Skylanders: Swap Force (3DS)

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Skylanders: Swap Force (3DS) Game Poster Image
Basic hand-held adventure lacks spark of console cousins.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about strategic reasoning, puzzle solving, and the hobby of collecting in this hand-held action/adventure game. Players can devise and revise tactics as they go up against different kinds of enemies, and they'll occasionally encounter very simple puzzles, such as tilting gravity-based mazes, that will force them to use logic. They'll also find themselves building a collection of toys, learning to prioritize purchases in the process. Skylanders: Swap Force for 3DS doesn't have as much learning potential as the version for consoles, but it will keep kids' minds active.

Positive Messages

As with other Skylanders games, the story revolves around helping friends and defeating an evil menace. Notions of courage, friendship, and duty come up in many narrative sequences. That said, the Skylanders' only means of accomplishing their objectives is to fight monsters.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Skylanders and their pal Flynn are clearly good (though Flynn can be pretty egotistical and an incorrigible flirt), and their enemies are definitely bad. But while the Skylanders are a force for justice, they rarely do anything other than battle bad guys and navigate treacherous environments. There aren't many behaviors on display here that kids would do well to emulate. Plus, this is a world populated by more boy heroes than girl heroines.

Ease of Play

The action is dead simple: just move your Skylander and mash the attack buttons. If your Skylander ever runs low on health, you can switch to another. Puzzles -- including several that involve tilting gravity mazes -- are very easy, too. The only part of the game that might trip kids up a little is platform jumping and other navigation challenges, which tend to be tricky simply because the camera makes it hard to properly judge depth and position.

Violence & Scariness

Much of the game is spent fighting fantastical creatures –- living trees, spiky-backed monsters -– from a raised third-person perspective using a variety of magical, melee, and ranged attacks including energy balls, bladed weapons, glowing projectiles, punching, and kicking. There is no blood or gore nor any glamorized death animations; enemies simply collapse and disappear when defeated. 

Language
Consumerism

As with other Skylanders outings, a big part of the game is collecting additional physical figurines beyond the three that come with the starter pack to unlock special areas in the game, which is bound to cost parents and kids a lot of money. That said, the new Swap Force characters have interchangeable bottoms and tops, which means that buying only a handful of figures can result in dozens of combinations; this makes for good value. Plus, all characters from the first two games can be used in this one, so long-time franchise fans will have a leg up.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Skylanders: Swap Force is an action/adventure game for kids but one that could prove quite costly. Play involves a lot of cartoonish battles involving magic, brawling, and lots of weird-looking non-human creatures. The fighting is nearly constant but mild enough for the game's target demographic. More concerning is the amount of money kids and parents may spend as they collect associated toys that can be transported into the game via an included "portal" platform. Returning Skylanders fans can use all their existing figures, but they'll be encouraged to purchase the new, cleverly designed Swap Force figures, whose tops and bottoms can be separated and swapped with one another. At least eight of these $15 figures are required to open all the locked areas players encounter in the game.

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What's it about?

SKYLANDERS: SWAP FORCE on Nintendo 3DS isn't the same game as the one released for living room consoles. It has a different story in which a new villain named Count Moneybone kidnaps Flynn's friend Cali, forcing the Skylanders to go in search of her. That said, the action is similar in nature to the console version: Players spend their time fighting a variety of cartoonish enemies, leveling up their Skylanders through battle, and searching for elemental gates and challenge zones unlocked by certain types of Skylanders. As in the console editions, a big part of the experience is collecting the new toys, which include dozens of regular Skylanders plus 16 new "swappable" Skylanders, the bottom and top halves of which can be mixed and matched, resulting in more than 250 possible pairings. All previous Skylanders figures are compatible, but at least eight of these new Swap Force Skylanders -- one for each of the eight new movement types (teleport, spin, speed, dig, climb, bounce, rocket, and sneak) -- are required to unlock all areas in the game.

Is it any good?

Although the 3DS edition of Skylanders: Swap Force looks and feels a lot like the version released for consoles, it's not nearly as satisfying. A big part of the disappointment comes in the way players use the toys. Kids don't get to remove and replace Skylanders on the portal whenever they like, which accounts for a lot of the fun in the living room games. Instead, they use the portal just once for each Skylander to transport them into the game, where they're stored. Then they simply select the one they want to use via the touch screen. This is especially disheartening in light of the new Swap Force characters, the fun of which comes from physically decoupling and recoupling their magnetic upper and lower halves.

As for the game itself, it's basically a much shorter and less challenging take on what players do in the console editions. Enemy tactics are generally limited to simply charging headlong into battle, and an unhelpful camera makes jumping to moving platforms a lot trickier than it needs to be. It can still be fun in a mindless way, but a lot of the fun of the console Skylanders games has been sucked out of this middling hand-held edition.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about consumerism. There's a good chance some players and their families will end up spending more on this game and its associated toys than they do on the rest of the games they purchase over the course of a year. Are you getting good value for your money? Why, or why not?

  • Families can also discuss Activision's decision not to include any female Skylanders in the new swappable collection. Would it matter to you or bother you if you swapped the bottoms and tops of boy and girl characters?

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