Christmas is coming! If I were more generically cynical I’d go on about how it’s actually just a consumer-focused holiday that’s all about buying stuff…but the fact of the matter is that I love buying stuff! It’s great! Hits me with a shot of sweet, sweet endorphins every time. And what better way to buy lots of stuff than to play a toys-to-life game? Yes, with the holiday season closing in on us we’ve got another version of Skylanders to talk about. Behold one of 2015’s hottest holiday treats: Skylanders: SuperChargers.
As always, the annual Skylanders release brings with it a new gimmick. First we had the original concept as a whole, which was simply convincing players to snatch up pricey plastic to sync up with the virtual game. This was followed Skylanders: Giants, then Swap Force’s swappable halves and finally Trap Team’s boss-capturing Trap Masters. For this year’s annual dose SuperChargers introduces vehicles and their associated SuperCharger Skylanders, characters who specialize in vehicle modification. These vehicles come in the typical variety of elements (including Light and Dark, as seen in Trap Team’s expansions) as well as Land, Sea and Sky varieties.
The various types of vehicle serve as keys to unlock additional content, as many side areas require aquatic or aerial transport and the game’s starter packs only include land vehicles. Matching a SuperCharger with a particular vehicle will SuperCharge that vehicle, buffing it and offering new abilities; understandably this is going to be expensive, so good luck parents and collectors – though in terms of price, this is actually the cheapest lock system yet, as you really only need one vehicle of each type to see most of the content here. That’s only, uh, almost half again the cost of the game itself! Mercy!
Vehicles can be modified with various parts when playing with a SuperCharger Skylander, allowing you to switch up their performance and change their looks. It’s a nice touch, though the fact that only SuperChargers can do it might dissuade you from playing as other characters; while all 100+ previous figures are compatible with this title as always, the focus remains on the latest and greatest. An exception can be made for owners of the Light and Dark packs from Trap Team; these continue to be the rarest elements with a total of three figures each and their respective SuperChargers aren’t readily available yet, so having Knight Light and Knight Mare available can be nice for taking advantage of Light and Dark areas.
In any case, even if the older characters aren’t quite the spotlight-hogging badasses they used to be, having over a hundred playable figures with their own unique abilities offers a staggering amount of variety, so the fact that they continue to be usable at all is noteworthy.
The plot remains about the same as ever: Kaos is back. Yes, I know, you paid $50 for a secondhand Kaos Trap and locked him away forever in Trap Team. He got out somehow and now he’s being a jerk, this time by commandeering a battleship powered by an eldritch horror with which he plans to destroy Skylands. Your one chance at stopping him is your vast array of costly plastic, so it’s time to get to work. Jokes aside, the presentation is as Pixaresque as ever with the kind of polish that only a highly successful million-dollar franchise can display. Fans of animation both young and old should enjoy this one, particularly since the gameplay remains meager throughout.
Said gameplay is a little more varied than the Ratchet and Clank-style smash-a-thon we saw in previous titles. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still present and accounted for with plenty of stuff to break, chests to open, hats to collect and so on, but the addition of vehicles means that there’s plenty of driving to do as well. Vehicles can be used in many of the game’s exploration areas, allowing you to wreck foes en masse with mounted weaponry or just plain ol’ vehicular baddie-slaughter. There are also plenty of driving, sailing and flying sections to drive, sail and fly through; these play a bit like Mario Kart (and a lot like the N64’s Diddy Kong Racing for the sea and sky vehicles) for the most part, including boost zones, ramps and the like.
As mentioned, pairing a SuperCharger with “their” vehicle will result in a SuperCharged vehicle with different looks and more power, so if you want to wring the most performance out of your rides possible, you know what to do. The vehicles are also controllable by two players, with one steering while the other controls the weapons; I’m sure this is going to result in plenty of bloody battles between siblings come Christmas!
That’s not all the new gameplay has to offer here though. SuperChargers also includes the return of Skystones, essentially a collectible card game played by many of the game’s characters. This was originally introduced in Skylanders: Giants, but it’s a little different here. I could go into a deep and involving discussion about the game’s mechanics and how to play, but for the sake of brevity let’s just say it’s kind of like Hearthstone and leave it at that. The main reason I mention this is that Skystones is also the main use of Trap Team’s captured villains, since they aren’t playable in this game but will instead provide new “cards” as well as buffing your vehicles when the trap is inserted.
Full Disclosure: I played through this one on the Wii U, which is a little unusual given my tendency to seek my multiplatform pleasures on other platforms. In this case, however, the Wii U version has an advantage – namely, there’s figures for Nintendo’s own Bowser and Donkey Kong as well as vehicles for to those characters! It’s a nice touch. An even nicer touch is the fact that these figures (and only these figures) can serve as both Skylanders and Amiibo by twisting the base of the figure to the desired setting. Wish that we could see this kind of cooperation between publishers a little more often. As SuperCharger characters, both Bowser and Donkey Kong are considerably powerful – long-time fans of the series shouldn’t be surprised that the most recent figures tend to be the heaviest hitters.
As always, toys-to-life games are an interesting value proposition: they’re heavily kid-focused but demand an adult-sized cash outlay. As mentioned, though, Skylanders: SuperChargers is relatively merciful with the tithe it demands to see the lion’s share of its gameplay. The fact that said gameplay is as refined as one would expect from the fifth iteration of a smash hit series doesn’t hurt, either. With plenty of clones like Disney Infinity and the recent Lego Dimensions arriving to claim a piece of the pie, I think it’s safe to say the king of this subgenre continues to reign supreme. If you’ve got the disposable cash to toss into the gas tank of collectible bliss, then hop into the driver’s seat with Skylanders: SuperChargers.