wii, the Wii U, and the Nintendo 3DS. It is the third in the Skylanders series of video games released by Activision. It is targeted for children six and older but is sophisticated enough that adults can enjoy it as well. I reviewed the XBox 360 version of the game in a traditional review format that introduces prospective buyers to the game. This review is going to focus on the XBox One experience, what the starter pack provides, and the value of adding additional characters to the game. The XBox 360 review can be found at.

SWAP Force - XBox One looks and plays almost identically to the XBox 360 version. Although both games support HD 1080p resolution, the XBox one graphics are noticeably crisper with more detail and texture. This is not to disparage the 360 version whose graphics are exceptional but to note that the XBox One’s more advanced main and graphics processors are used to good effect.

The XBox One version of SWAP Force also integrates some features of the new console into the game. Most noticeably when the player completes a chapter or significant event, the game uses the XBox One built-in digital video recorder to capture a short video clip. Another XBox One feature is the inclusion of a challenge. A challenge is an XBox One accomplishment that is recognized for a limited time. It is rewarded with a special icon but, unlike an achievement, does not increase the player’s Gamerscore. TrueAchievements adds a new ‘challenges’ tab for XBox One games. The SWAP Force - XBox One challenge can be seen here:

Skylanders SWAP Force (Xbox One) Challenges

Assuming that you have some knowledge of Skylanders or have read the above review, you know that the Skylanders series of games integrate collectible physical figures with action-adventure video games. The SWAP Force standard starter pack comes with three characters—Wash Buckler, Blast Zone, and Ninja Stealth Elf. Activision has done a very good job in ensuring compatibility between characters released in earlier games and Skylanders SWAP Force - XBox One.

I tested about sixty characters from the three earlier games (including SWAP Force for the 360) and they all worked flawlessly with the XBox One. Conversely, the characters in the SWAP Force - XBox One starter pack all worked with the XBox 360 version of the game. Wash Buckler and Blast Zone are characters new to SWAP Force and are not compatible with the first two games in the series. Stealth Elf, however, appeared in the first game and the figure in the starter pack is fully compatible with the first two games in the series.

The XBox One portal periphery—the platform that inserts the characters into the game—is not compatible with the XBox 360 and vice versus. This was not unexpected because of the very different technologies in the two consoles. It was somewhat disappointing, though, that the next generation console starter packs (XBox One and PS4) used the same characters as the corresponding previous generation console starter packs. A strength of the game is its replayability and it is to be expected that quite a few people will buy both current and next generation versions of the game.

Activision could have rewarded this consumer loyalty with some variety in the accompanying characters. Nevertheless, the provided characters are very good. Moreover, there is value to having duplicate characters. When one character absorbs too much damage, it can be replaced by the same or different character with a full health bar. Finally, Stealth Elf is one of the super characters. Later in the review I will discuss some of the characters that give the player a distinct advantage.

Aficionados of the Skylanders series can never have enough characters. However, Activision is to be commended that the entire game can be completed and all achievements unlocked with the starter pack. To verify this, I played SWAP Force - XBox One right out of the starter pack without any added items. Only after I had unlocked the last achievement did I introduce my other characters into the game. I found that not only is it realistic to complete the game with only the starter pack but the inclusion of Stealth Elf facilitates unlocking the most difficult achievement—completing the game on Nightmare difficulty.

Each character has an attribute that is sometimes required to unlock an area or zone in the game. There are eight of these attributes called elements. Alphabetically, they are Air, Earth, Fire, Life, Magic, Tech, Undead, and Water. The starter pack characters represent only three of these eight elements—Wash Buckler-Water, Blast Zone-Fire, and Stealth Elf-Life.

‘Swappable’ characters are characters unique to Skylanders SWAP Force whose top and bottom halves can be separated and interchanged with one another to create new characters. The bottom half has a movement attribute. There are eight movement attributes—Bounce, Climb, Stealth, Teleport, Speed, Spin, Rocket, and Dig. The starter pack has two swappable characters— Wash Buckler-Climb and Blast Zone-Rocket.

With five of eight elements and six of eight movement types not represented in the starter pack, there is a substantial portion of the game not available to players using only the starter pack. Nevertheless, each chapter can be finished with the limited available attributes although some areas cannot be unlocked. The game tracks percentage of completion. Playing the game with only the starter pack and unlocking every achievement, I only had a 41% completion rate. So, the acquisition of additional characters unveils considerable new game content.

It should be noted that the two announced stealth characters—Trap Shadow and Stink Bomb—are not yet available for sale. Stealth zones, accordingly, cannot be unlocked. As a result, the game cannot yet be played to 100% completion on any game console including the XBox One.

Characters are not peculiar to the console on which the game is played. Additional characters can be bought individually or bundled with other characters and/or accessories. A character purchased in this manner can be played on any version of the game be it the XBox One, the PS4, XBox 360, the PS3, the Wii, etc. In addition to each character having value in and of itself, the game rewards players for the size of their collections. Accordingly, after buying a new game, at the first opportunity every available character should be, at least briefly, put on the portal and introduced to the game. The character may never be played again; however, the game will recognize the inclusion of that character in the collection and reward the player accordingly.

