Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NYCC 2013: Skylanders: SWAP Force

For four days, people came to the Javits Center in New York City to experience one of the largest conventions on the east coast: New York Comic Con 2013!  Fans of comics, movies, television shows, and toys came together to revel in their hobbies, and with them came video game companies to show off their wares for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.  We here at 3RM attended a few of those days, and we have impressions and video to provide from our experience!


In Nintendo's booth, Activision was present to show off the latest portable adventure in the Skylanders franchise, Skylanders SWAP Force.  Playable only on the Nintendo 2DS at the show, I got to try out a bit of the demo's swamp forest level while discussing the game with a representative from the company.  From my brief experiences, I can see that Skylanders on handhelds is faithful to the series, even with a few rough edges noticeable from my playtime.

Skylanders: SWAP Force is the third iteration of the Skylanders franchise, a series of games in which players place figurines of Skylander warriors onto a physical portal device to bring the character to life in a humorous, epic adventure.  Introduced in 2011 by Toys for Bob, the series has since added giant and glowing (lightcore) Skylander figurines with its sequel Skylanders Giants.  SWAP Force changes the gameplay up even more this time around, with Vicarious Visions now at the helm of the series.  The handheld iterations started with Vicarious Visions, but since Giants the 3DS versions have been handled by N-Space.

In SWAP Force, the series introduces swappable characters.  At the hip, these sixteen new Skylanders can be separated and reattached, allowing characters to share types and swap special moves between one another.  For instance, I was able to use Wash Buckler (a pirate octopus) and swap out his tentacle legs for the rolling lower-half of Magna Charge (a robotic magnet being).  The resulting Skylander had the attack powers of Wash Buckler but the speed of Magna Charge, which would help out in particular scenarios I encountered in the demo.  These swappable Skylanders help create even more character variety than before (and that is saying something with over forty other Skylanders already present in the series).

Unlike the console versions of the series, Skylanders on the 3DS could not use the portal in real-time, instead "absorbing" the Skylanders into the game and redepositing them when necessary, with a maximum of two at a time.  SWAP Force, however, allows up to four Skylanders per type to be stored, including swappable Skylanders.  With the touch screen I was able to quickly switch into a different Skylander with relative ease, although there was some additional loading involved when using the swappable Skylanders, for good reason.

Graphically, the game resembled the first iteration of the game on handhelds, with slightly lower polygon counts and a lower-than-optimal framerate compared to the console versions.  The framerate did not falter too much from the norm, however, and there was a good amount of activity going on the screen at once.  The camera is panned out, much like Giants and the console iterations of all of the games, and that allows for more exploration to be possible.  Even so, the camera started to play games with me, panning around the character for no reason.  This ended up causing me to lose track of where I was going, and it delayed my progress more than I would have liked.  It felt awkward having to make near leaps-of-faith toward the camera with my character, when it would have been easier for the camera to just say behind me.

Meanwhile, the gameplay was as standard as the series goes.  Characters fight enemies to gain experience, and at first, the attacks are fairly basic, but as you progress, the Skylander gains more abilities to assist.  The special challenge areas are still present in the game, requiring specific types of Skylanders to open specific doorways in order to obtain gifts to be used in-game.  There will be additional requirements for certain doorways in this game, specific to powers held be particular swappable Skylanders.  This adds another layer of character requirements for the challenge areas, so do not expect to just get away with just one Skylander per type this time around!

Regardless of the little issues, Skylanders SWAP Force felt pretty much like a handheld edition of the console titles, especially now that the console games introduce jumping mechanics that the handheld games have had since the beginning.  The ability to swap between so many Skylanders now sounds like a welcome change, even if it still requires "absorbing" Skylanders and redepositing them when desiring to play the console versions.  It did have some little issues here and there, but nothing that should deter the audience away if they were looking for a decent Skylander experience on the go.

Skylanders SWAP Force is out now for 3DS/2DS, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii.

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