New Skylanders Swap Force mixes and matches

For all you Skylanders fans — or parents of Skylanders fans — Activision has officially unveiled the next instalment of its popular franchise, and it has a twist to it: new characters that have swappable tops and bottoms.

The new Swap Force figures unveiled in New York.
(Credit: David Carnoy/CNET)

That's right; with the upcoming Swap Force "inter-action" figures, you can separate the top of the toy from the bottom (held together with moderately strong magnets) and mix and match the halves with other characters. Needless to say, it allows you to create characters with hybrid powers and moves — if you collect all 16 new Swap characters, you can come up with 256 combinations.

In case you've never heard of Skylanders, it works like this: you put your physical character on the Power Portal, which connects via USB to your game console, and the virtual version of that character enters the game. What has helped make the game so popular and a huge money maker for Activision is that kids love collecting the various characters and seeing how they perform in the game.

Last year, Activision brought out Skylanders Giants, a larger form of the inter-action figures that costs more. In order to use those characters, you had to buy the new Skylanders Giants game, though your original Skylanders could be used in the new game. The same is true for the new Skylanders Swap Force game: you need it to play with new Swap characters, but it's backwards compatible with existing Skylanders figures.

Activision said Swap Force features new abilities — such as flying, climbing, digging, bouncing and teleporting — "which can be used in previously unexplored areas of Skylands centred on these play mechanics" — and the new developer, Vicarious Visions, has finally added a jump button, so you don't have to run around inch-high ledges.

On top of the aforementioned 16 new Swap figures, the game features eight new LightCore characters and 16 new versions of "fan favourite" Skylanders from previous games. The company has also improved the graphics of the game and redesigned the Power Portal with coloured lighting that now bleeds out the sides.

We got a quick demo of the Swap Force game, and can attest to the sharper graphics. And the new swap mechanic seems well integrated, with each half of a figure having a specific upgrade path (although the top half is the one that gets the XP). Mixing and matching also gives that character a dual element spec, which can be great if you want to level, say, an Earth Skylander in a Water zone.

But our first reaction to the swappable characters was, "Gee, this is an ingenious way to lure kids into making their parents buy more Skylanders characters." The tops and bottoms adhere magnetically and there's a definite urge to see what happens when you combine one Swap Force character with another. Some people jokingly refer to Skylanders figures as "crack for kids", and the new figures seem to up the addiction ante.

Activision reps acknowledged our cynicism, but also said that kids would appreciate the new "play patterns" that the combination characters generated. It's hard to argue with folks who've created a billion-dollar franchise, but I don't think all parents will be so excited about the new play patterns when they're dropping AU$20 apiece — or whatever these things will cost — on a couple of new characters. Of course, you can always make your kids sell their old Skylanders on Amazon or eBay, where there are active collector markets for them, to raise funds for new Skylanders.

The new game will launch this year on Nintendo Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. No word on how much a starter pack — which would include the game, the new portal and probably three figures — will cost, but we suspect it'll be somewhere in the neighbourhood of AU$99.

Michelle Starr contributed to this report.


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