Skylanders SuperChargers KeyArt (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, iPad)

‘Skylanders SuperChargers’ Revs Up Formula With Vehicles, Full Preview Blowout

Every Skylanders game since Spyro’s Adventure has had a hook to draw gamers of all ages in. This year’s Skylanders SuperChargers is no different. The twist that PlayStation, Xbox, Wii, PC, Nintendo 3DS, and even iPad users can look forward to this time is the addition of vehicles and the special boosts that they get from bringing the toys to life.

When I was invited to check out a live demo of Skylanders SuperChargers, I was immediately curious about two things. Would it be developed by Vicarious Visions, the team behind Swap Force, and would some form of interactivity with the toys themselves be introduced.

I was pleasantly surprised when Vicarious was confirmed to be the developer for Skylanders SuperChargers and a smile slid across my face when a hot rod named Hot Streak, submarine called Dive Bomber, and jet dubbed Sky Slicer were presented on the table before me, the first three to be revealed of a set of 20 with the same number of “signature” characters that pair with the vehicles.

The introduction of vehicles is part of the game’s plot of series villain Kaos seeking to rule over Skylands with the “Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction,” which is capable of eating the sky itself. Master Eon has assembled a fleet of vehicles with special team of pilots to destroy Kaos’ latest sinister weapon.

Vehicles

The first thing I was struck with each of these vehicles was their heft and the attention to detail. These are not flimsy pieces of plastic, but solid die cast-like toys that can be played with. There’s a limited amount of interactivity with these three. The wheels, of course, move on Hot Rod, and the propeller can be turned on Dive Bomber using the hatch wheel on the top. Sky Slicer has no interactive bit to turn or move.

Some of the additional vehicles described to me included a tank with treads that move and a turret that turns, a hovercraft, and a helicopter with turning blades.

If you are guessing a land, air, and water theme with Skylanders SuperChargers then you are correct. Vehicles sections replace the previous side missions and progression gates in the game. However, the main story can be completed from beginning to end using only the characters that come in the Starter Pack – Spitfire, Hot Rod, and Super Shot Stealth Elf. Obviously, the draw here is to pick up at least one air and water vehicle so that you can play the entire game.

Skylantis - Skylanders SuperChargers
Skylantis, the first level revealed for Skylanders SuperChargers.

Levels and Gameplay

Levels in SuperChargers are split relatively evenly between the traditional on foot sections and vehicle sections. Vicarious’ stated goal with levels this time around is to provide a variety of gameplay on every level.

The section of gameplay I was shown was set in Skylantis featured bad guys with a unique mechanic. They can eat clouds to grow bigger and become more difficult to beat. Additionally, the on-foot sections of the map are obscured in “fog of war” like clouds to encourage exploration. New puzzle sections are also introduced where pillars are rotated to align beams of light and open up new sections. Another level that Vicarious is excited about but wasn’t able to show yet lets players use a ray to shrink or grows object to solve puzzles.

Meanwhile, the vehicle sections have the similar combination of explore, fight, and puzzle solving gameplay. The land vehicle section shown started with a kart racing style track with gear bits (the new currency) to collect, jump ramps, and boost pads. This transitioned to an arena battle against turrets where Hot Rod used a flame thrower to destroy enemies. This then shifted to an exploration section with the need to use Hot Rod to explore the area and ring bells scattered around the area to progress.

The water side mission was a water course that allowed Dive Bomber to go above and below water to collect gear bits, avoid obstacles, and find secret areas. This culminated in a cleverly constructed boss fight against a wave generating storm machine. Players can fire torpedoes at the boss machine and enemy subs by sending out a sonar ping that serves as a homing beacon. Shielded gunboats are mixed into the fight as well that can only be taken down by drawing the fire of the lightning that the boss generates.

Lastly, the air side mission reminded me of Star Fox with an on-rails shooter complete with barrel rolls to avoid enemy fire and the ability to mark targets to fire missiles at.

