Skylanders Superchargers is a significant upgrade to the prior Skylanders formula…don’t get me wrong, it’s still a bit of a money sink, but unlike the other entries, you won’t necessarily need to buy an entire suite of characters AND vehicles in order to 100% the game.
As it stands, all you’ll technically need is one each of each vehicle set (the “Land” type is bundled in the starter set), and one Skylander Supercharger (two come in the starter kit). So technically you’ll only really need to pick up two more vehicles (which will set you back ~$15 each).
The rub of the whole thing is that in order to access certain areas and upgrade your vehicle, you’ll need to have a Supercharger Skylander waiting in the wings…but if they’re both incapacitated (or “resting”) and you come across a Supercharger portal, you’re S.O.L. I should also probably mention that there are instances where you’ll encounter element specific and vehicle specific gates, but they’re few and far between, and mainly used for collection of bonuses.
As with previous versions, Skylanders is fully backwards compatible, so any unlocks/hats/bonuses you’ve accrued so far will transfer without issue. Additionally, the Giants figures work seamlessly into the world, as do any trap crystals left over from Skylanders Trap Team (the portal of power has a slot for a single trap crystal in the “engine block”).
So the story’s pretty much the same as you remember from other titles: Lord Kaos is blah blah overthrow the Skylands blah blah use your powers for good blah blah. The only difference is that Kaos has trapped Master Eon’s soul in a crystal, and you’re tasked with freeing him, and putting an end to Kaos’ reign. Or, y’know, until next September when he reappears.
Combat is the same as in prior titles: it’s all pretty much button mashing and combo sets, and though each enemy technically has a unique way you’re supposed to go about getting ‘em, it all pretty much devolves into button mashing. That being said, as in previous Skylanders games, each character owned has its own set of unique combo and special attacks, and they look pretty damn stunning in execution, regardless of which year you’ve purchased.
The levels themselves also feature considerable panache this time around; the most notable being an MC Escher-esque level situated in a trapped castle…which immediately brought Labyrinth to mind. The enemies are likewise decently pretty, but you rarely get a chance to see them up close, since the camera likes to zoom out out to show level design.
The game of Skystones has been revamped to include the new vehicles, and there’s also a whole pile of customization items which are won, and serve to personalize the team’s home base. Some, like the trampoline, are interactive with your character; others, like the huge area rug, serve to upgrade your area aesthetically.
The biggest change to the overall feel is obviously the vehicles…and they’re honestly a hell of a mixed bag. On one hand, YAY VEHICLES! You can buzz around the Skylands (on approved courses and in approved areas) at higher speeds and with cooler weapons (the car’s weird laser-whip thing is pretty much the best weapon in a racing game to date). Plus, if you match the vehicle with its chosen Supercharger Skylander, the vehicle will receive an extra buff (and be “SUUUUUPERCHARGED!”). That being said, any Skylander can pilot a vehicle (yes, even the Giants). Hell, during one memorable boss fight, I think we went through 9 Skylanders before beating him? Yeah, on Insanity mode, it can be hard.
That being said, the controls are where Skylanders Superchargers loses really loses its steam. Of the three styles, the Air vehicles are honestly the most fun to pilot, plus they tend to be the most straightforward: dogfight, collect upgrade gears and shoot everything you can. The sea vehicles are the second best, since they have similar mechanics to the aerial vehicles (when diving) and land vehicles (while driving); they are also the most versatile, with land, sea and sky interactions…especially during multiplayer races. The cars come in third, simply for having atrocious controls. Now look, when you’re playing a straightforward race, the controls are reasonably fine…pretty much on par with every other third-party, Mario Kart clone. But during the “trick” and “vehicle exploration” segments, the wheels come completely off. Pun intended.
It’s almost as if Vicarious Visions couldn’t quite decide whether they wanted to make a vehicular combat Kart simulator, so the end result feels annoyingly like the old RC Pro-Am game on the NES–if you hold down the left thumbstick for too long, the car will do a doughnut, but if you try to pull off a quick U turn, the controls will flip and it’s a genuine struggle to just keep going. Add to that, there’s no actual “reverse” button (which would usually be double tapping the brake), so if you decide to try to double back two feet (or laterally move) you’ll be penalized for going the wrong way, and reset back in the forward facing direction. Kind of lame, Superchargers.
