Friday, 30 August 2013

Hands-on Preview: Skylanders SWAP Force

The day after the Call of Duty reveal event, Activision invited us to see a preview of their upcoming platformer title, Skylanders: Swap Force. In addition to revealing several new Skylanders , the preview also offered a chance to get some brief hands-on time with the game.

Skylanders is a series that has garnered a cult like following over the past couple of years and has sold millions of copies worldwide, which is to say nothing of the number of toy sales that has generated. Skylanders can be best described as a toy-game crossover that at first glance seems like it's primarily aimed at children, However, if you dig a little deeper, you'll quickly learn that Skylanders offers something cool to players of all ages.

The core game has always been about switching between different characters on the fly, with each one featuring their own abilities and powers. The game comes with a number of action figures and a swapping platform (or portal). If you wish to switch a character, simply remove them from the platform and place your new character and the game instantly switches characters.

SWAP Force takes the character swapping to a whole new and interesting level. Each character now features interchangeable top and bottom parts that can be combined with other characters. This allows for a total of 256 different character combinations, each with their own unique abilities and powers. When you think about it, the possibilities for experimentation seem almost endless.

At the preview event, Activision revealed several new characters.

The first character shown off was a gun slinging snake called Rattle Shake. Rattle Shake's primary weapon is a gun that shoots snakes at enemies. Rattle Shake also has a sidekick called Deputy Snake that shoots snakes and venom at enemies. The cool thing about Rattle Shake's snakes is that if they come in contact with the game's collectables (i.e. coins), they pick it up for your character.

The second character shown off was Zoo Lou who can summon animal spirits. Zoo Lou doesn't have that sweet innocent look that a lot of panda bears have. He rides a bucking board and has a companion dog that can dig and find collectibles.

The third character was a half monkey robot called Grilla Drilla. As you can probably guess, his attacks are based on attacking enemies with drill based weapons. Grilla Drilla's primary weapon is a drill charged fist that can tear into enemies. Grilla Drilla can also summon monkeys to do his bidding against enemies.

Lastly, Boom Jet a character who provides ferocious air support. Boom Jet can call in air strikes and set-up turrets.

During the preview, the developers from Vicarious Visions touched on how levelling up will work with the game. Both the top and bottom half of the characters can be upgraded, but ultimately the top half of the character dictates the character's collectables and health.

The developers really stressed during our preview that all of the game's audio is spoken. This may seem like a small point, but there still are a lot of games that tell story via scrolling text. Also during our demo, we were treated to several cut scenes featuring the voice work of Patrick Warburton.

Several mini games and puzzles were shown off during the preview. One of the mini games was a cooperative puzzle where each player starts on the opposite end of one another and must meet in the center. Another mini game shown off was very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis whereby you'd run down a road and avoid oncoming obstacles.

We were then handed the controller for some brief, but enjoyable hands on time. I played through a few of the game's mini games and explored one of the game's snowy environments. The game handles really well and I had so much fun swapping between the different characters. For someone who has never played the series before, it was a great introduction to the series that certainly sparked my interest. The only concern I have is that if you have kids or pets, you might have to be careful with where you place your action figures.

Skylanders Swap Force is set for release in October for the PlayStation 3, Wii U, Wii, and Xbox 360, with the Playstation 4 version to follow in November.

- Sidd Masand

Additional: During our brief time with the game, we were able to use the Playstation 4 controller. The Playstation 4 controller felt a little heavier and bulkier than the PS3 controller. The location of the start and select buttons seemed a bit higher on the controller as well. That being said I was only holding the controller for five to ten minutes so it's hard to come to a final impression of the controller until you play with it for at least several hours.