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.Gallery: Skylanders Swap Force (Hands-on)