Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack (for PS3) review

The Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack is the perfect jumping-off point for the super-popular game and collectible toy craze.
Photo of Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack (for PS3)

If you have children between the ages of 4 and 14, there’s little doubt you’ve heard them talking about Skylanders, the video game that’s raking in money from children like crazy. But SkyLanders is more than just a game; it’s a cross-media, multi-pronged campaign in the same vein as Disney Infinity and Pokemon, with a game, toy figurines (which are actually necessary for the game), trading cards, and more. The latest title in the series is Skylanders Swap Force, and the Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack provides everything you need to jump into the series. The combination of interactive gaming and collectible toy line has proven appeal to youngsters, and the relatively inexpensive toys—which also expand the gaming experience—will ensure that kids continue to enjoy the game several weeks and months after the holiday season has ended.

Starter Pack
Central to the game is a glowing NFC (Near-Fields Communication) reader platform–called the “Portal of Power”–which reads embedded tags in the various Skylander toys to unlock corresponding characters in the game. Entire sections of the game world are locked without the correct class of character, so acquiring additional figures is essential to exploring the entirety of the game.

The Skylanders SwapForce Starter Pack (which is available for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, WiiU, and 3DS) includes the Skylanders game disc, the “Portal of Power” (a glowing platform with an NFC reader inside), one standard Skylander figurine, two swappable Swap Force figurines, three trading cards, three character sticker sheets, and one poster detailing the dozens of collectible figures in the Skylanders universe.

Included as starter characters are Wash Buckler, an octopus dressed in pirate garb who wields a bubble-shooting pistol and a cutlass; Blast Zone, a flame-spewing knight in armor who belches flame and throws bombs; and Ninja Stealth Elf, a pointy-eared warrior with magic-enhanced sneaking ability and speedy melee attacks.

Game
In the game, you are one of the Skylanders, a group of powerful characters who are able to fight off nefarious villains and protect the weak and helpless villagers—anthropomorphized woodland creatures—with a variety of special powers and fighting abilities. The evil Kaos, a preadolescent super-villain, is plotting to take over the Skylands by turning a largely dormant magical volcano into a very active volcano that spews out concentrated evil which will, in turn, make him the ruler of the realm. Over the course of the game you’ll battle ill-tempered frogs, magically entranced livestock, and even Kaos’ mom.

There are dozens of different Skylander characters, and in this game, they get the added twist of the Swap Force. According to Skylander lore, the Swap Force were Skylanders that protected the magical volcano, but they were blown apart in an eruption. This being a game filled with magic, they were able to not only piece themselves back together, they also gained the ability to combine with other Swap Force characters to mix and match attributes and powers. Each Swap Force figurine has two parts, a top and bottom, and these can be separated and recombined with any of 15 other Skylanders Swap Force characters for 256 potential combinations. Place your remixed figurine on the Portal of Power and you now have a new character that blends the elements of the two parts. If you already have a collection of Skylanders figurines–released with the two previous Skylanders games–they will still work with the Portal of Power and the Swap Force game, though you won’t have the swapping ability offered by newer two-piece figurines.

In addition to individual powers, each character is associated with one of eight elements: Water, Air, Fire, Earth, Life, Undeath, Tech, and Magic. Characters also have their own movement styles and abilities, which prevent or allow access to different portions of the game. Despite all of these additional areas, you can complete the game–from opening scenes to closing credits, using only the figures provided in the starter pack.

The game is a fairly basic platformer, rendered with loving detail and bright colors. In addition to the kid-friendly visuals is an impressive cast lending some familiar voices to the characters, with recognizable voices like Patrick Warburton and Kevin Sorbo, and well known voice actors, like Billy West, Nolan North, and Troy Baker.

The actual gameplay mechanics are simple, with a basic selection of actions: Basic attack, jump, and a special move. The specifics vary depending on which character (or combination of characters) you use: Some swing close range melee weapons, others hurl bombs or shoot arrows for ranged attacks. Movements also vary from one character to the next, with characters that slide, climb, dig, and more. Even with all of this variety, the game is pretty basic, with the character exploring the level, fighting off baddies, and performing prompted actions along the way. There are occasional challenges that break from the explore-jump-attack-repeat paradigm, but that’s how the majority of the game is spent. As you progress through the game you will also be pulled into several side missions and mini-games, but there are explanations all along the way, so even young players can enjoy the wide variety without feeling overwhelmed.

As you go through each level, you can collect treasure by smashing open chests and jugs scattered throughout each level, which can then be used to power up in the occasional upgrade pod. As you complete missions you will collect charms, which give you permanent bonuses throughout the game, building up your power levels and capabilities throughout the game. The collectible ethos permeates the game as well, where you can also collect soul gems, hats, and other treasures to strengthen your characters and build up your abilities.

As a game, Skylanders Swap Force is an enjoyable adventure through a variety of enchanted lands, and its blend of cartoon goofiness and winsome derring-do is sure to win big with all ages. But the addition of collectible toys, swappable parts and powers, and crossover between the toys and the game is designed to hit that toys/games/collectibles sweet spot that will have kids ravenous for more, and will definitely make it a hit this holiday season.

Specifications
Genre Action Games
Platform Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating E for Everybody

Verdict
The Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack is the perfect jumping-off point for the super-popular game and collectible toy craze.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc