Skylanders Swap Force is the next annual entry in the 'toys to life' gaming franchise, we go hands-on

Three years, three games. Skylanders Swap Force -- the latest crossplatform entry in the mega-successful Skylanders game franchise -- cements Activision's annual approach to its "toys to life" series. The games merge toy figurines with RFID technology to allow in-game avatar representations of the toys to move from game console to game console, all the while storing unique information about that character. It's essentially the equivalent of how fighting games work in Japanese arcades, albeit with children's toys and a relatively simple action game: you level up your character, which is tied to your toy, and it can be used to continue earning experience on a variety of game consoles.

The second iteration brought Giants to the world of Skylanders. This year, Activision's in-house studio Vicarious Visions (known for working on powerhouses like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk Pro Skater previously) is taking the series in another direction, keeping original Skylanders, the second game's Giants, and adding a new twist in swappable characters.

Yes, despite the image above of a half-octopus swashbuckler, this year's innovation isn't destructible characters. That sword in his right ... hand and the water pistol in his left can be replaced on another swappable character's bottom half -- its motion component -- creating an altogether new character. With 16 new characters, that means 256 combinations altogether; an enticing proposition to fans, and a potentially comforting thought to parents hounded by kids for new pieces every week. But it's not just swappable characters that are new in Swap Force. Activision's touting this entry as the first Skylanders entry to've been built from the ground up in HD. That's a notable change for the franchise, marking Activision's focus shifting from Nintendo's Wii to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as Nintendo's Wii U. Oh, and there's jumping. You can jump in this one.

The new toy characters are just as durable and tough as with previous versions, and swapping is a snap. It's handled by the ever-mysterious magnets, meaning there aren't any silly attachment mechanisms for junior to break in regular play -- simply snap off one top or bottom and match it up with another. Voila ici. Should your Washbuckler figure (yes, that's his real, incredibly adorable name) lose an arm ... well, that's another story. At least it won't affect his in-game avatar! Or will it?! (It won't.) There's also a new portal for the new game's characters, as the older portals aren't capable of recognizing the new characters (and no, the new characters won't work in previous Skylanders games, though the previous characters will work in the new game).

It's clear that Activision isn't changing a tremendous amount about Skylanders year-to-year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. With this franchise, Activision's built a platform for toys and unified that platform across a variety of competing gaming consoles. The franchise's fans -- kids -- are getting an annual drip feed of new digital content updates, and an even more regular rollout of additions to that franchise (characters, new levels, etc.). It might be annual, but that might not be such a bad thing in this case. Skylanders Swap Force has a "fall 2013" launch window (likely October, per the previous two), and is heading to Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3, and Nintendo's Wii U, 3DS, and Wii consoles at an unknown price.

Joseph Volpe contributed to this report.

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From the Innovators who Brought "Toys to Life" Comes an Entirely New Innovation – Swapability

16 New Characters With Swappable Top and Bottom Halves Can Be Customized into More Than 250
Unique Combinations, Taking Skylanders and the "Toys to Life" Category to a New Level

Stellar HD Graphics Deliver Cinema-Quality Visuals and Storytelling, Immersing Players
in Gameplay Like Never Before

Santa Monica, CA – February 5, 2013 – In just over a year, the novel concept of bringing toys to life has made Skylanders one of the most beloved and successful children's video game franchises of all time1, establishing a new category in family entertainment. Today, Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI), revealed Skylanders SWAP Force, the next installment in the popular franchise, which will be featured at Toy Fair 2013, February 10-13 at the Javits Center in New York City, in booth 3061.

SWAP Force builds upon the success of the franchise's signature gameplay with an all-new innovative play pattern -- swapability -- that gives kids more choice than ever before by letting them swap the top and bottom halves of the toys to create their own characters. The game lets Portal Masters reconfigure 16 SWAP Force characters into more than 250 unique combinations. Kids can mix and match characters' powers and moves, and then bring them to life in the game. Fans of the franchise also can play Skylanders SWAP Force with their entire collection of characters from both Skylanders Spyro's Adventure® and Skylanders GiantsTM, now with the added capability of jumping.

"With Skylanders, we didn't just create a beloved new franchise, we actually created an entirely new category that brings the world of physical toys and video games together like never before. And now with Skylanders SWAP Force, we are pushing the genre we created forward with another big innovation: customization," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, Inc. "The idea that kids can customize their own characters in the physical world, and have their unique combinations recognized in the virtual world, is an idea as big as the concept of bringing toys to life itself."

In Skylanders SWAP Force, Portal Masters embark on an all-new adventure in the mysterious Cloudbreak Islands, home to a mystical volcano that erupts every hundred years to replenish the magic in Skylands. During an epic battle, a brave group of Skylanders were caught in the volcano's eruption, which blasted them apart and sent them to earth. But, the magic of the volcano gave these heroes a remarkable new power -- the ability to swap halves – turning them into a special team known as the SWAP Force. Meanwhile, Kaos is back with a new evil plan. And now, Portal Masters everywhere must reassemble the SWAP Force -- in their original form or in new combinations -- and send them back to Cloudbreak to save Skylands!

Skylanders SWAP Force features 16 new SWAP Force characters, along with 32 core Skylanders characters (16 completely new Skylanders and 16 new versions of fan favorite characters from previous games) and eight new LightCore™ characters. Skylanders SWAP Force also delivers high-resolution graphics that bring the game's detailed characters and rich environments to life, immersing players in the gameplay like never before.

"Skylanders Giants was named to our 2012 Holiday Hot Toy List for good reason – it extended the franchise's breakthrough gameplay and its performance at retail has been incredible. We're continually impressed by the originality that Activision delivers in bringing toys to life," said Jerry Storch, Chairman and CEO, Toys"R"Us, Inc. "The innovation of allowing kids to customize their toys in the real world and then send them into the Skylanders SWAP Force game is sure to raise the bar for the franchise."

About Skylanders
In 2011, Skylanders Spyro's Adventure originated a new play pattern that seamlessly bridged physical and virtual worlds across multiple platforms and became the top-selling kids' videogame of the year2. In October of 2012, Skylanders Giants further evolved the genre and added the mega-sized Giants and LightCore™ characters to the collection of interaction figures that have helped the franchise achieve more than $500 million in U.S. retail sales, including accessories and figures, reaching the milestone faster than any other kids gaming property.3 Skylanders SWAP Force is being developed by Vicarious Visions, an Activision studio. The game has not yet been rated by the ESRB. For more information, visit

About Activision Publishing, Inc.
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision Publishing, Inc. is a leading developer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment and leisure products.

Activision maintains operations in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, mainland China and the region of Taiwan. More information about Activision and its products can be found on the company's website,

1 According to NPD data tracking of videogame sales since 1996
2 According to NPD, GfK Chart-track and Internal estimates
3 According to The NPD Group Data from October 2011 through December 2012, inclusive of accessory packs and figures

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-looking Statements: Information in this press release that involves Activision Publishing's expectations, plans, intentions or strategies regarding the future, are forward-looking statements that are not facts and involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Factors that could cause Activision Publishing's actual future results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements set forth in this release include unanticipated product delays and other factors identified in the risk factors sections of Activision Blizzard's most recent annual report on Form 10-K and any subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. The forward-looking statements in this release are based upon information available to Activision Publishing and Activision Blizzard as of the date of this release, and neither Activision Publishing nor Activision Blizzard assumes any obligation to update any such forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements believed to be true when made may ultimately prove to be incorrect. These statements are not guarantees of the future performance of Activision Publishing or Activision Blizzard and are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors, some of which are beyond its control and may cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations.