Although Call of Duty gets the lion’s share of the name recognition of the games in the Activision stable, Skylanders is actually another billion dollar series with legions of fans. It’s just that many of the fans are youngsters, though the game is a lot of fun for adults as well, and perfect for an adult/kid team, you know, that elusive “spending time with the kids” moment. Thankfully, Activision takes Skylanders just as seriously as Call of Duty, and strives to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting, introducing new titles and even new gameplay elements almost every year.
For those of you completely new to the concept, Skylanders is both a line of toys and a videogame. It was one of the first successful titles to pull off that marriage, though others have now followed suit to add some competition to the market including Disney Infinity, and to a certain extent, Nintendo’s Amiibos.
The Skylanders toys are beautifully molded plastic figures with a lot of detail. They don’t generally have any moving parts so they are not exactly action figures, but they do look impressive. Past Skylanders have sometimes included clear plastic elements that pick up the light when placed on their game portals for an added effect. Each Skylander toy has memory embedded into it so that the game can recognize it when placed on a portal, thus transporting the figure into the game and allowing players to use them. That memory can also save data so that you can effectively level up those characters and have that data maintained from game to game and over time.
Past additions to the Skylanders franchise included Giants, which added really huge toys to the mix. You needed a giant to access certain areas, and they were generally more powerful than their smaller brethren, though gameplay was more or less unchanged. The most recent addition prior to this year’s Skylanders Superchargers was Trap Team, which allowed players to “capture” bad guys and use them in the main game instead of playing against them all the time. At GiN, we employ some younger players to help us test all Skylanders products in addition to our normal adult reviewers. You will hear from them at the bottom of this review. As an example of why their input is invaluable, while the adults didn’t really see much difference with Trap Team, those younger players were thrilled to be able to play with some of the bad guys, especially Chaos.
This year, the new game is called Skylanders Superchargers, and for the first time, it actually introduces an entirely new type of gameplay. Superchargers is based on vehicles, and each of the vehicles of course gets a corresponding toy. The base kit for each platform gets one land-based vehicle and two figures to play with, though that is only scratching the surface. To complete the full game and play some of the exciting levels, players will need at the very minimum one land vehicle, one air vehicle and one sea-based craft. So parents looking to purchase Superchargers as a gift might want to also consider adding an air and water craft to their initial purchase. This makes the game even more expensive, but the value of having each type of vehicle is worth it.
Vehicles act just like Skylanders figures. They warp into the game using a portal and can be customized and leveled up just like a figure. The only real difference is that they use a different collectable to earn level-up points in the game and they never act without a driver or pilot. Land vehicles also have real wheels and thus can sort of be played with like a normal car-type toy. The only disappointing thing in that area is that while the Skylanders figures ride in the vehicles in the game, they don’t actually sit or fit into them in real life. We suppose that would have made the vehicles far too large. As it is, Skylanders Superchargers already had to ship with an extra-large portal that could accommodate one vehicle and two figures for local two-player gameplay.
There are two modes of gameplay in Superchargers. In story mode, you run around collecting coins and fighting cartoon bad guys just like with other games in the series. Like the other games, figures with various properties like fire, life, undead and others are stronger with certain levels. Fairly often during gameplay, you also hop into a vehicle and get to go crazy driving around, jumping and shooting. Some levels are more or less like the ones you tackle on foot, only you get to do them from your vehicle while others are actual tracks that really play up the vehicle-based gameplay. Both are pretty darn fun, with the vehicle levels (both types) being much more fast-paced that the others.
If you have two people playing locally, then both players are represented by figures in the game. You need to have two Skylanders figures standing on the new portal at the same time to do this, in addition to the vehicle which is shared. When a vehicle part of a level comes up, both characters hop inside with one driving and the other shooting. This is without a doubt one of the most fun parts of the game, working as a team with a friend or parent to tackle the levels together. Just remember that you only get a land vehicle as part of the basic kit, so you will run up against parts where you can’t go unless you acquire a boat or flying craft. Superchargers always lets you bypass those areas, but for maximum fun, you should probably have one of each vehicle type handy.
There is also a pure racing mode available in the game which is separate from the story missions. It’s very much like Mario Kart. Not quite as good and not quite as fun, but still a neat new addition to the series and worthwhile to play.
Like the other games in the series before it, graphically, Skylanders is visually stunning. It’s all cartoon graphics of course, but they are done very well. Vehicles are extremely detailed and it’s nice to be able to see almost all of the additions and improvements that you can make to them visually represented in the flame color of the tires or the size of the engine sticking out of the hood. The sound is also really well done, including a bevy of Hollywood actors and professional voice actors giving extra character to the already animated characters.
So that is the adult portion of the review. Now we turn it over to our kid testers to let them tell us what they think of Skylanders Superchargers, since their perspective and insights are always appreciated as a part of the main target audience for this title.
In a word, Epic! The story is amazing. I love how Chaos tries to seal off all the normal portals but the Skylanders find a way to bring us back into their world.
I love driving around. It’s really easy to play once you get inside your vehicle. Nothing can touch me once I start driving. I wipe out everything in sight.
Playing with my mom is fun. I normally let her shoot because I’m a better driver.
I don’t like how the game shows you characters in trouble but you can’t go help them because you don’t have the right vehicle. I’m glad that we have all the vehicles here, but it would be really sad if you could not save those Skylanders because you didn’t own an air vehicle.
You really have to think about how you want to level up your car. Most of the upgrades help out in one way but make you weaker in another. You really have to think what you want to do, and sometimes switch back if an upgrade was not as good as you thought.
The new vehicles are really cool! I love the flames that shoot out.
I like how my favorite Skylanders can now fly. The air vehicles are the best. Water and ground is fun too.
It’s like a different game than before. But I know how to play it!
Great job! I am going to be playing Superchargers for a long time.
Five GiN Gems! Give them a perfect score!
So there you have it, both the kid testers and the adults are in agreement: Skylanders Superchargers is another hit for this beloved series. Parents might not be quite so happy at having to invest in yet more figures, but beyond the base kit with the new game that you would have to purchase anyway, you can get by with just buying both a water and ground vehicle to go along with the land craft that ships with Superchargers, so the costs are not too much higher to fully unlock all the content.
With competition in the toy and game combination genre heating up, Activision and its developer Vicarious Visions had to do something to freshen up gameplay. Skylanders Superchargers does that, earning 4 1/2 GiN Gems out of 5.
Developers: Vicarious Visions
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One