At E3 I was able to attend a short presentation for Skylanders: Swap Force to get an idea of what the thinking behind the new game is and why we should shell out our cash for more of the figurines. Well, it turns out to play Swap Force we won’t have to shell out for new figurines, which is great – all your old characters will be supported and you can level them up further than before (up to level 20). Amazingly the old characters will also suddenly be able to jump in Swap Force, a big gameplay feature that has opened up a whole wealth of new fun. It’s still not clear why they couldn’t jump before, but I’m glad they can now.
The really big feature in Swap Force is the Dynamically Swappable characters. Evidently the producers received a lot of feedback from players wanting to swap combinations of character abilities, and that inspired the ability to do so. Every Swap Force character is now made of two halves, a bottom and a top half, and if you have two characters that means four combinations. With 16 toys available for the Swap Force game that’s a total of 256 combinations. And when they mean dynamically swappable they’re not joking. The top and bottom of each character are connected by two tiny, but strong, magnets, so they’re easy to just pull apart and join up again. As you do this and place the newly configured toy on the Portal of Power your in-game character will change to the new shape.
Each character has a different movement mechanism – one has tank tracks, another flies, another walks, another teleports – which means you can make anyone fly by using the bottom half of Free Ranger, the bird Skylander. You’ll notice that two names are used for each new character, one represents the bottom part and the other the top part, which means as you change parts your character’s name changes. Stink Bomb is a new character, a ninja skunk. But switch him to a different bottom and he will become Stink Shift or Stink Ranger. The combinations can be pretty funny. The parts level up and get abilities separately, which adds even more to the variety you can get.
To add to the variety in the game there are eight different types of “Swap Zones” which require a specific type of Skylander to enter. For instance, one is a digging challenge, so you need a digger Skylander. There are also dual element gates, which require either one character that has both elements or two co-operative characters, one of each element, to unlock. The dual elements have inspired the design of those areas – for example, Fire and Magic. I wonder what Fire and Ice will look like? You might argue that this is not really in the name of variety but in the name of getting you to buy all the toys so you can play all parts of the game, but you were going to get all the toys anyway, weren’t you?
Swap Force also includes new modes such as race mode and timed mode, but still supports only local co-op (or couch co-op as they’re calling it these days). This is because they want to create a living room experience, not an online one, and it also probably has a lot to do with the fact that the target age range for the game is 6 to 12 year olds. Vicarious Visions are doing the development work with much input from Toys for Bob. The game releases on October 13 in the US and on the 19th in Europe on just about every platform: 3DS, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and PS3 (but no PS Vita). It will come out for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (at 1080p they assure us) at launch.