When you're tasked with previewing the latest and greatest in kid stuff, it's hard to not feel at least the slightest bit jealous. In my day, our molded lumps of China-manufactured plastics rarely interacted with technology in any meaningful way, and we liked it just fine.
Even so, if you lopped a good 20 years off my current age, it would be impossible to avoid the charms of Skylanders, a series that's successfully merged the worlds of physical and digital play – all with a booster pack-style setup that's only mildly predatory on parents' wallets. As backwards compatibility quickly becomes a thing of the past, Skylanders: Swap Force offers compatibility with every figure Activision has sold since 2011, along with a slew of new features that promise to make this installment the biggest and best its pint-sized audience has seen yet.%Gallery-191171%The biggest addition for Swap Force – as indicated by its title – is in the game's "dynamic swappability," which employs a new line of figures with distinct top and bottom halves that can be joined with others. During a demo, Skylanders executive producer Scott Krager showed off the possibilities of combining different characters: he combined the top half of skunk ninja Stink Bomb with the undead Night Shift to create Stink Shift, a new creature that possessed the ranged attacks of the former along with the teleporting skills of the latter. Later, Krager pointed out that each half of the new figures (16 in all, with over 250 possible combinations) offers its own unique ability chain, making for a wealth of possibilities.
Some of the other features may only seem significant to those who've played the series since its 2011 debut. Characters can now jump – an oft-requested feature – and can possess one of eight unique skills (as indicated by the emblem on their figurine) that open up new missions based on these abilities.
Battle and survival modes will make a return as well, in another move to appeal to the demand of fans. There seems to be culmination of a lot of fine-tuning and fan feedback – at least, that's how it's being sold – and, admittedly, the whole "dynamic swappability" concept strikes me as especially cool. I'm nowhere near an authority on the matter, but if you like Skylanders, Swap Force promises to offer a lot of it – provided your bank account/generous allowance can support a new line of adorable plastic critters.