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A New Force
Company: Activision
Product: Skylanders: Swap Force
We recently got some hands on time with the latest Skylanders title and, quite frankly, we really liked how this gameís newest mechanic feels.

Skylanders: Swap Force is the third game to feature Activisionís toys that come to life, and this time, they are introducing a whole new type of gameplay that leaves the lumbering giants of the previous title behind. Most fans know what Swap Force is all about, but in case you hadnít heard, here is the basic rundown.

Skylanders: Swap Force introduces 16 characters that can be separated at the waist and combined with other character body parts. Letís say, for instance, you have Wash Buckler and Magna Charge. One is a Water character that has tentacles for legs, while the other is Tech-based and has wheels for feet. When swapped, the new characters have an interesting mix of powers. With the body of Wash Buckler and the body of Magna Charge, you get a fast-moving character with water-based attacks, while the other pair ends up being a character that can use his tentacles for attacking and has a magnetic charge attack.

This gives the developers at Vicarious Visions a few new ways to challenge the players. For one, the different legs have abilities that allow them to gain access into new secret areas. Another comes with the fact that combined characters can have two different element types. In the case of our above pair, the two new characters would be of Water/Tech type. What this means is that elemental gates that previously only required one type of element to open up can now require two. These gates require either the right type of combined character or a pair of non-Swap Force characters of the right elements in order to be opened.

While Activision hasnít announced all 16 of the Swap Force characters, they have given us a peek at eight of them, as well as a few new Core characters, a Light Core and even some interesting twists to the reposing of the more classic figures. The eight Swap Force figures include two Undead types, Rattle Shake and Night Shift, as well as the aforementioned Magna Charge and Wash Buckler. There is also the Magic type, Hoot Loop, the Air type Free Ranger, Blast Zone (a Fire type) and Stink Bomb, a Nature character.

As for the other characters, the Lightcore we got to play with was called Star Strike. This magic character has some interesting looking blades in her hands and reminded me a lot of the spell punk enemies. We also got to test run new Core characters like the running time bomb called Countdown and Roller Brawl, but I was really interested in the makeover characters like Spyro, Stealth Elf and Eruptor got in their new reposes. Actually, repose is the wrong word here. Unlike the re-releases in Skylanders: Giants, the older characters actually have new abilities and looks. Spyro is called the "Mega Ram Spyro," Stealth Elf is called "Ninja Stealth Elf" while Eruptor takes on a gray tone and is called "Volcanic Eruptor."

So, thatís the toys, or at least a good start on that subject. What about the gameplay itself? We got a chance to play through major portions of two levels, Iron Jaw Gulch and Rampant Ruins. The first and most obvious thing we noticed was the dramatic increase in the gameís graphics. It is obvious that the gameís graphics engine either got a major overhaul or it was redone from the ground up because there is a lot more detail in the levels, but it still manages to keep that same kid-friendly feel that has made the line so appealing.

By playing through these two levels, we got a really good chance to see just how well the Swap Force mechanic works, as well as new features like the multi-element gates. One of the major new features is tied strongly to the type of feet that the character has. For instance, Blast Zoneís rocket feet grant a character access to zones where you have to fly through rings in a limited amount of time, while Wash Bucklerís climbing feet open up a vertical side-scrolling challenge. At the end of each is a special collectible also new to this title, bonus levels.

Another change is the slide-lock puzzle seen in the older games. Now a slightly more complicated puzzle is presented to players as they move blobby characters called Shock and Bolt around the lock in order to get them to share the same square. While this is more or less the same idea found in the past two titles, there is just a bit more strategy involved in getting past these locked gates.

Of course, Skylanders isnít all about the toys coming to life. There is a pretty fun story that surrounds these characters. Swap Force has Kaos up to his old tricks. This time, he is cultivating vast supplies of petrified evil. With these gems, he can turn even the most docile creature into an enemy, and it is this force that a specific set of 16 Skylanders were charged with protecting. Unfortunately, a volcanic explosion blasted them apart and they now have the ability to swap body parts with each other in order to stop Kaos and his minions.

We had a few questions concerning how the leveling up system worked when each character can break apart. From what we can understand, there are actually two sets of attack abilities now, one for the body and one for the feet. Simply put, you can level up either body part when you go to spend your experience points, but the experience itself follows the characterís torso. We believe this is the same for any renamed characters as well.

Skylanders: Swap Force is slated for release on pretty much every platform including the Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U, PS3, PS4 and 3DS on October 13th. There will be no Portal Owner packs this time around since the game requires the new, beefier portals, but from what we can tell, the console versions will come packed with Wash Buckler, Blast Zone and Ninja Stealth Elf, while the 3DS release will have three completely different characters, Rattle Shake, Free Ranger and Volcanic Eruptor.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer
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