A well known fact around these parts is that I love me some Skylanders. Sure, they’re targeted for younger gamers, but the games and the toys have done nothing but capture my attention (and wallet) since they first came out back in 2011. What started out as a fun way to incorporate real world toys into a video game has become a genre all in itself. And, what’s better, each game has subsequently added more depth to the core gameplay, something I was honestly quite shocked to find in a game for kids. The prior entry, Trap Team, was by far the best game in the entire series, with tons to do, lots of cool new Skylanders to play, and a legitimately entertaining storyline and gameplay. The latest model, Superchargers, adds vehicles for the Skylanders to use in their quest to stop Kaos. While it’s not the strongest entry in the series, Superchargers represents the biggest departure from the series’ core gameplay to date. And the results…
Going into Superchargers I was kind of wondering how the vehicles would fit into the core mechanics of the game. At all times in Superchargers, you must have a vehicle on the Portal of Power. Fortunately the vehicle cannot get “knocked out” like a Skylander figure can, meaning you could essentially have just one vehicle and play through the entire game. You probably won’t want to do that however, because there are three different types of vehicles which have exclusive zones in each level. So just like past Skylanders games, you’re going to have to fork over some extra cash to purchase a different vehicle if you want to get the most out of the entire game.
I highly recommend doing so!
During the main story you’ll encounter scenarios which will require a specific vehicle to progress forward. It might be something like taking a sea vehicle underneath a lake and destroying a hydra monster terrorizing the local citizens. If you do this, you’ll gain a star which you need to 100% complete a level, and also open up an alternate path through the stage. If you don’t have that vehicle, there is always a separate option to take for the vehicle you do have. Usually this means missing out on stars and sometimes extra upgrades, but you can still progress forward. Fortunately I was able to complete the game with one of each vehicle type, and I really couldn’t imagine enjoying the game as much if I didn’t have a land, air, and sea vehicle to use in each stage!
Sprinkled throughout each stage are zones where your vehicle will be needed. Land vehicle zones have you racing through a track similar to traditional racing games, while firing at enemies and jumping off ramps. Air zones have you in a fully 3D environment taking down enemies or picking up cargo in a dogfight similar to the All Range Mode in Star Fox 64. Lastly the sea vehicle sections primarily take a 2D approach, having you dive and rise to avoid enemies, while navigating through tricky obstacles and enemy fire. Each vehicle zone offers dramatically different gameplay variety. It takes some getting used to, but after awhile I found it fairly easy to switch between them and the standard action RPG gameplay of prior Skylanders games.
Speaking of standard Skylanders gameplay, while out of your vehicle the game handles identically to past entries. You roam around (still ridiculously slowly, unfortunately) each zone, basing enemies with any of your old toys or some of the newer Supercharger figures. This time around, I stuck exclusively to the brand new Supercharger figures. Yeah, I have a huge backlog of older toys to use, but I wanted to see all of these new people and what they offered. With last year’s Trap Team giving us several dozen new toys to purchase, it was a relief to see Superchargers only giving us around a dozen Skylanders and a dozen vehicles to choose. I never felt overwhelmed with how many options there were with figures, and since the game only requires you to have one of three different vehicles to complete a stage and not one of each type of Skylander, it was much more manageable.
Anyway, it’s in your best interest to pair up a Supercharger Skylander with their respective vehicle, because it not only powers up the vehicle, but it also opens up brand new attack options that aren’t usable without the correct driver. For example, the totally awesome Fiesta Skylander can use his own Crypt Crusher vehicle to unleash his tiny macabre mariachi band to attack other cars. Only he can do that, and it’s a cool way to make your toys feel more connected, but also help out in battle as well. Just like the Skylander figures, the vehicles collect points and can be upgraded, which is then saved on the toy itself, allowing you to take it with you and play on someone else’s game, or (most likely) in a future game.
