You would think that on the third installment of Activision's highly-successful toys-meets-games series they'd give folks the option to just buy the game by itself. Ha ha! We're not getting off that easy.
Every Skylander figure released thus far will work on Skylanders: Swap Force. You could play through the entire game using only first or second generation figures, but no one involved in the production of the game wants you to do that. You think they put in this swap feature just to sell more toys? No! They put it in to give players the power of choice after they bought more toys. There's a subtle difference. You can barely see it if you squint.
So, at the very least, parents and well-off children will need to purchase a Starter Pack. That's $74.99 for the Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and 3DS — PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be available in November when those consoles launch.
The console Starter Pack comes with the game and three figures — Swap Force Blast Zone and Wash Buckler, and Ninja Stealth Elf, part of series 3 (first edition Skylanders on their second redeco).
Note that the 3DS version (featuring a completely separate gameplay experience) is packed with three different Skylanders — Swap Force Rattle Shake and Free Ranger and an exclusive Volcanic Eruptor.
Frugal parents and responsible children can stop right there. They can play through the whole game with those three figures. They'll miss a lot of secrets due to element locked gates (including new dual-element locked gates for Swap Force characters), and there are special challenges throughout the game for all eight Swap Force movement types — they'll only have two of them. Still, they'll get to the end credits, and if they have older figures already, a lot more of the game will open up.
Ideally, players will want to have a character from each of the game's eight elements — Undeath, Life, Water, Air, Fire, Earth, Tech, and Magic. Three of those come with the Starter, so you'll need five more.
Tech, Undeath, Earth and Life are covered by the new core figures. These are the simple Skylanders. They don't swap, they don't light up, but they are full of character and they only run $9.99. As far as I am concerned, Zoo Lou and Roller Brawl are essential figures.
Along with the newcomers, there'll also be four $9.99 Series 3 and Series Two figures for sale. These are resculpts of popular toys from Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants. They don't look any different in the game than the original figures, but they do look cool on a shelf.
Speaking of Giants, there are a few chests in Swap Force that require a giant figure to open, so make sure you've got at least one on hand if you want all the loot.
You want fancy? Five new Lightcore Skylanders go on sale Sunday for $12.99. These are special glowing versions of new and old characters with an extra in-game power. Grim Creeper, Smoulderdash and Star Strike are three of the coolest-looking figures of the new line, if that's your thing.
And then we've got the Swap Force figures themselves. GameStop has these listed for $15.99, making them the most expensive figures yet.
Do you need them? Not right away. Since only six Swap Force figures are being released at launch, two movement types (Dig and Stealth) and two elements (Life and Earth) remain unrepresented, so you can't technically unlock every secret in the game at launch anyway. It's frustrating, but it encourages waiting.
Value hunters might want to just go with one or two of the Skylanders: Swap Force three-packs, scoring $30 worth of figures for $24.99.
Note that the three-packs contain a figure from each generation of the game — that's a nice touch.
Now how much would you...yeah, there's more.
The only place you'll get Bumble Blast and Knockout Terrafin at launch is inside the $24.99 Fiery Forge Battle Pack, while the adorable Pop Thorn hides within the similarly-priced Tower of Time Adventure Pack, which adds a new adventure level to the game.
And that's it! That is all the toys available for Skylanders: Swap Force at launch, unless you count...
It wouldn't be a Skylanders launch without them.
Gamestop gets the $99 exclusive Dark Edition Starter Pack, with special recolors and two additional figures.
Walmart's exclusive triple pack ($24.96) is the only place to get basic Star Strike at launch, while Enchanted Hoot Loop $14.96) is just pretty. Hey, pretty.
Target's got an exclusive Nitro Magna Charge figure, though instead of packing him alone for $14.99, he comes in two different two-packs for $29.99.
Mustn't forget Legendaries. Toys R Us has two of the recolored figures for launch, with select stores opening at midnight Sunday morning to accommodate anxious customers.
That's a lot of toys, easily more than $400 for the Starter Kit, all the new figures and the adventure packs. Daunting. Scary.
The key thing to remember here is that all you really need is sopme older Skylander figures and the Starter Kit. Everything else can wait. The holidays are right around the corner, and there's an important lesson here to be learned about patience.