“Can Skylanders retain its popularity now that Disney Infinity is here?”
That was one of the questions going into E3 this year, especially with Infinity launching in August. The Skylanders phenomenon has become a huge third pillar of Activision’s market dominance, becoming a billion dollar industry on its own. If anyone could disrupt that, it would be Disney, the company with a multitude of family-friendly properties that make for a perfect “collectible figurine-on-a-portal” experience.
Skylanders, though cognizant of the existence of and threat from Infinity, continues to plan on plugging along. Skylanders: Swap Force is the next evolution of the series, designed with yet another new method to get us to re-buy characters. This year, Skylanders introduces the concept of two-piece figurines than can be attached to each other to create characters with new and unique powers when placed on the mat and zapped into the game. Essentially, grab the top half of one figure and put it on the bottom half of another. The figures align and snap together with two tiny but powerful magnets. They held together well when I threw one up in the air and across the play area at E3, and don’t rattle or come loose. But, I still get the feeling that they may be easily misplaced as kids leave pieces all over the house.
The characters can now level up to 20, including the older figures from previous games. This should please many fans since grinding and maxing has become a thing for collectors before they pawn off their figures. Swap Force has 16 new characters and 16 returning. Those will be mixed up between 16 swappable and 16 light core figures, and no giants. I probably spent more time ogling the figures instead of playing the game, because really: that’s what the experience is designed for.
Swapping the figures’ pieces on the fly was quick and easy, and immediately dropped them into the game when desired. Beyond just the elemental bonus gates in previous games, Swap Force now also has mobility gates that lead to mini games. These gates are directly accessed by what bottom piece is on the figure. A cloud, for instance, might only be accessible by someone who has the mobility to fly. That’s another thing, too: all of the characters can now jump, which is something that previous Skylanders games struggled with.
The levels we played were all typical of the series’ platforming heritage. They’re large, sprawling and colorful, and full of obstacles and even more multiple paths than in the past. Loot seemed to fly every where, as chests and items were plentiful. On the consoles (we messed around with the Wii U version extensively) Swap Force seemed exactly like the previous games, with little in the way of world innovation. The minigames were nice detours, but nothing that made the game feel any different from Giants.
By the close of my demo, I didn’t feel like Swap Force was going to ward off Disney Infinity completely, though it does have one key advantage over the opposition. For one, the characters are free of a specific license, meaning that they can be as wild and outrageous as the designers want them to be. Want a gun on the octopus? Sure, why not. You can’t do that with Monsters University or Cars characters. It’s going to be interesting to see how the two products take hold. Skylanders has stiff competition now, and by making the figures and games more complicated it may inadvertently hurt the end experience.
I just want cool figures, no matter what platform they are on. Though, really… A Transformers version would be BOSS.