Hands-on with Skylanders Swap Force’s new horde mode

, | Games

While the review of Skylanders Swap Force is underway, let’s look at some of the early battle arenas, based on an evening’s play among adults and some adult beverages. These arenas might be more accurately described by their nickname: Skylanders’ horde mode.

After the jump, Skylanders has a horde mode?

To understand the battle arenas, you must first understand what goes into them. The Skylanders franchise thrives off of the Pokemon-like cast of characters. Each has its own unique statistics and abilities. Some Skylanders have crowd control such as the bubble gun fired by Wash Buckler. When it hits an enemy, it is helplessly suspended in the soapy air. For added fun in this kids-focused franchise, you can upgrade the gun to include piranhas inside the bubble to gnaw away at the floating helpless victim (totally not covered in the Geneva Conventions). Others Skylanders have mobility such as Hoot Loop’s loop, which allows him to disappear into the ground to escape danger. And all of them have different brands of beatdown, ranging from silly weird to ‘those guys at the Vicarious Visions might need less prescription medication’.

But what to do with these abilities? The traditional story mode has a fair bit of variety. There are puzzles, platforming, movement mini-games, rail rides, and the like. However in most of those situations, it really doesn’t matter what Skylander you have. When you are trying to meet up your sparks in a puzzle, it won’t matter a hoot (oops) if you shoot piranha bubbles or teleport. Where these things really matter is combat. And the best place to find combat is in the arenas. Let’s meet our contestants:

Gamer Cred: Call of Duty junkie
Weight: ‘I have no idea, I’m a guy’ pounds
Favorite Skylander: Giant, any giant will do
Special Attack: Smiling handshake
Blood type: O-

Gamer Cred: More MOBA hours played than combined time slept by a narcoleptics anonymous chapter
Weight: under 170 in utter contrast to his eating habits
Favorite Skylander: Chill, those ice walls are handy; ice princess has nothing to do with it
Special Attack: Washington and Vegas, um, war stories
Blood type: Fry Daddy Oil

In the arena battles you have to survive a set number of enemy waves, you may only use one Skylander, and there will be some kind of special rule. For example, in the first arena there are caged pods that will eat enemies if you break open the cages. Easy right? Maybe just bring some crowd control in the form of the aforementioned bubbles or Crusher’s stone gaze.

Pic 1 Arena 1 CC

Sometimes the cages are invulnerable though. And you have to deal with Life Spell Punks that heal enemies or Air Spell Punks that buff critters with wind barriers to protect from ranged attacks. So you will need to be smarter. Such as the below situation where Wash Buckler has the ranged units bubbled up on the left as Crusher tanks past the shielded units to bring the hammer down on the green robed Life Punk in the upper right, which is currently healing the bubbled shooters.

Pic 2 Arena 1 Life Punk

The second arena gets a lot harder. No freebies in this one. There is a ring of spikes that shoot up periodically while cursed clouds hover over the players delivering continuous damage over time. Not only do the waves of baddies get harder each round, but more spikes shoot up and the clouds do more damage.

It is going to get hairy in the tiny inner ring, so maybe some zoning is a good idea. We had Chill creating ice walls to funnel enemies. She could also shoot ice blades through the ice blocks or just shield smash them to create a pool table of geometrical ricochets of icy doom. Magna Zone then joined Blast Zone’s bottom — the new gimmick in Swap Force is that you can mix and match halves of Skylanders — for mobility while picking up enemies with his Magna top. The magnetic lift was effective as crowd control while enemies are in the air, but it’s also effective at damage when they are flung at enemies. Thus Magna Zone could jet to the outer ring to fling pesky shooters to the inner icy blender of pain.

Pic 3 Arena 2 Chill and Magna

The third arena can get too chaotic for a screen shot, but the concept is a ring of Chompy Pods that keep dumping Chompies into the arena. Area damage starts to look a little better than crowd control in that one.

There are at least three arena hubs and each one has variable rules sets. Unfortunately the first arena doesn’t unlock until the fifth story chapter has been completed so I didn’t get as much hands on as I had hoped. Still, once you get to it there will be lots of fun to be had with multiple difficulty levels and score competition. Similar to games like Burn Zombie Burn and Geometry Wars there is a score multiplier that goes up as you deal damage and goes down when you take damage. Plus the only online hook of Swap Force is friends-only leaderboards. Have at it, score junkies!

SF guys night

These combat situations appear throughout the game, but the arenas are the most distilled example of combat. Stay tuned for the full review later this week.