Skylanders SWAP Force (Wii) Review – Thank Goodness for Gameplay as it Saves the Day

(Editors Note: We did not have access to any Wii specific screenshots, so the limited screens we have included are from the current generation of HD consoles – our sincere apologies)

Having had the chance to play the Wii U and 3DS versions of Skylanders SWAP Force, I was tasked with reviewing the Wii version.  I thought that this would indeed be interesting as my children’s main gaming machine is the Wii, although they do get to play my Wii U too.  The reason for this is that the Wii is in their playroom so it’s regularly accessible to them.  Regardless, I hunkered down with them for some in-depth playtime on Nintendo’s aging home console to see how SWAP Force fared.

For those few of you who have been oblivious to the whole world of Skylanders, the game allows you to take toy figures and transport them into the game by putting them on a portal. As I have mentioned in my other SWAP Force reviews, Activision has enabled Skylander fans to use their previous figures in this latest version of the game. They have increased the level cap to 20 this time around too, so there is more reason to play with your favourite figurine/character in this year’s game.

The biggest feature this year is the new swappable characters. Along with Series 2 and Series 3 figures (returning characters) and some newly introduced characters (go Slobber Tooth and Zoo Lou), there are total of 16 swappable characters (not all available at launch), each with their own SWAP force abilities and elements. You can swap their top and bottom halves for a total of 256 combinations. Of note is that the starter pack comes with two swappable characters and one regular character.

Each character has a skill tree. When you are upgrading the skills of your swappable character, the top and bottom halves each have their own skill tree too. The skill tree for all characters has a branch in the middle that allows you to choose one of two directions. Usually this branch will affect how you play with the characters and once you choose a specific path it is ‘set in stone’ as you cannot change it.

Ok, enough about the figures.

Skylanders SWAP Force takes place in the Cloudbreak Islands where a volcano erupts and spews magic every 100 years replenishing the magic in Skylands. That bumbling evil villain Kaos is back and he has made it his mission to send out “evilized” darkness with the volcano magic and turn Skylands into a state where he will rule all. In order to do this he needs to find one of the four ancient elementals and use them to ‘infect’ the magic. There is a new addition to the world of evil too, Kaos’ mother has seen her inept son fail once too many times and she has come to help him this time around. I won’t ruin anymore of the main story points, but bottomline it’s up to you as the “Portal Master” to take control of the Skylanders and work with the inhabitants of Skylands to save this world from Kaos’ evil plans.

I have to say that if there is one thing that SWAP Force doesn’t lag in it is in the number things to do, and that includes the Wii Version. The story mode will take up most of your time. Here you’ll play through the games numerous levels and watch as the story unfolds in front of you. As in the past you can go straight through the game making your way from point a to point b and onto the next level but the urge to search the whole level will engross you and start to take up more time.

Returning to the world of Skylanders are elemental zones. Each of these zones is only accessible with a Skylander that matches the element (Life, Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Tech, Undead, Magic). Some of these elemental zones require two different types of elemental zones for you to open it. If you are not playing cooperative (2-players) and you come across one of these elemental zones you can use the swappable characters, swap halves, and find the right elements to enter the zone. This is a great little feature as it allowed my kids to play with each other, or by themselves, and still have fun as they could open most of these zones.

Along the same lines of the elemental zones are the newly added swap zones. These special zones are specific to swappable characters. These characters have logos on the base of their character (e.g. speed, bounce, climb, rocket, dig, spin, stealth, teleport) and it has to match that of the swap zone. These were pretty neat and I found myself kind of addicted to completing them, as did my kids. Once they are completed they are opened up for challenge in Woodbury (the game’s main hub) to earn more stars. This is yet another addition to the franchise’s addictiveness.

A new feature to the world of Skylanders is your “Portal Master Rank”. As you finish each level you will earn stars that goes towards this rank. Stars are also added as there are 67 accolades that you can complete as you play the game. The Portal Master Rank is more of a bragging right, but your rank also allows you to access pedestals in Woodburrow (game hub) where you can put items on them to increase your armour, health, elemental effects, gold find, etc. for any equipped character.

