Skylanders SuperChargers Hands-on Preview

Jason Nimer
In Short
We test drive Skylanders SuperChargers on the land, in the air, and under the water.

I've been a fan and collector of the Skylanders series since day one, when Spyro's Adventure directly appealed to my love of both video games and collecting toys. It's four years later and we are on the eve of the series' fifth and newest entry, Skylanders SuperChargers. With each new game, I promise myself and my wife that this time I'm out; I won't be hunting new figures in the pre-dawn hours, I won't be dropping hundreds of dollars on the entire catalog of newly released toys and I won't be taking up even more shelf space in my little basement game room with yet another full series of toys. And it seems, after having the chance to go hands-on with SuperChargers during a visit to the offices of developer Vicarious Visions, I'll be making a liar out of myself. Again. This new game is on track to be the best Skylanders experience to date, turning up to eleven all the things fans love about the series while also aiming to bring in tons of new fans.

Most hardcore Skylanders fans and collectors agree that Vicarious Visions first entry in the series, SWAP Force, was a major step forward for the series, and SuperChargers, almost assuredly, will be welcomed with the same praise. The hook this time is vehicles, a series of land, sea, and air-faring contraptions that are represented with their own toys. Simply put, these vehicles are just plain awesome, and easily as appealing as the Skylanders characters themselves. Depending on which game system you choose to play, you will have access to 18-20 brand new vehicles and their corresponding Skylander driver/pilot (more on this in a minute), and it is worth mentioning that the vehicles are the most advanced-feeling toys yet. Why? The SuperChargers vehicles are the first Skylanders toys to actually have moving parts; wheels roll, rudders turn and this makes the vehicles feel more like actual toys than the static Skylander 'statues' released up to this point.

The Skylanders characters' toys have also been bumped up on the quality scale. The individual figures are slightly bigger and heavier than previous releases, and their amount of detail is flat-out amazing. We got a chance to play with new characters including Fiesta, a Day of the Dead-inspired trumpet player complete with a mini Mariachi band, Splat, a goat girl with a deadly paintbrush and Dive-Clops, a one-eyed undersea warrior with an old-timely looking dive suit, and they are a natural fit with the returning characters like Jet-Vac and personal favorite Gill Grunt. It's no secret there were some quality issues with the Skylanders Trap Team toys (some felt flimsy or had painting mistakes and the final three traps were never released in the U.S., leaving collectors with frustratingly incomplete collections), but the toys and vehicles paired with SuperChargers aim to and succeed in winning back that eroded trust. When it comes to they toys themselves, both vehicles and core characters, Vicarious Visions has raised the bar and set an amazing new standard on both sculpting and functionality.

Remember when I mentioned there were 18-20 new characters and vehicles? Players who choose to purchase the game on the Wii, 3DS or Wii U have access to two characters not available in the Microsoft, Apple, or Sony families of systems. Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and Hammer Slam Bowser (and their corresponding vehicles) will be exclusive to the Nintendo family of systems, and I'm happy to report that they blend perfectly with the world of Skylanders and feel like a natural fit. We got lots of hands-on time with the two characters in the Wii U version of the game (we did not preview the Wii and 3DS versions of the game, which are strictly racing titles) and they are sure to become fan-favorites among all the new and returning characters. The two toys also function as amiibo, with a little slider on the bottom of the toys to switch between Skylander and amiibo modes. As an amiibo collector as well, I felt these two were a little smaller in size than I expected, especially when compared to other toys in Nintendo's lineup, but they will still fit nicely into any amiibo collector's display shelf. There are also 'dark' versions of each character packed in with the Dark Starter Packs, meaning amiibo collectors will have four new additions to their army. To me, this makes playing SuperChargers on Wii U, instead of the Xbox One or PS4, a no-brainer.

So we've established the new toys are fantastic, but how is the game itself? From what we got to see and try, SuperChargers is the biggest and most varied title yet. The gameplay is split between the on-foot sections we have all come to know and love, and vehicle segments that can be races or obstacle courses. These new vehicle segments were fun to play and fit nicely into the space left by previous games' elemental gates, but the on-foot segments remained a favorite. SuperChargers, like SWAP Force, feels considerably faster than the Toys For Bob-developed Giants and Trap Team, and that is a very good thing. In a completely new move for the series, the entire campaign is playable with online co-op, and great care has been taken to make this mode as family-friendly and accessible as possible.

