Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS
We Played On: PlayStation 4
Skylanders SuperChargers is the latest entry into the Skylanders series. The game is full of intriguing levels and puzzles. But there are also lots of barriers to entry for players not willing to throw down the cash on more vehicles.
Yeah, Kaos is back. This time he has built a sky-sucking machine to destroy all of the Skylands, devouring them for the Darkness. The Darkness in question is a smooth-voiced swirling purple cloud who may be playing Kaos for a fool.
You, the player, are the Portal Master. And you’ve got a team of special Skylanders at your disposal. Depending on how much money you’re willing to throw down.
Skylanders SuperChargers has a good sense of humor, and there are lots of funny moments. Most of these come from the characters, many of whom you might recognize from previous games. I’m pretty fond of them, but if you’re a parent who watches a lot of kids’ TV you might feel a liiiiiitle annoyed by the voice acting. Patrick Warburton, aka David Puddy from “Seinfeld,” returns as Flynn and is still my favorite. Chris Cox as Glumshanks the troll also has great comedic timing and I loved his expanded role in this game. Some of the best emotional moments came from him.
The story of Skylands wasn’t at its best in this game, though. Unlike in Trap Team, which gave you a clear-cut villain with each level, SuperChargers relies a little too heavily on missions that, while fun, don’t seem to tie together all that well.
Skylanders SuperChargers introduces vehicles to the gameplay. Check out our unboxing of the Starter Pack to see what you’ll get. In the Adventure Mode of the game, you travel from level to level, with Skylanders Academy as the central hub, which you return to between levels. The levels follow a pretty standard structure: you explore each area and fight through baddies to reach a boss or find the MacGuffin.
These exploration parts are punctuated by driving sequences. These come in two flavors.
You’ll start off in a traditional third-person view from behind the car, guiding it over ramps and around obstacles and firing at enemies. These sequences merge into others where the camera pulls back and you drive the vehicle not on a road, but in a larger field as you look down from an isometric view. The vehicular combat here is pretty fun; you wheel around your enemies, firing with your car’s weapons. You can zip over ramps, drive up walls, and do flips and tricks.
This gameplay is fun. It’s definitely fun. But it does get repetitive, and it wasn’t until later in the game that SuperChargers began disrupting these sequences. One of my favorite changes was in a level where I had been shrunk to bug-size. In addition to firing at enemies, I had to dodge some stomping feet in my car. Another level made me roll some massive chickens into chutes like agricultural Rocket League.
Here’s the kicker when it comes to these levels, though. They’re riddled with pay gates. That’s normal for Skylanders. If you’ll recall, in Trap Team there were elemental gates that you needed matching elemental Skylanders to explore. Behind these gates were areas to explore and get gold—and maybe hats.
In SuperChargers you’ll find more hats roaming free, but there are gated missions. Every level has a Sky section and a Sea section that you’ll need a vehicle of that terrain to access. These aren’t just extra areas; they’re presented to you by non-player characters in unskippable dialogue. And it’s usually a pretty crucial-sounding mission, too. In one of them some cute little critters told me frankly, “we’re drowning!”
And I had no submarine to rescue them with.
When I reached the end of a level that I played with just my land vehicle, I discovered that I had one star on it. No matter how many collectibles you find and areas you explore, that sea star and sky star will be out of reach until you buy two more vehicles.
Each vehicle costs 14.99, but you won’t be buying individual vehicles and I’ll tell you why.
Racing Mode Gameplay
There’s a second component of SuperChargers called Racing Mode. There are 12 tracks in Skylanders SuperChargers. Two of them are open when you start the game with what you get in the starter pack. These are two land tracks, and don’t get me wrong, they’re really fun. I’ll talk more about the actual racing later.
The other two land tracks are unlocked when you buy a Racing Action Pack. These are expansions which come with a vehicle, a Skylander, and two new tracks. There are racing action packs for each of the terrains: land, sea, and sky.
And of course, you can’t do any of the sea or sky races until you get one of those vehicles. So rather than buy individual sea and sky vehicles, it does make more sense to buy expansion packs at $34.99 each so that you can get all of the tracks.
