There’s a significant trend going on right now that apparently culminates in a law: If a console game is released and it receives a handheld spin-off or port, the port or spin-off must be extremely inferior to the console version. Thankfully, Skylanders Swap Force for the 3DS tends to avoid this trend, but only just barely.
In case you’re not exactly familiar with the Skylanders formula, in these games players collect various figurines in real life and place them upon a peripheral that will allow the player to use those characters in a 3D platformer. Players roam around various landscapes, defeat enemies nabbing a plethora of collectibles and various items while partaking of the series signature humor delivered by the star-filled voice acting cast. Some locations may only be available to a Skylander of a particular element, fire gates only unlocking for fire-typed Skylanders and so on, making having one of each figurine a somewhat important aspect to fully complete the games, otherwise various treasures may be sealed behind a water-typed door, keeping players from reaching that 100 percent completion statistic.
Of course, the types are not the only thing that differentiate, the Skylanders: Even those of the same element will have different skills the players can learn for attacking, defending and traversing the environments.
The largest new addition of Skylanders Swap Force is that players can now take the top and bottom halves of their Skylanders figurines and mix-and-match them to find a suitable preference: If a player likes the way one character moves through water but wants the offensive power of another then there’s no reason not to mix things up a little bit to suit your play style. One major feature that was strongly needed by this series was the lack of being required to hold a character on the Portal of Power at all times. In previous Skylanders games, players had to have the character with which they wished to play on top of the USB-connected Portal of Power peripheral, but that is no longer the case. Players are fully capable of importing all of their Skylanders on their 3DS systems and storing them there for future use, and even the swapping mechanic is handled on the game’s touchscreen so there’s no need to constantly fiddle with the figurines (try saying that ten times fast – I’ll wait).
Initially, the Swap Force mechanic was really just aesthetic modifications with no real substance to them, but that greatly improved once skills began unlocking one after another for the various parts of the characters. Using the teleportation skill of one leg set while using the melee attacks of a different upper body character can lend a lot of variance in what players can do to defeat the foes that lay before them. Of course, button-mashing works just as well without involving any strategy or combining of Swap Force parts, which may have been a decision to keep the younger demographic interested. Older players may find the Diablo-esque hack and slash combat a little stale without the loot fest and everything else that makes Diablo III such a great game, while younger players may just be content to go around and shoot away at legions of Chompies with the octopus Skylander.
There are a decent number of varying enemy types, with some enemies like the Chompies that attack en-masse, while there are even enemies who hang off to the side and try to heal other, hardier foes or fire long distance attacks from the edges of the screen. Beyond the combat, there’s also a good amount to explore given that you can wander around the levels and treasure and hat collectibles, the latter of which your in-game Skylander can actually wear on his or her head. There’s even bonus missions players may come across while exploring, giving them even more to do in the long run. Fortunately, exploring is a breeze since the controls of the 3DS version of Skylanders Swap Force are great and every character moves like they should with no real learning curve.
The 3D implementation in Swap Force could have used a little work, honestly: Very little depth is actually brought out by turning on the 3D effect of the console, and it also causes fairly heavy and frequent frame rate drops in certain levels, to the point where it was just more pleasant to play with the effect off. The graphics overall don’t look too shabby, but whether the 3D was an after thought, poorly coded or the result of trying for something too much on the 3DS from a technical standpoint is something more knowledgeable individuals can sort out, but it just doesn’t work out well in this game.
The sound, on the other hand, is amazing in this game. A pair of headphones will perfectly bring out all of the little instruments players couldn’t otherwise hear through the 3DS speakers, and while the sound effects aren’t exactly the most pleasant things to hear ad nauseam, the soundtrack, at least, is a solid step in the right direction.
The story is also completely different in the 3DS version of the game from the console versions, if that kind of thing actually matters. The quirky dialogue is more of why one could imagine a person playing a Skylanders game, and let it be known that the transition to handheld did not leave out any of the quirkiness inherent to this series. Kaos and a new villain, the former of which was the perennial villain for the Skylanders series, supply a good deal of humorous dialogue, and exchanges with the two of them stays amusing for the whole trip through Swap Force.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and trigger-happy octopi in Skylanders Swap Force: In comparison to its console version, the 3DS variant of Skylanders Swap Force seems to be a little light in the customization side. In the console Skylanders variant, players can choose from different sets of skills as they level up, while in the 3DS version Skylanders merely unlock a predetermined skill when they meet a certain level. Overall, it’s one of those things that if you’re not aware there’s an alternative then it may not be something that bothers you, but some characters can get some noticeably stronger powers in the console version of the game, and of course, having the choice never hurts either. Also, the length of the game is a bit on the anemic side, with a whole playthrough only taking maybe six or so hours, with the game making it very blatant that it intends to have players play through stages multiple times to find all of the hidden treasures, hats and challenges.
To summarize, Skylanders Swap Force for the Nintendo 3DS is not a bad game by any means. The dialogue is humorous and can keep a child and adult alike entertained with some of the exchanges among the characters, while the manner in which the game plays, due to its button-mashy nature, may be more suited toward the younger crowd. Those who don’t like to play games through multiple times might discover a very short and unfulfilling title, while those who enjoy playing through games many times with several different characters can definitely get their money’s worth.