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Skylanders Swap Force preview: Mix and match with new detachable toys

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'Skylanders: Swap Force' screenshot

© Activision



Skylanders Swap Force is the next title in the hugely popular Skylanders series, and one can't help but think this is a pretty big year for the toys-to-life franchise - especially with challenger Disney Infinity on the horizon.

But if this sequel has shown anything, though, it's that developer Vicarious Visions aren't taking anything for granted.

Introducing a brand new inventive type of Skylander - which requires players to own a newer and more technologically advanced portal - Swap Force seems intent on evolving the gameplay of the series more significantly than Skylanders Giants did.

'Skylanders: Swap Force' screenshot

© Activision



Meet the Swap Force characters

Swap Force introduces 16 new 'Swap Force' characters - and as the name implies, the twist involves swapping and combining different parts to create new variations of Skylanders.

Each Swap Force character comes with a detachable top and bottom half which will allow players to mix and match different abilities. For instance, Washbuckler - a new water type - is an octopus pirate who can attack with a cutlass, tentacles or ink.

However, he's also fairly slow. On the other hand, Magnacharge - a tech type built of magnets - is nimble thanks to his speed wheel.

By taking the top half of Washbuckler and combining it with the bottom half of Magnacharge, you get Washcharge - a hybrid water/tech Skylander that has all of the attacks of Washbuckler but the speed and agility of Magnacharge.

There are a total of 256 different combinations from mixing all of the Swap Force Skylanders.

'Skylanders: Swap Force' Wash Buckler Toy

© Activision



Swap Force for older, experienced gamers

Guha Bala, Vicarious Visions' studio head, believes the concept will appeal to older gamers as much as its primary target audience of children aged 7 to 12.

"Part of what makes the Skylanders series great are the characters and their abilities," he told Digital Spy.

"You can develop strategies that [make the most out of] strengths and weaknesses, so when you have a collection, that really gives you a whole repertoire and allows you to experience the richness of that.

"The concept of Swap Force directly fits with that - what is the best combination for each situation? This is building on what already exists in terms of the variety of capabilities, but we're offering the next level of that with the mixing and matching."

'Skylanders: Swap Force' screenshot

© Activision



An upgraded Portal of Power

However, the new Swap Force Skylanders come at a cost, as they're only compatible with a new, prettier-looking portal.

"For the portal to be able to recognise [the Swap Force parts], we've had to upgrade the technology," said Bala.

All of the existing Skylanders toys are compatible with the upgraded portal, but Swap Force cannot be played with the older model. All game bundles will come with the new portal.

"In the future we will still use all of the single-piece toys, but we wanted to be able to support additional capabilities," he added.

'Skylanders: Swap Force' Stealth Elf Toy

© Activision



Mixing things up with swap zones

In the past, Skylanders levels have been littered with bonus areas inaccessible unless you had a Skylander of an elemental type. Having a Trigger Happy or Drobot, for example, grants you access to all tech areas. Swap Force adds a new layer to that concept with swap zones.

Each bottom half of a Swap Force character will come with one of eight added abilities, which they can use to reach a unique gameplay area.

Activating a 'rocket zone' lets a rocket-powered Skylander engage in a special segment where it must fly through a series of rings before time runs out. Elsewhere, Washbuckler has the ability to climb, while Magnacharge's pace allows him to tackle 'speed zones'.

'Skylanders: Swap Force' screenshot

© Activision



The new jump mechanic

The other significant evolution to the core gameplay is that now Skylanders can jump. This applies to all characters, old and new, but Vicarious Visions are being coy about how much it will affect level design.

"The key for us is to make it rewarding and natural but not make it complex, because again it's about the simplicity," said Bala, highlighting all of the young children who enjoy the Skylanders games.

"We have to balance between the simplicity and the power that it offers. You'll get a lot of value out of it, but this is not a game that's designed to be a 'challenge upon challenge' type of game.

"We want to make sure it's a magical experience that rewards the player."

'Skylanders: Swap Force' screenshot

© Activision



How will it fare against Disney Infinity?

As for the threat of Disney Infinity, Vicarious Visions don't appear too concerned, and is instead more focused on doing its own thing.

"If you have a good idea there will be competition, and at the end of the day, consumers benefit from that," Bala stated.

There's no reason to doubt that from what we were shown. Swap Force still exudes the same charm its predecessors boasted, but on both an artistic and technical level, it looks better and more vibrant than ever. On top of the 16 Swap Force characters, there will also be another 16 core Skylanders available.

A lot of effort is going into the franchise's third retail title, and it's building on what made Skylanders great in the first place. Series fans can expect another enjoyable and magical-feeling game when Swap Force hits store shelves later this year.

Skylanders Swap Force will be available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Wii and 3DS in 2013.

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