When it first arrived, we eyed Skylanders with suspicion. We wondered why people who railed so angrily against on-disc DLC were silent about the idea of having to spend 50 quid on plastic toys to unlock toy-specific bonus areas.
Our worries were entirely out of sync with the world. Children loved the simple sense of relentless progress and discovery, and the idea that their toys were powering up. Parents didn't seem to mind buying the odd toy. And making the Portal of Power work on any platform was a stroke of genius, making sharing easy.
Skylanders Giants was a surprise. You could use all your old toys, so if you'd got one of each of the eight elements, all you needed for a fully unlocked game was a Giant, and Tree Rex was bundled. It seemed unexpectedly generous. So this, the third generation, walks a tricky tightrope. It has to maintain that sense of generosity (even it if is an illusion, inside a system that's brilliantly designed to suck up All The Money). You can still use all your old toys and gain access to the elemental areas. But Swap Force "abilities" kickstart a new gatekeeping system, that locks off different kinds of areas.
Divide and conquer
The top half of a Swap Force character determines your weapon, and the bottom half determines a special mobility attack. This gives you a neat flexibility in choosing your favourite character. The various zones of the world still boost different elements, encouraging you to swap characters to suit. There's no doubt about it - there's something unusual and satisfying about clomping one Skylander off for another.
The Swap Force character base also has the key to those new gates. There are eight abilities, including Bounce, Dig, Rocket and Climb, and mini-games dotted around the worlds require these skills to enter. Surprisingly, these mini-games are a little too simple to be worth the expense. They're certainly not worth buying six new toys to unlock - unless your kids enjoy the toys in their own right.
It's odd to review a game and focus mainly on the mechanics of the toys that unlock various aspects of it. But it's the most notable thing about Swap Force. The game's still an utterly charming and absorbing linear platformer, with plenty of secrets knotted into its path. It's the same experience on Xbox One, but aesthetically it's a cut above - you can expect more and better textures, plus a native 1080p resolution. Kids may not notice the visual upgrade, though, so cash-strapped parents might prefer to stick to current gen.
The only reason to be wary, especially if this is your first Skylanders game, is if your kids are possessed by the game-completion demon, you're talking an extra £70-odd quid on figures. And if they're possessed by his more savage cousin, the Satan of must-have-all-the-toys, you're talking hundreds of pounds. But if you can get them to share with their friends? Well done, you're a good parent.
It's increasingly familiar, but perfectly paced, and broken up with sub-games and puzzles. With dozens of characters and low difficulty, it's wider than it is deep - but could get expensive.
- Toys coming to life is still a magical concept
- Excellent villain and cast
- You can still use all of your old toys
- It's not pushing its own envelope
- Block puzzles are getting old
- High potential cost if you want 100% completion