Activision’s Skylanders franchise has always smelled of a money grab to me. Copperish, like the smell of old pennies scrounged up by hard-working parents so little Linda Anne can have all the newest and coolest Skylanders characters while mom and dad work three jobs amidst recession. Jim Sterling is rather partial to the plastic lot, however, so they can’t be all bad, right?
In fact, they’re not. The new Skylanders: Swap Force is indeed rather cute and pretty fun. Vacuous, but quaint enough.
Skylanders is videogames as toys; or, Toys: The Videogame. I guess I forgot that videogames practically were, once upon a time. It’s no less inane and gimmicky and capitalistic than the stupid garbage we pestered parents for 20 years ago, but it’s a heck of a lot more polished and less likely to break like the slot cars I took around hairpin turns too quickly causing them to go flying off the track. Plus, what can be more embarrassing than having paid money for pogs?
Skylanders: Swap Force (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [previewed], Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, 3DS)
Developer: Vicarious Visions (PS3, PS4, 360, One, Wii U) / n-Space (3DS)/ Beenox (Wii)
Release: October 13, 2013
After last year’s Skylanders: Giants, which featured bigger monsters, the toys needed a new gimmick. This time, it’s swapability. Over a dozen of the new characters are Swap Force characters, meaning they can be vivisected at the waist (they’re held fast with magnets) and you can change characters’ top and bottom, mixing and matching as you see fit. It’s basically sanctioned unholy fusion of separate action figures. Kids these days have it so easy.
Each Skylanders toy has its set of stats tied to it and each Swap Force character halve lays claim to independent statistics, which means you’re not tied to the entire character if, say, you wanted to keep a quick and speedy base but wanted to easily switch between melee and ranged attacks. Or something, I guess. I think it’s more personal preference than anything, because the game isn’t that deep.
There is a Nightmare Mode you can gain access to, so maybe being savvy with character abilities and strategies might be a thing worth considering down the line, but everything I got the swappurtunity to go hands-on with was fairly straight forward mashing on monsters, which gets back to my original point: it’s solid mashing on monsters.
I get the appeal now. I don’t exactly like the appeal, because there’s something inherently slimy and manipulative about the whole children’s toys market wherein kids are trained to desire all the baubles, but I get it. Had I disposable income and a child, Skylanders would be a no stress way to introduce said stupid human child to videogames in a lax environment. The child would get colorful visual stimuli mildly reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank, silly toys that children are apt to collect and enjoy, and pretty chill monster mashing combat.
It’s not to say I wouldn’t get anything from it, either. Skylanders, at least of the Swap Force ilk. are generally named with lovely puns (and permutations thereof when they get swapped) that I enjoy terribly. Invader Zim’s voice actor also voices the main villain, and the writing in general pulled a few chuckles out of me. You can also see some semblance of heart and fun in Swap Force. Jumping has finally been added to the game and while it’s not a core tenet, it’s fun, as we learned so many years ago playing all those platformers. Plus, the jump animations are all kind of great.
There’s a snake Swap Force character, Rattle Shake, who is basically Crocodile Dundee with Antnio Banderas’ voice, which is hilarious in and of itself. His jump features a springy sound effect as his tail coils up and propels him upward. I enjoyed it, anyway. The robot legs also bring a cool backflip jump into play. All existing Skylanders characters have been retrofitted with new jumping animations as well.
Also, the Crocodile Dundee snake character? His gun is a smaller snake.
I hate copping out and suggesting Sklyanders: Swap Force for kids. First, because I don’t know a modicum about child rearing. I’d probably throw s book at them and make them entertain themselves. Or take them to the park to play sports in the hopes of vicariously living through their organized athletic success after my own failures and blown out knees. Yeah, what of it? Don’t tell me how to raise my own gosh darn hypothetical children.
The other reason is that I don’t see why those ungrateful little twerps can’t just play Super Mario World like I did; why they have to have something pared down and spoon fed to them. My SNES is literally sitting in my entertainment center right now.
Still, if you can abide by the bollocks that comes along with children’s toys (and potential physical pay walls locking you out of side content that you need certain characters or character types for), I can see how Skylanders: Swap Force might be appealing. I’m still leery of the whole charade for more ideological reasons, but it’s a solidly fun escapade with some character to it. And Invader Zim. And a Crocodile Dundee rattle snake with a snake gun.
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