Spitfire - Skylanders SuperChargers
Spitfire in-game screenshot.

Upgrades

Vehicles can be upgraded with mods at any during the game. These mods can be found in secret areas on levels or purchased from a vendor in-game. These upgrades change different aspects of your ride such as armor, top speed, acceleration, handling, and weight. For a real boost, place the pair up a SuperChargers character with their signature vehicle to unlock access to even better mods.

Stormblade - Skylanders SuperChargers
Stormblade in-game screenshot.

All 300-plus Older Characters Playable

Despite the inclusion of SuperChargers, Skylanders figures from previous edition are still playable. Vicarious expressed the importance of supporting fans who have built large collection of figures over the past few years. The catch here though is that they do not have access to upgrading vehicles. Only other SuperCharger characters can upgrade vehicles only signature pairings can unlock the most powerful mods.

Some older characters will return with a new look for Skylanders SuperChargers. For example, Stealth Elf is given the Thorn Super Shot cannon that transforms her from a melee to a ranged character. Her new ability allows her to go invisible and move around the map while the cannon becomes a fixed turret that fires in the same direction.

Where Does Co-Op Fit In?

The addition of vehicles to the gameplay mix is a fun move for Skylanders. If there is one area of trepidation that I have is how it will impact co-op play. I noticed that the game portal only holds one vehicle and two characters. When I asked about this, I was told that the on foot sections would play the same as past game. The vehicle sections, however, will have one character controlling the vehicle while the other controls the weapons or uses a vacuum like device to suck up gear bits.

This sounds a little like Super Mario Galaxy‘s co-op. On paper, it sounds fine. We’ll have to see how it works in practice though as my concern is that the second player may be in for bouts of inactivity, which will make playing vehicle sections in co-op less desirable.

Extras

Other tidbits of information I picked up with my session with Skylanders SuperChargers.

  • The Kaos Doom Challenge mode will not return.
  • The Skystones card game will return with the ability to bring in cards from all previous Skylanders
  • Additional challenge modes will be announced at a later date. When I asked about the obvious kart racing mode, I was given a wry comment that they could only comment about the main game for now.
  • Skylanders SuperChargers was built from the ground up for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. All other versions will be exactly the same but run at reduced resolutions.
  • The levels in Skylanders will be the biggest created yet in the series to support the new vehicle gameplay. However, the time to get through the levels and side missions will be approximately the same as previous games.
  • Vicarious is looking at ways to add more interactivity with the physical toys. However, they want to consider how it fits with the game’s original theme of characters frozen as toys being brought to life in the game world.
  • The iPad version of Skylanders SuperChargers is important to Activision and Vicarious Visions. They couldn’t provide sales numbers on how well Trap Team sold on the tablet, but it was in line with expectations and supporting mobile gamers is important.
  • Continuing to support last-gen consoles will be a release by release decision.
Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack
The Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack

Availability and Cost

Skylanders SuperChargers be released on Sept. 20, 2015 and offer the traditional Starter Pack for $74.99 that comes with the Portal of Power, Hot Rod, Spitfire, and Super Shot Stealth Elf. The Nintendo 3DS version will be $64.99.

A digital Portal Owners Pack will also be offered for “connected consoles” and iPads. This offers a digital download of the full game with Hot Streak and Spitfire at an announced reduced price. All Portals from previous Skylanders titles will work with this version.

Individual SuperChargers characters will cost $12.99. Meanwhile, individual vehicles will cost a couple of dollars more at $14.99.

Wrap It Up

Overall, I was impressed with the direction that Skylanders SuperChargers is going. Swap Force was one of the better entries in the franchise due to its ability to mix and match play. The addition of vehicles brings back that element and offers a large variety of gameplay options. Co-op is a concern, but SuperChargers has the potential to be one of the top entries in the series if Vicarious Visions can deliver on the promise of different gameplay mechanics in each level and with different vehicles.

[Images and Video via Activision]

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