After five back-to-back annual instalments, the Skylanders franchise is still going strong. With each passing year we worry about fatigue only for the next game in the series to raise the bar, albeit incrementally. Now that we have Disney, Nintendo, and LEGO all on the offensive, fears that Activision and its network of Skylanders studios would fumble were at an all time high.
They needn’t have been. Skylanders SuperChargers is far from a bump in the road for this power-selling series. While continuing to hone its action platforming gameplay, this latest game in the franchise adds a whole new dynamic thanks to the introduction of vehicles.
Much like the Skylanders themselves, these hulking machines come in a variety of different flavours. Aside from being divided into land, sea, and air types, each one also carries a specific element whether that be earth, undead, light, and so on. Thankfully, in order to use vehicles, you don’t need a Skylander of the corresponding element.
Vehicles impact gameplay in several significant ways. First off, they’re occasionally used during the game’s action platform sequences, letting players drive around arenas and stunt parks while shooting down bad guys. Next up we have the land, air, and sea star challenges, opening up new areas for you to explore. However, in order to access these sizeable gameplay segments, portal masters will need a vehicle of the correct terrain type.
In true Skylanders fashion, this means buying additional figures in order to smash down paywalls and enjoy the game in its entirety. Although rather sinister, this is something Skylanders fans will have grown accustomed to in the past.
It must be said, however, that SuperChargers is far less greedy than its forebears. In previous Skylanders titles, the developers have often shut content behind gates that can only be opened using one of ten different Skylander elements. Even if players did have the correct figure placed on their portals, the bonuses were generally quite minimal and never really worth buying additional characters to unlock.
In SuperChargers, these gates have been removed altogether and replaced with the new star challenges system. Although game content is still being locked away, players only require a maximum of two additional vehicles to be purchased instead of a potential eight additional elemental figures – of course, this comes from the logical standpoint of an adult. What’s more is that these star challenges are actually something you might want to play and add to the game in some way. Although the air and sea segments vary in quality, they’re a great distraction from Skylanders’ core gameplay.
Vehicles have also brought an entirely new dynamic to the table thanks to SuperChargers’ competitive race modes. Played against eight opponents, it feels much like your typical kart racer with a healthy dose of speed pads, ramps, and item pick-ups. If you’re expecting something on the same level as Mario Kart, Crash Team, or ModNation, however, you’ll be left disappointed. Although serviceable, the racing here lacks a certain finesse and is prone to cheap AI ‘rubber-banding’. That said, younger fans will no doubt revel in taking to the track as their favourite Skylanders.
As for the rest of the game, everything feels just about identical with a handful of tweaks here and there and a new story that sees you foiling the plans of Kaos once more. Alongside a suite of mini-games we see the return of the portal master rank system. Unlike gold and regular experience, which are used to upgrade Skylanders’ abilities, this meta score unlocks a series of helpful perks while giving players an indication of their all-round progression. Another returning feature we should also mention is Skystones, the popular digital card game, which is largely the same as before but has a few minor added complexities.
One last point worth mentioning is the figures themselves. In terms of build quality things are more or less the same as they’ve always been. Although some Skylanders look glossy and cheap, the character designs ensure that each model is both sturdy and robust with no spindly bits that can easily break off. The same can be said of the new vehicles, even though many of them now have moving parts such as wheels and rotors.
Overall, SuperChargers is a competent sequel and one that’s bound to keep the Skylanders fandom transfixed for yet another year. Where previous iterations have kept the series afloat using fun albeit superficial gimmicks, this latest edition feels more like a genuine step in a new direction. It’s great news all around, yet the developers at Vicarious Visions and Toys For Bob will definitely be feeling the pressure in trying to top this latest effort next year.
Version tested: PlayStation 4