Since day one, Skylanders has been a phenomenon, providing Activision with another surefire money machine for every holiday season. Collectors and enthusiasts go crazy for the toy-based characters, kids love playing the games and interacting with their favourite heroes in the real world, and the toys-to-life genre that the series introduced is continually expanding, making it seem as if things won’t slow down anytime soon.
After bringing Spyro back to the forefront, then switching things up by introducing Giants, enemy-controlling traps and even characters whose parts could be swapped, Vicarious Visions has taken the license in a new direction with Skylanders: SuperChargers. In doing so, the developer has released what is the most varied, polished and colourful game in the franchise.
The most recent of five mainline releases, Skylanders: SuperChargers introduces vehicles and makes them a major part of its experience. It does this by emphasizing driving, vehicular combat and competitive racing, and takes things a step further by presenting a system in which each vehicle can be supercharged by pairing it with its complementary hero.
If this worries you it shouldn’t, because classic Skylanders gameplay remains despite the addition of land, sea and air vehicles. You’ll still spend a lot time on-foot as your favourite character(s), solving puzzles and beating up foes using different elemental powers and abilities. The major difference here is that elemental gates have been removed in favour of vehicle gates, which are categorized based on the land, sea and air designations mentioned above. Those who have at least one of each type of vehicle won’t miss out on anything, though extra money will need to be spent to get to that point, since the Starter Set only includes one (land-based) automotive.
Most of Skylanders: Superchargers‘ many levels feature two or three different vehicle gates, offering players a ton of chances to interact with each of the different types. You can skip the sea and air ones if need be, but they usually offer quality side quests, and you gain experience every time you complete a vehicle gate. These experience points are different from the ones that let you level-up your Skylanders, though, and contribute towards your Portal Master rank instead.
As you gain Portal Master levels, you’ll get to pick and choose different perks. Examples include the ability to earn extra gold or gearbits (which are used to upgrade vehicles’ weapons and shields), receive bonus gearbits from racing, or buff one element’s Skylanders once per mission. It’s a welcomed new mechanic, which also adds emblems to the fold. They’re nothing too special, though, and simply change their metallic colours from bronze to gold when you’ve met their requirements, such as killing X number of enemies or finding X number of vehicle parts.
When you think of vehicle parts, imagine them as being hats for vehicles. When found, they can be equipped or unequipped at will, and provide different statistical advantages like the Skylanders’ hats do. They’re also often found in the same way, by unlocking hidden chests or completing certain tasks.
What’s interesting is that each part is unique, and few are undoubtedly better than the rest. One may improve your vehicle’s armor, while another offers speed and acceleration bonuses, or something like that. As such, you’ll want to pick and choose which parts to use based on your own unique play style, or the mission at hand. If it’s a race that you want to win, choose something that will make you faster. Conversely, if you desire more protection from damage during a mission on the expert or nightmare difficulties, then you’ll want to choose something that will help with that.
Speaking of racing, it’s important to explain that the mode’s driving competitions are not part of the base Skylanders: SuperChargers campaign. Instead, races are available by visiting a racketeer in Skylanders Academy, which acts as your hub and safe house. There, you’re be able to access a total of six tracks, two of which are based around each vehicle type. More can be unlocked by purchasing specific toys and placing them on the portal, and those same enhancements also unlock bonus modes. For example, the water cup that we received gave us access to two more tracks, a boss battle race, tournaments and more.
The racing, itself, is a lot like what you’d find in Mario Kart, though it separates things into difficulty levels instead of CCs.
Approximately eight racers speed through visceral and well-designed courses, attacking each other as they do so. Boost pads aid your cause, and taking an opponent out renders them inactive for a few seconds. Be careful, though, because the same goes for the player, and the tougher difficulties present some rather challenging (and slightly cheap) competition.
Online racing is also an option, although I couldn’t find anyone to race against when I tried. The same was true for the campaign’s online co-op, but that’s because it’s restricted to your friends list and none of my friends have the game. I’m sure that kids could get a good amount of mileage out of both options, provided that one or more of their close friends purchases the game alongside them, but I can’t see myself going back to the racing mode. It can be pretty fun, and is surprisingly robust, but it’s not up to the level of Mario Kart or Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed.
Now, let’s shift gears and focus on the campaign that that holds all of this together.
As I said before, the campaign’s gameplay isn’t vastly different from what we’re used to, as there’s still a lot of melee combat to be found. It all centres around Kaos again, too, though he’s joined by a dark and malevolent force known as the Darkness. Whereas Kaos just wants to rule the world, it wants to destroy everything in sight, putting an end to the Skylands forever.
Although it starts off slowly and features far too much slowdown thanks to supporting characters who never stop talking, Skylanders: SuperChargers‘ campaign is arguably the best one thus far. It’s polished, incredibly colourful, and presents a ton of variety in its level design; so much so that you’ll never know what to expect next.
That said, it does take some time to get used to how the vehicles work and the change in pacing that they create. They also don’t control perfectly at all times, especially during arena battles that employ a 360-degree control system. You get used to it, though, and things get better as the campaign motors along.
The Skystones card game also returns to the equation, adding another layer to the experience for good measure. This time around, however, it’s referred to as Skystones Overdrive, and allows for vehicle cards to be played. In fact, whichever vehicle you have in use at the beginning of a match becomes available for use after every three turns, and offers a helpful bonus. For example, Hot Streak (which is included in the Starter Set) automatically takes five health points away from your opponent, whereas another vehicle that I used healed me for five points.
All in all, Skylanders: SuperChargers is a rich and robust package. It has its faults and isn’t perfect, but it’s the most polished, most content-packed and best-looking series entry thus far.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. Activision supplied us with the Starter Set, as well as quite a few additional toys, so that we could experience everything that the game has to offer.
Skylanders: SuperChargers is easily the series' most polished and content-packed iteration thus far, making it a must-buy for all fans of the toys-to-life genre.