I feel I have covered the major new additions to the single player experience that make a difference. Sure I could go on forever and speak about the new shops that you’ll find in Woodborrow (game hub), the new fishing game mechanics, the new Spark Lock mini-games, the new on-rail shooting sequences (e.g. Ice Sled and Fire Airboat), and all the extra stuff that opens up in Woodburrow as you venture through the game’s story, but I don’t have enough room. Take it from me though, everything adds to the game experience.

My kids and I once again played Skylanders SWAP Force on the medium skill difficulty. This skill level is quite doable for kids and most will enjoy it.  For those really young ones who want to play, knock it down to easy and they will have fun. In regards to gameplay length nothing changes so even if you rush through it there is still ample playtime as you’ll get around 10-12 hours minimum…and of course there’s a lot more playtime should you check out every nook and cranny of each level.

Along with the single player story SWAP Force adds some great and addictive local multiplayer. From playing the story mode cooperatively to playing in the arena modes, there is a lot to do even after you’ve finished the game’s main campaign. In regards to the arena modes, you’ll find Solo Survival, Team Survival, Rival Survival, Battle Arena and Ring out. When I was playing these modes with my kids they loved to just ‘beat the tar’ out of each other on-screen. Given both of them and their friends played the arena modes to death in the past (a la Skylanders Giants) I think it’s safe to say that there will be lots of multiplayer played again. Nothing says fun as much as sitting on the couch with a sibling and trying to beat them in a friendly battle in one of many arenas offered.

Visually the Wii version is the weakest of all home console versions and this is to be expected  (editor’s note: please remember screens in this review are not from the Wii version). Having played the game in HD on the Wii U I thought was somewhat prepared for the drop in resolution, but “oh my” maybe not as much as I anticipated.  The game isn’t as clean or as sharp as the other consoles given the 480p max resolution.  It looked kind of rough.  That being said, there is still water and ice effects, some use of lighting and shadows, and some basic transparencies. It’s colourful too, but just don’t expect a heap load of detail and amazing textures, as the Wii just can’t do it that well. As with the Wii U version, the diversity in level design and enemies is still pretty amazing.  Technically speaking the game ran smoother than I thought it would but you’ll still find the odd hiccup (e.g. slowdown) and draw-in is pretty noticeable. At the end of the day it’s a Wii game, so keep your expectations for the visuals in check, but kids will still love it.

In regards to the SWAP Force’s audio, it wraps up a solid presentation package. Hans Zimmer once again has his hands in the music department and you’ll find the soundtrack very engrossing while not overbearing. The music has a unique knack of fitting everything you do on-screen, from battling enemies, entering a new elemental or swap zone, or even just standing there. As for the voice acting, it is solid. The voice actors deliver their lines in a manner, which suits the Skylanders universe. There is proper emphasis on certain things that add to the atmosphere and there is some great humour in the writing too. Finally the game’s sound effects manage to solidly convey everything you do on screen from eating a health power up to walking on different surfaces to using your various weapons.

The biggest issue people may have with SWAP Force is what the game will cost. You’ll need to add a few more figurines in order to open everything in the game, including all the elemental and swap zones. And as mentioned earlier not all the new swappable characters are being released at launch. That being said, you don’t have to do this right away, and you can buy previously owned figurines (different elements) from at various stores. At the end of the day it’s not as bad as people think, and you don’t need to own every single character out there.

As with the Wii U version, Skylanders SWAP Force on the original Wii is one heck of a game, especially when you consider it’s a title that is really geared for children. Given that so many kids still play on the original Wii, this game will find an audience that will be quite satisfied. Add to this that the value of being able to use existing figurines that gamers already own you have a game that supports returning fans. Sure, the Wii version is definitely not as pretty as the other home console versions, but the addictive gameplay is still there, and that is what counts, as kids will just want to play it.

The Good


The Bad