It wouldn’t be a Skylanders game without a ton of stuff to do besides the actual storyline, and this is where Superchargers excels. What better to do with a vehicle when not in combat than to race? Superchargers has a full fledged second mode allowing you to race against other Skylanders and villains! Unlocked a bit into the main storyline (or you can choose the most basic of races from the get go) are several race oriented goals. Each Supercharger pair (so, vehicle and correct driver) can be used to overcome a specific challenge to unlock bonuses like new hats or car parts for customization. Every rider can enter into a grand prix style race to win more Gearbits to upgrade their ride. For the first time in the series you can go online and race others from around the world (though good luck finding anyone still playing at this point). If none of that fancies you, try going back to a prior level and beating your score while earning more for your vehicle! There’s a lot to do, and it’ll take a long time to do it all.
Unfortunately, and likely not a surprise for any Skylander fans, this content is locked behind a wall. A money wall. In order to get all of this content, you need to have one of the aforementioned land, sea, or air vehicles. Not only will you need those, you’ll also have to hunt down one of three trophies (one representing each type of vehicle) in order to unlock all of the tracks to race on. These trophies also allow you to race and beat some of the villains from Trap Team and use their vehicles in the game as well. Unfortunately these trophies are only available in 3-packs which cost $34.99 each. If you can snag one cheap I’d recommend doing so, as each pack will come with either the land, sea, or air trophy, as well as a Supercharger and their respective vehicle. It’s a nice package, but a hefty price to pay to unlock all the game has to offer!
I’ve been rattling on so much about the vehicles and the Superchargers themselves because their really all that is different this time around. If you’ve played a previous game in the series you’ll know what to expect here. The card game Skystones makes a return, but with a Superchargers feel. Notably absent is the arena mode from the past few entries, but this was likely replaced with the racing mode. Emblems can be earned by completing mini-goals like defeating so many enemies or opening so many chests, and these reward you with extra stars. These stars increase your Portal Master rank, with each level giving you a permanent stat boost or enhancement for your entire Skylanders team. Some of the denizens of your hubworld will give you quests to do and small goals to complete on earlier stages, but with little incentive to do so it’s not really worth your time. Despite this, I never found myself with nothing to do in Superchargers. Even after the credits rolled, there was nearly an entire racing game to play through, as well as a bunch of powerups to find and vehicles to enhance. I left the game wanting more!
Skylanders: Superchargers was the first game in the series I didn’t feel trumped its predecessor. The driving sections were a huge addition, yes, but I didn’t feel like there was anything else extraordinary to set this apart. Don’t get me wrong though: racing through stages blasting enemies and taking to the sky to fight foes are still fun in their own way… they just don’t make up for the rest of the game starting to feel stale. However, there were some shining examples of the developers trying something different. A few stages were artistic in their design, and very odd in their approach, which is something I would like to see from the series in the future! I’ve put so much time and money into the series so far, I want something that really pays off for my investment!
As a side note, the Wii U version I played allowed for Nintendo console exclusive characters Bowser (and his Clown Cruiser) and Donkey Kong (with the Barrel Blaster) to be used. They were pretty damn cool to see, both as physical toys and in the game, and they were fun to play. Vicarious Visions did a wonderful job capturing bits and pieces of each character and incorporating them into how they act and play. Bowser using a hammer and summoning Koopa Troopas is spot on, as is Diddy Kong making an appearance in the Barrel Blaster! Sadly though, these are the only two Nintendo characters to come out! There are near limitless possibilities for more Nintendo characters in the game, and I hope this is an option the two companies explore more in the future. If for no other reason, it got me to play the game on the Wii U instead of the PS4!
Just like every other Skylanders game, the amount of joy you get from this is largely going to be determined by how much you put in. If you’ve got lots of toys from past games and liked the type of gameplay the series has to offer, you should plop down the money and buy a starter pack. Also, if you don’t mind spending extra dough for what is essentially plastic DLC, then you can unlock a hell of a lot of extra content to keep you entertained for weeks. The game is also cooperative, so if you’ve got a buddy to play with you can both protect Skylands! I’m looking forward to the next game in the series, but after five installments the gameplay is starting to show its age. Here’s hoping the next iteration brings us more of the good and even more unexpected!