Images courtesy of Activision
Like its two predecessors, Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants, SWAP Force features the combination of a video game and a range of physical figurines representing the titular characters. These are the heroes and can be made to appear in the game when you stand them on a peripheral device called the Portal of Power.
The figures can also be played with as immovable toys or treated as collectibles along with the characters from previous games. For some of the new characters introduced with SWAP Force the publisher, Activision, has also introduced a different twist: players can swap the tops and bottoms around to combine the characters' powers and add variety to the gameplay.
It is evident from the clever fusing of familiar and bizarre traits that considerable thought and imagination has gone into the design of each character from its physical appearance to its personality. Parents with pacifist inclinations might be put off by the likes of the bomb-throwing Blast Zone, but few people should be offended by the surreal industrial design of Magna Charge or cute characters like Pop Thorn and Zoo Lou.
Not all of the new figures are swappable and some are simply modified versions of characters that were issued in previous games. It is also important to note that SWAP Force characters will not work in previous Skylanders releases, but previously released characters will work in SWAP Force.
Although the game's menus have been somewhat smartened up, the gameplay itself doesn't differ much, in principle, from that in previous installments. As a Skylander, you start out in the company of Captain Flynn, the roguish ship owner whose vessel was the principle form of transport in Skylanders Giants. The game progresses as you move through various chapters and accumulate points and achievements. This usually involves completing missions or finding objects that will be familiar to fans, such as treasure chests, soul gems and story scrolls. Points can later be exchanged for upgrades that give the characters cool new powers.
Of course, there are obstacles along the way, including block-shifting puzzles and other minor mental challenges. A nice new touch is the mini-games that can be played within the main game when you have a Skylander with the right symbol. In these mini-games, the character gets supercharged. Although you might think this would get you through a level quicker, the mini-games are sometimes hard enough to hold you up for a while if you are determined to beat them.
Inevitably, Skylanders SWAP Force also involves the need to battle bad guys. Among the menaces that return from previous games are the wizard-like Spell Punks and ravenous chompies (for the uninitiated, these look like water melons with stumpy legs and sharp teeth). There are also several new species, including greebles, small gremlin-like creatures that have been evilized by the Skylanders' arch enemy, Kaos.
Skylanders SWAP Force has been released for consoles by all the major manufacturers and, as before, you will need to buy the Starter Pack to get the game because it isn't sold individually. What you get with it, however, is a shiny new Portal, a poster and a few characters to kick-start your SWAP Force collection.
For this review we were sent the Wii version of the game, which comes with Ninja Stealth Elf, the brilliantly named pirate squid Wash Buckler and Blast Zone. With only two swappable characters, the Starter Pack gives you little opportunity to try out SWAP Force's most touted feature. Even so, these characters should provide enough variety to keep you happy until you can add more.