Now, if you’re only concerning yourself with racing, you’re good, since the majority of the races and race types will propel you forward, a la Mario Kart. Also like MK, competitive races will feature randomized power-ups throughout the track, which you can use to help yourself and/or hinder your opponents. However, unlike Mario Kart, your bonuses and unlocks trigger automatically, so you’ll be forced to deal with the ability right away. Superchargers compensates for this by adding more boxes and bonus bits, so there’s that. Like the character-driven levels, the races are well designed, and honestly really fun to navigate. Sadly, there are only a handful of maps for each vehicle type–two initial, and others that unlock with progress.
Another interesting addition is “(almost) always live weapons”, meaning that whatever you have equipped for combat will be equipped during a race–and if anybody’s in front of you, they’re also in your crosshairs. It makes being #1 a literal pain in the ass, since you’ll continually be drilled in the behind, so get used to evasive driving. For maximum efficacy, you’ll need to continually replenish your ammo bar by running over the little blue vials scattered throughout the track. Online racing can be dicey (as nearly all online interactions are), and you are almost guaranteed to be going up against an adult, not a kid…so word of caution when setting the kiddos free to play on the internets.
Both online and offline races serve not only to pad your pocket with gold, but also give gear upgrades, bonus items and level your vehicle. If you’re a Kart junkie, you might just want to blow through a couple laps and boost your levels before starting into the meat of the campaign.
There are a slew of combat and customization options for your vehicles as well, which can be found by pitching a coin in the base wishing well, completing bonus objectives, opening chests or literally by running them over in the vehicle exploration areas.
The thing I wanted most to see was the ability to race head-to-head (IE couch co-op) as Mario Kart. Sure technically there’s not room on the portal for two vehicles and two Skylanders, but we figured how to hang two vehicles AND two Supercharger Skylanders on the portal (through cunning butt-to-butt vehicle stacking a la Requiem For a Dream)…so WHY NO SPLIT-SCREEN COUCH CO-OP!? Sure, you have to hang both vehicles off the side and angle each Skylander outward, but it’s POSSIBLE, dammit!
The graphics are another odd area. On one hand, the intricacies of the level design are, at times, jaw dropping…but all of the cutscenes and character models (which had significant polish last time around) look really, really dated on the Xbox one. It’s jarring visually, especially given the clever character animations and level designs.
Even though there are extremely annoying elements, Skylanders Superchargers presents a significant step forward in the franchise, namely for its fiscally-aware vehicle system. Sure, you’ll still need to have a “Supercharger” Skylander in order to unlock certain portals and make upgrades on your vehicle, but two come bundled with the starter kit. There’s a place for your “Trapped” crystals on the portal, and ALL Skylanders can drive any of the vehicles, regardless of size. So, technically, you’ll be able to 100% the game with only another $30 investment…but, as before, you (or your kids) will see a bunch of teasers for new Skylanders cleverly disguised as unlocks. Plus, during the actual story missions, vehicle challenge missions are folded into the level design, so it’ll seem like you need to complete the extra missions in order to finish the map. Very sneaky, Vicarious.
All in all, Skylanders Superchargers is actually a new take on the tried-and-true formula of the prior games…and it’s a BLAST, especially if you enjoy competitive, violent racing titles. Plus, I’d be lying if I said the new characters and vehicles didn’t look super badass (y’know, except for the cutscenes). Plus, given the two other “make toys come to life titles” out there, Skylanders probably has the longest campaign and best replay value for the money, especially if you happen to have previous figures. Despite the exploratory control issues that plague so many of the single-player, story-driven levels, the racing element is fun and addicting, and the characters are as cheesy (yet endearing) as always. Plus, if you were looking to start the Skylanders franchise, Superchargers is good a spot as any to jump off.