In addition to the vehicle segments, there is a completely separate racing mode, which allows you and up to three others to go head-to-head, online or local, across a number of different racetracks, with specialties for land, sea, and air vehicles. The racing is a joy to play and is reminiscent of the Mario Kart titles in that they not only emphasize speed, but also weapons and vehicle-specific attacks. The races we were able to test out were three lap affairs and things got very competitive very quickly among the other press members in attendance. The best part of the racing, in my view, was that there are no Blue Shell-type weapons, i.e. the races felt fair and balanced, without slingshot mechanics and the socialist feel of the last placed racer having a single equalizing magic ability that could throw off the entire competition. Skill matters when racing in SuperChargers, and in that respect, the races are actually better than the most recent Mario Kart games.

Being a gamer who enjoys single player campaigns over online multiplayer, I thought one of the most impressive things about SuperChargers was the emphasis on the narrative. This time around, not only do fan favorite heroes and villains return, some villains never before seen in a mainline Skylanders game have a role to play. Count Moneybone, for example, previously only showed up in the 3DS version of SWAP Force, but he takes center stage in SuperChargers. We were shown some of the cutscenes from the final game and suffice it to say that SuperChargers will have an emotional weight and character-driven story never before seen in the series, and it looks amazing. One scene we were shown in particular comes to mind, as it was easy to tell the hardcore fans from the casual ones by whether or not they teared up while watching it play out. I can't ruin it for you here, but this particular scene had me going for the tissues. Pretty impressive for a 'kids game,' right?

We also got some hands-on time with the iOS version of the game, which is identical to the Wii U, PS4, and Xbox One versions. The entire game, campaign and races, can be played online with up to three others, and it looked and felt as impressive as the console versions we tested. If you bought an iOS portal for Trap Team, the SuperChargers portal is identical and fully functional. The game can also be played without the portal, relying on three characters that are available right off the bat. The best part is that the game is now playable on the iPhone series of devices, as well as the iPad devices, and the entire experience supports cloud saving, meaning you can play on the iPad and pick up later on an iPhone. The seamlessness of the experience was extremely impressive, and I imagine the game will be a benchmark in how iOS ports should be handled in the future.

If there is one thing that concerns Skylanders vets, it is how the toys from past games will be figured into the new games. Of top concern for Trap Team players is how the traps will figure into the SuperChargers experience. The villains you've trapped are no longer playable, but each of the trapped villains unlocks a specific part or ability for the vehicles in-game, and the new portal does in fact feature a slot for those traps. Beyond that, every single Skylander from past games works in this new game, including all the SWAP Force characters and their mix-and-match personalities (Night Ranger being the favorite around my house). Each character can drive every vehicle in-game, but specific bonuses are granted by pairing a SuperCharger Skylander with his or her themed vehicle. Even magic items and unlockable stages from past games are still useful, as they unlock Legendary Treasures which can be arranged in the hub of Skylanders Academy in any way you wish, opening up all sorts of new gameplay options and fun Easter eggs.

Vicarious Visions has once again knocked it out of the park with SuperChargers. The new toys are the most impressive yet, and the game itself is beyond huge, weaving in a fully functional campaign and a separate racing game into one massive experience. All your old Skylanders can still be used and the functionality of the old items, stages and traps goes a long way to regain the fan trust decimated by the unreleased final Trap Team items, leading me to acknowledge that Toys For Bob may have started the Skylanders series, but it is at its best when in the extremely capable hands of Vicarious Visions. When SuperChargers hits on September 20th, I will be first in line to grab up the new Starter Packs, vehicles and characters, and I'd advise that even if you are half-heartedly interested in the series, you should do the same thing. From what we were shown and allowed to play with, SuperChargers seems like the natural next step for the Skylanders series and easily shakes off any series fatigue fans may worry about. Even though this is the fifth time gamers have been invited to Skylands, this invitation is the most tempting yet.

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Transmitted: 7/15/2024 5:30:36 AM