If you've already lined your shelves with past Skylanders collectables and you'd give away your last console controller for one more shot at saving Skyland and besting that ridiculous bad guy Kaos, well, then you likely have already picked up the new Skylanders: Swap Force in one of its many versions. You could probably help me write this review, come to think of it, since you probably know a thing or two about the game that I don't.
But you should understand that there are kids out there who aren't yet hooked. And for them this review just might be of help. And, who knows, maybe it'll even make you think about things in a way you haven't before, too.
Laying Down Plastic for More Plastic
As with past games in the franchise, the plastic figures in their various combinations become their own save system, storing up all their accomplishments, upgrades and level advancements on a chip in their bases. That's a lot of the fun of this game: Figures can maintain their upgrades when you carry them over to your buddy's house and plop them down on his Xbox One incarnation of the game, even though you've been playing with them on a PS3.
Fun, yes. And a bit addicting, too, something the Skylanders' marketing department isn't shy about exploiting. And so the new action wrinkle this time around is the "swap" element referenced in the title. Sixteen different swapping characters are available, each sporting an elemental signature (air, fire, tech, life, etc.). You can physically split the magnetically attached top and bottom sections of your Skylanders figurines and join them into new combinations before digitally teleporting them into the game.
That essentially gives players an amped-up variety of combined elemental special effects, as well as some new combo physical attacks and abilities depending on which top and bottom they choose. Instead of sticking with the standard air focus of "Free Ranger," for instance, you can combine his eagle-ninja upper half with, say, the lower half of the robotic "Blast Zone" and create a half-bird/half-retro rocket creature called "Free Zone"—a combination that's equally powerful in air and fire environments. The mixing and matching (with 256 possibilities in all) also tweaks the characters' ranged and melee attacks to add lots of new possibilities to the treasure discovery and battle action.
Of course the sixty-plus dollar starter set gives you only three characters (with two of them swappable). And you can't unlock certain sections of play without purchasing specific figurines or even whole collections of figurines. Naturally, the game constantly reminds you of all the other colorful characters you could be playing with if only you'd run over to the closest toy store with a little more allowance money in hand.
Kaos in the Sky With Diamonds
This third entry in the Skylanders universe follows in the fantastical footsteps of the original Spyro's Adventure and the follow-up Giants. It places young gamers once again in the role of portal master. You're an up-and-coming "wizard" who must use his or her magical "portal" (a plastic circular platform that connects to your console) to transport the right Skylander hero/action figure into the action of the dire circumstances at hand.
In this case, that means defending the Cloudbreak Islands, another newly revealed segment of the cloud-floating Skyland realm. We're told that every 100 years in this magical land, a group of four creatures called Elementals mix their magical essence together inside a large volcano. This causes an enchanted eruption that replenishes the land's talismanic needs.
Or, at least that's how it's supposed to go.
As might be expected in a game like this, his goofy evilness, Kaos, figures out a way to turn this century's elemental blending to his favor. He's developed a purple diamond-like substance called petrified darkness, and with it he hopes to turn everything so evilly evil that every creature, large and small, will recognize him as the evilest evilness of all. OK, truthfully, nothing is all that evil in this loony world. But the comical Kaos, his darkness-zapped underlings, and even his sly-eyed mom are all certainly willing to sneer, gesture dramatically and broo-ha-ha with the best of 'em, slathering their maniacal glee all over the place like so much goo.
Fending him and his minions off boils down to a series of cartoony battles with silly/cute-looking goblins, trolls, giants and outlandish monsters that throw rocks, bombs, sheep and globs of goop in your general direction. There's no blood on display, but still plenty of whirling, thumping and blasting, with enemies poofing out of existence when they fall.
The mystical lore of this magic-based world is still a central part of the equation too. Which means that even though the story is comical and over-the-top goofy, some of the new characters who fall into the "undead" and "magic" element categories sport a lightly creepy look.