REVIEW / Skylanders Superchargers (Wii U)

 

If you’re a regular reader of TVGB, you may have guessed that I’m a big fan of Skylanders. I’ve put many hours into these games, and my collection of interactive figures is, frankly, a bit worrying. So naturally, I was excited for the opportunity to review the newest entry in the series, Skylanders Superchargers. After three games that added new types of characters, this one adds something entirely separate: vehicles.

While I wasn’t sure exactly how this would affect the gameplay of the usually platforming series, I was excited enough to find out that I went to get it way too early on the morning it came out. The fact that I wasn’t the first adult there without kids is a testament to the series and its solid gameplay and design, but there was always the question of whether they were running out of ideas. After playing Superchargers, all I can say is, not yet.

 

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I imagine that a lot of you know Skylanders only as a game that makes use of plastic figures; most adult gamers I know never really think of it beyond that. And while it would be easy for Vicarious Visions to phone in the gameplay and rely on collectibility to make money, that’s never been the franchise’s way under any developer. The Skylanders games are action platformers that, while fairly simple, always deliver solid fun.

There are many stages, each with both platforming and combat challenges, and with enough gameplay twists in each one to keep things interesting. Because it uses NFC figures for its characters, there are tons of them, and they each have unique moves and upgrade paths. In short, each Skylanders game is a full experience that manages to stay interesting throughout, and with more unique characters than even I can keep track of.

 

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Skylanders Superchargers is no exception, and as with previous entries, they’ve found new ways to mix it up. Superchargers adds 10 brand new characters, 2 guest characters that are new to the series (more on them shortly), and 8 mechanically brand new versions of existing characters. The Starter Pack includes two characters, one new and one returning. Superchargers is also, of course, compatible with every character from previous games in the series. Ultimately this adds up to 133 mechanically unique characters that are compatible with this game, give or take a couple.

Superchargers also adds new vehicle toys, with 20 available by the end of the cycle (one for each character released for the new game). The vehicles come in land, air, and water varieties. Each stage has a section for each type of vehicle, but you only need to complete the land section to beat the level. That’s a nice touch that will make some fans very happy, since the game’s Starter Pack only includes a land vehicle (in addition to the aforementioned two characters). In fact, an additional water and air vehicle are the only things you need to access everything in the game; this time, none of the content is locked behind elemental gates that require a whole bunch of characters.

 

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Before I dive into the vehicles (no pun intended), though, I want to add a note about the new characters. There are definitely fewer new characters this time than in previous entries, but I’m very pleased with all of the ones I’ve tried. That the developers can still think of unique character ideas is really impressive. For me, though, it’s the guest characters that really take the cake. The Nintendo versions of Skylanders Superchargers support two exclusive “heroes” who you might recognize: Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and Hammer Slam Bowser.

The Nintendo characters enter Skylanders with cool new looks, and their moves are an excellent mix of old and new. For example, Donkey Kong can throw barrels and hurt enemies by playing his bongos; or, he can transform into Super Kong and wear his barrels like boxing gloves, then jump up and down to make girders and ladders fall from the sky. Bowser comes to Skylands with an intense new form, Magma Bowser, that really takes the Koopa king to another level; outside of that, he still commands an army of Koopa Troopas. The brand new characters exhibit the same level of thought, and I’m amazed that they’re still coming up with new ideas that actually work. One of my favorites is Astroblast, some sort of space travelling star…thing with a self-assured attitude who shoots a laser gun and summons explosive space rocks.  Trust me, it all comes together.

 

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If you’re like me, the inclusion of these characters will be enough to get you excited. Otherwise, it’s probably about time we talk about the vehicles in depth. When playing Superchargers, you need both a character and a vehicle on the “portal.” Vehicle segments pop up throughout the levels similarly to the old elemental gates from previous games (which are, again, mercifully gone in this entry). Land and air vehicle segments either have you racing across a linear path and shooting at enemies as they appear, or freely moving around a 3D environment to solve puzzles (…and also shoot at enemies as they appear). The water vehicle segments also include free-roaming sections, along with side scrolling underwater areas reminiscent of Steel Diver.

When you first try out the game’s vehicles, especially in the free roaming land and water sections, you’ll find that the controls will take some getting used to. You don’t steer by turning the analog stick left and right like in most games; instead, you have to hold the stick in the direction you’re trying to drive. And while that does make sense given the semi-top down view in these sections, it means that the driving really feels off at first. When I started playing, I thought they had completely ruined the game. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t take too long to get used to it. And once you do, the vehicle sections add a lot to the game.

 

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The core Skylanders gameplay is still here and, impressively, hasn’t been diminished, but the vehicles add a truly new element that does more for the game than traps or swappable heroes ever could. It may be jarring for long time fans at first, because it seems like the vehicle sections are just interrupting the levels, but after a few stages you’ll get into the groove and realize just how much they add to the game’s already impressively diverse world. Fortunately, although there are benefits to matching up characters with their respective vehicles, any of the 130+ Skylanders characters will work with any vehicle. Furthermore, any of the new characters can upgrade and modify any of the vehicles.

So, vehicles are an excellent addition to Skylanders, but their implementation isn’t perfect. Besides the controls that are hard to get used to, the handling of the vehicles could be a lot better. You can customize the feel with interchangeable parts that are unlocked throughout the game, but no matter what they feel a bit loose. This isn’t too big a problem in the adventure mode, as it’s quite forgiving, but it does rather spoil the racing mode. It might be ok if it was just racing, but dealing with the handling while also trying to shoot your opponents, collect ammunition, and avoid attacks can be a bit annoying. Don’t get me wrong, the racing is definitely fun, but it can’t hold a candle to Mario Kart 8 or Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. It also doesn’t help that there aren’t many courses available for racing, and some of them are locked behind trophy figures that are bundled with characters you might not want.

 

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Speaking of the racing mode, it’s worth noting that it makes up the entirety of the 3DS and Wii versions of the game. The 3DS versions have always been different games, but in the past the Wii version has matched the other consoles, and the 3DS versions have still had the adventure mode. Another small gripe: the racing mode has replaced the arena modes from previous games.  That said, there are still other challenges available, more so than in many of the previous games. And while the adventure mode is pretty short, there is plenty of replay value in finding all of the hidden items and trying out different characters.  Still, I hope they release expansions for the adventure mode in addition to expanding the racing mode, because I’ve already finished the story and there are still some cool characters that haven’t even been released yet. It’s not the most challenging game either, so it’s pretty quick to get through.

Despite these disappointing aspects, this is one of the best games the Skylanders series has put out so far. If you’ve been avoiding it because you figured the games would be shallow cash-ins, I highly recommend giving them a shot. You’ll be surprised just how much depth they have, and even though they aren’t the most complex games I’ve ever played, the core gameplay is beyond solid. If you’re a fan of the series already, and not sure whether to keep on it or jump ship to another toys to life franchise, I recommend sticking with the Skylanders camp. All of the new and returning characters are mechanically unique, the vehicles are implemented quite well, and there are over 130 characters to choose from. If you’re concerned about cost, this is the best Skylanders for you: everything you need to complete the game is in the box, as always, but even seeing everything that each stage has to offer only requires buying two other items for around $15 each. And if you’re a Nintendo fan like me, you’ll love how Bowser, Donkey Kong, and the characters that appear with them are both lovingly represented and given fresh new abilities.

 

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In short, anyone with even a remote interest in platformers or racing combat should try out Skylanders Superchargers. It’s a platformer, a beat-em-up, and a multi-vehicle racing game all in one, with a unique cast that keeps on growing. So swallow your pride and play with some toys; you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find in the world of Skylands.

 

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