It’s frustrating to spend $74.99 on a game and have the majority of the races locked. I’m not saying it’s totally ridiculous. The Adventure Mode of Skylanders is long and involved. If a console game typically costs $60, then when you buy the Skylanders Starter Pack and get that full console game and a set of toys for $74.99, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
The Racing Mode is essentially another full game. The cost reflects what you’re getting. But it sure doesn’t feel good to have a beautiful map full of places to race and have only two open to you.
So let’s talk about those tracks. The racing is really fun. When I played Racing for 3DS at PAX Prime, Courtney and I talked about how the racers weren’t crowded enough to make the races feel exciting and risky. That problem is nonexistent now. Races are adrenaline-fueled and pleasantly challenging. There are three difficulty levels, and that hard level? Oh, it’s hard.
Power-ups and ammunition are scattered throughout the course. Ammunition lets you fire weapons at other racers, giving you a chance to put them out of commission if they take enough damage.
The random power-ups go into effect as soon as you pick them up. They could be anything from a health potion to a speed boost to shields that protect you from attacks. The worst, or maybe best, that I’ve seen is a wooden mask that bobs around and blocks your vision, sometimes causing you to spin out. It’s the kind of thing that makes you scream in delighted frustration when it pops up on the screen.
I tried some of the online races, and despite the long time I spent waiting for other players to join, I had a lot of fun racing my opponents. I don’t think SuperChargers is going to be a big online racing experience. But it does make it easy to match up with your friends, and that’s enough.
The split-screen racing is also great. You only need one vehicle for this. Hot Streak comes in the box, and my friend and I both used that car. Without unlocking more than two races, we had no circuits available to us. We played those same two tracks over and over again.
I wish that at least the four land tracks had been unlocked with the Starter Pack. That would have been a complete racing circuit. If there’s one thing I miss from my Mario Kart experience, it’s racing against one person across a series of races and comparing our scores at the end. That experience is more meaningful than just doing one race with someone.
The addition of vehicular combat is a great idea, though, and very fun in action. It meant that even though I wasn’t strategically using power-ups, I was always looking for opportunities to take out my opponents.
I picked up the Sea Racing Action Pack from Best Buy, allowing me to unlock all four of the Sea tracks. Like the land tracks, they were fun, complex, and wonderfully challenging. The Sea tracks are possibly even better designed than the land; there are so many shortcuts and alternate routes, and I never felt like I had a secure grasp on first. These tracks are also just plain beautiful; Skylanders SuperChargers does water better than most games, and your vehicle bobs realistically out of the water when you surface from an underwater sequence.
I think there’s a lot of depth (no pun intended) in Skylanders Racing. The inclusion of Racing Mode is anything but an afterthought. The tracks are welld designed and lend themselves to playing over and over again.
I just wish it weren’t so hard to access them.
Skylanders has always been committed to providing well-made toys in addition to the game. SuperChargers is no exception; the vehicles are just awesome. They each have articulated parts. The Hot Streak car that comes in the box has spinning wheels and can be played with like any toy car. The Reef Ripper submarine that I got has a moving tail fin.
The Skylanders themselves are also detailed and unique. The best endorsement I can give them is a begrudging, “I want them all” as I stare at my poster of collectibles.
Skylanders SuperChargers is rated E10+ for Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief. Defeating enemies in the game make them poof up in smoke, and any violence is slapstick at best. When your car takes enough damage in a race, it spins out and emits smoke for a little while before fixing itself up and getting back on the road.
Skylanders SuperChargers is just as much fun as its predecessors. It’s not without flaw: a lackluster story and repetitive driving sequences in the Adventure Mode dragged me down. But the exploration is on point, and the Racing Mode is incredibly fun.
As usual, I’m confused and disappointed by the financial investment it takes to keep up with Skylanders, but I can’t offer a solution. If this is the toys-to-life game that you’ve chosen to invest in, there’s no reason to abandon ship now.
Disclaimer: This game was played on a review copy of the game provided by Activision.