Characters are not created equally. The Skylanders characters have stats—Armor, Speed, Criticality (landing an extra damage hit), Health, etc. Characters who excel in one area generally suffer in another. Thus, in principle, they are different but on par with one another. In practice, there are some characters that are substantially more effective than others.

The game, by and large, does not present an insurmountable challenge. Most of the game emphasizes exploring and discovery over combat prowess. However, there are some instances where the right character can mean the difference between success and failure.

The game can be played in four difficulty settings. Easy, normal, and hard are available immediately. Nightmare difficulty is unlocked once the game is beaten on any of the other three settings. The playable characters are relatively resilient on all difficulties except for Nightmare. In other words, a player can be reasonably aggressive and survive damage inflicted because defense is not emphasized.

The Nightmare difficulty is an order of magnitude increase over the Hard difficulty. There is an achievement for beating the game on any difficulty, an achievement for beating the game on the hard setting, and an achievement for beating the game on the Nightmare difficulty. It is quite appropriate to start the game on the hard setting and get the completion achievement and the hard difficulty achievement on one play through. The Nightmare difficulty requires the player to concentrate on defense and evasion and use offensive techniques without exposing vulnerabilities.

The starter pack’s Stealth Elf is the ideal character for Nightmare difficulty if she is upgraded on the Forest Ninja path. She sets up a decoy and becomes temporarily invisible to the enemy. The decoy transforms into three scarecrows that twirl deadly blades. Although she can fight herself, in Nightmare difficulty, it is best she use her scarecrows to do the dirty work while she sneaks off into a safe area. Had she not come with the starter pack, she would have been my first recommendation. Her inclusion in the starter pack considerably lessens the challenge of unlocking all achievements with no additional characters.

Because the theme of the game is swapping, it is prudent to add some additional swappable characters. There are two, in my opinion, that are clearly superior to the rest—Rattle Shake and Magna Charge. Rattle Shake has strong armor, both range and melee attacks, and a pet snake he can drop to inflict damage on opponents while he remains safe. His attacks have strong knockback and he is one of the few characters who is robust enough to go toe to toe with Nightmare difficulty opponents. Magna Charge has an ability that attracts gold, experience, and power-up items. This ability is invaluable during time attack episodes. There are icons that stop the clock for short periods. A normal character spends valuable time going to pick them up. Magna Charge sucks them up without deviating from his path and is hands-down the best time attack character.

SWAP Force includes chests that can only be opened by Giants. Ninjini and the more advanced Scarlet Ninjini top the stats lists in all categories. Of particular importance is that although giants are supposed to be slow, Ninjini is tied for first place among all characters (giant and non-giant) in speed. So, if you want a Giant, Scarlet Ninjini is the obvious choice. Even though Ninjini has by far the best stats does not mean she is the most effective player. There are other factors such as evasiveness, knockback, and burst speed that contribute. Nevertheless, Ninjini is a top tier character and, if you’re going to limit yourself to one giant, Ninjini is a good choice.

To summarize, my top three recommended purchases for SWAP Force are Rattle Shake (Bounce movement and Undead element), Magna Charge (Speed movement and Tech element), and Scarlet Ninjini (giant abilities and Magic element). These characters are not only good in their own right but unlock three new element zones and two new movement zones.

I also recommend purchasing additional characters. In my opinion, providing all the tools to complete the game in the starter pack demonstrates marketing integrity. Consumers buy additional characters because they want to and not because they have to. However, although it’s an interesting experiment to play the game with the starter pack, the diversity of engaging characters considerably enriches the game. Moreover, as discussed above, there are characters whose abilities can overcome some of the more severe impediments.

SWAP Force was not designed as a next generation game. It has some enhancements over the XBox 360 version but one would not go out and buy an XBox One in order to play SWAP Force - XBox One. On the other hand, if you have bought or are going to buy an XBox One, I recommend SWAP Force - XBox One highly even if you already have it for a current generation console. The game has exceptional replay value and characters bought for one console can be used in another. I found the game to be a great introduction to the XBox One. Having the prior familiarity with the game kept me in my comfort zone while I accustomed myself to the new console.

I concluded my XBox 360 review with what I thought were the three best aspects of the game and what three aspects could be improved upon. Having thoroughly enjoyed a second complete playthrough of the game on a new console, I feel they are still valid and repeat them here.

Three best aspects of the game:
-The elegantly designed swap force figures.
-High production values.

Three aspects that could be improved upon:
-The story is less dramatic and exciting than its predecessors.
-The swap force concept was not as well integrated into the game as the giant concept was in the second Skylanders game.
-Not all areas of the game could be unlocked with the characters available at launch. There is still no release date for stealth swap force characters.
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