Earlier in the year I reviewed Skylanders Giants. The main thrust of my criticism was that it felt like it was stressing the 3DS hardware too much at the cost of gameplay - I constantly struggled against the frame-rate, awkward portal inclusion, and yawn-inducing level design.
Skylanders Swap Force is a significant improvement over that outing, and the series feels more comfortable than ever on the 3DS.
It's not a fantastically memorable romp, and nor is it the best platformer on the system, but it's a fun adventure with high quality presentation, great toys, and a few new enjoyable twists on the Skylanders gameplay formula.Twist
Count Moneybone has invaded the home of the Mabu, a furry race of useless little creatures that look to their hero Flynn (voice acted by the brilliant Patrick Warburton) for protection.
Flynn is as useless as the people he protects, and pretty quickly you - the Portal Master - must whip out your Skylanders to defeat evil, save the day, and yadda yadda yadda.
It's very Saturday morning cartoon show, and all the better for it. There's a liberal dose of child-friendly humour, a twist of mild peril, and a dash of blatant toy advertising.
The Starter Pack for Swap Force on 3DS includes the game itself, the Portal of Power, a limited edition Skylanders figure, and two figures from the eponymous Swap Force. These statue-like toys are, for many people, the big appeal of the series. You buy these items and build a collection, bringing them into the game world via the portal.
They're well-made toys, and the portal communicates with the 3DS quickly. In a stroke of genius, the Skylanders you add to the game have their information saved on the cartridge itself, so you don't need to haul your entire collection onto the bus with you if you want to play Swap Force on the move.
The Swap Force members also split horizontally at the waist, meaning you can mix and match the toys to create hybrids.
It's here that the most obvious change to the base play of Skylanders is found. By combining different members of the Swap Force you can mix and match abilities.
The game's also just a lot more fun now. The platforming and combat that felt tired and cookie-cutter in Giants is more exciting here. Each stage is filled with small challenges, rather than the comparatively barren levels of Giants.Turn
Combat is all about crowd control: you pick off enemies as quickly as possible, trying not to be swamped. They're not very bright, but clearing all the baddies without getting hurt does take a little bit of thought from you.
Equally, the jump-'em-up action isn't close to approaching the best the 3DS has to offer, but moving platforms, bottomless pits, and other hazards require a bit of skill to navigate. There are loads of digital collectibles to find, and side-missions to complete too, so it should keep fans busy until the inevitable next release.
But the most significant improvement is that the game now runs much more fluidly. I didn't encounter much in the way of slowdown, even with lots of enemies or large pieces of geometry on-screen. This element alone makes it a marked improvement over Giants.
It's just as handsome as the last release, too, with some gorgeous effects scattered about for good measure.
Loading times between levels and Skylander changes take a fraction too long, but these are minor issues.
If you're not a fan of the Skylanders brand of combat and platforming, then Swap Force isn't going to do much to bring you into the toy-collecting fold. But for fans of the series, there's finally a great portable version of the home experience.