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The Skylanders are back, and this time they’re tearing up land, sea, and sky in supercharged vehicles. And yes, this is as fun as it sounds.

Skylanders Superchargers, out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, is the fifth entry in the annual series that really kicked off the multibillion dollar toys-to-life genre back in 2011. This time around, developer Vicarious Visions returns to the helm and offers up some much-needed diversity and innovation to the franchise. I played the Xbox One version for this review.


Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews.


What you’ll like

New gameplay that keeps the series fresh

Superchargers features a new portal (which plugs into the USB port on your console), which seems to have more room to accommodate two figures and a vehicle at the same time. As per the Skylander titles that came before, you place the well-crafted toys on the portal, and they come to life inside the game, usually following a flashy, animated intro. When one character loses all of its health, you just remove it from the portal and replace it with another until you either beat the level or you run out of Skylanders and have to restart at a checkpoint.

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Although the last installment, Trap Team, gave you the ability to trap enemies and unleash them later for limited periods of time, the gameplay really didn’t diverge much from the previous Skylanders games. Thankfully, Superchargers features many new levels and modes of play that diverge from board after board of “run around, search for hidden things, and mash buttons until the monsters die” that you saw previously.

The addition of vehicles really helps keep Skylanders from getting a bit stale this time around. Even among the parts that require transportation, you can find a lot of diversity. Some are just racing on rails and destroying enemies. Others, such as the demolition-derby-style Rideocalypse, feature battle arenas replete with environmental hazards and enemies bent on smashing your car to bits. Some are even free-roaming areas where you use your vehicle to solve puzzles. And, if that wasn’t enough to get you interested, several of the boss battles take place behind the wheel (or flight stick).

In addition to the fun added by the various modes of transportation, the stages where you roam around on foot see a huge leap in variety this time around. You’ll encounter old-school 2D platforming, areas where the direction of gravity and your perspective shift as you traverse different portals, and even one part that plays out like a side-scrolling shoot ’em up. Add in special abilities that your Skylander will get in certain places like a ray that alternately shrinks or grows objects (try using it on enemies too) or magical powers of attraction and repulsion that make for some interesting puzzles, and Superchargers ensures you’re never doing the same thing for too long.

The sea vehicles can even travel underwater.

Above: The sea vehicles can even travel underwater.

Image Credit: Activision

Tons of content

Even after you finish the main storyline, Skylanders Superchargers encourages continued play. The number of options on the racing portion alone rival full-featured racing titles like Mario Kart (and you get even more content if you buy the Racing Action Pack add-ons). The Academy, which serves as your base of operations throughout the story, becomes a perpetual quest hub afterward. Here, you can engage in a game of Skystones (a simple collectible card game), place and play with the Legendary Treasures you’ve gathered, take on arena battles and other challenges, and receive daily quests from many of the game’s non-player characters.

Superchargers gives you many more reasons to come back than all of its predecessors, and this is certainly a good thing.

The toys are still top-notch (and some even have moving parts now)

The quality and detail of the toys has always been one of the strengths of the Skylanders series, and the latest batch certainly doesn’t disappoint. One of my favorite pairings among the new characters was Fiesta (an undead mariachi with a trumpet gun and a Mexican Day of the Dead skull for a head) and his vehicle Crypt Crusher (a coffin-styled, three-wheeled car).

The addition of the vehicles also brings a new level of interactivity to the toys as many of them now have moving parts. The wheeled vehicles, in particular, are much more fun for little hands to play with, as you can actually roll them across the floor and engage in your own offline races.


Special Sidebar: What about the Wii and 3DS versions?

You may have seen mention of Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS editions of Skylanders Superchargers on various Web sites, but I purposely left them out of the list of versions above and below. Why? Well, the Wii and 3DS versions, while they include some nifty Nintendo-exclusive characters that can also function as Amiibo figures, only include the racing features of the game. They do not include the main storyline gameplay and a lot of the additional challenges. This was apparently unclear on several different retail websites during the preorder process and has led to many angry parents, upset kids, and negative reviews.

I really think Activision is skirting a dangerous line here by making the packaging for these versions almost visually identical, aside from different characters and the addition of the smaller subtitle “Racing” underneath the main logo. These products are also the same price as the fully featured versions, which is also questionable in my mind. So please, be careful when you go purchase Skylanders Superchargers. If you have a system other than Wii or 3DS, you’re better off buying a different version.

Many people are confusing these two. Unfortunately, the Wii version only includes the racing portion of the game. Buyer beware.

Above: At a glance, these two appear similar. Unfortunately, the Wii version only includes the racing portion of the game. Buyer beware.

Image Credit: Jay Henningsen/GamesBeat

What you won’t like

Some additional purchases don’t feel optional

In previous versions of Skylanders, you found gates attuned to various elements, and you needed characters that matched those elements to open them. These were always optional and usually just contained small areas with collectibles.

In Superchargers, you have sections of each major level that require each of the three different types of vehicles (land, sky, and sea). In fact, after about only 15 minutes with the game, you’ll see a cutscene that shows you something that looks fun to do and then promptly tells you that you need a sea vehicle to attempt it. A mere 10 minutes after finding this first one, you’ll find another prompt that says you need an sky vehicle.

This is actually fun. unfortunately, if you don't buy a sea vehicle, you'll never see it.

Above: This is actually fun. Unfortunately, if you don’t buy a sea vehicle, you’ll never see it.

Image Credit: Activision

While these are still technically optional, the reality is that you’ll be missing out on some great gameplay if you don’t have at least one of each vehicle. In some cases, failing to do these sections also has gameplay consequences: In one board, having a sea vehicle allows you to unlock an ability that opens up many new areas. Also, on the last full level of the game, completing the additional vehicle sections actually weakens the final boss.

At one point also near the end, Superchargers even makes you feel guilty for not having the right type of vehicle when one of the main characters tells you that you’ll have to switch to “Plan B” and says that he’s going to hold you responsible for the damages incurred. There’s nothing like a little guilt trip to get you to buy more toys. Shame on Vicarious Visions for this.

The bottom line: If you order the Starter Set online or purchase it in a store, do yourself a favor and add at least one sky vehicle and one sea vehicle to your cart. You’ll enjoy the title much more this way. I honestly think it’s a shame that you’ll miss out on so many fun things without these additions, and I can’t agree with this design choice.

Some of your favorite characters may have changed … and not in a good way

Instead of giving the new versions of older characters a single, new power like the developers have done in the past, some of your old Skylander friends have completely changed in their new incarnations. While many may see this as a way of keeping the game fresh, some of these changes are not always for the better.

For example, the starter pack includes the Supershot Stealth Elf figure. For those unfamiliar with the character, Stealth Elf has been a series regular, and her strengths were her agility and fast melee attacks. In Superchargers, however, this once ninja-like character now inexplicably wields a gatling-gun type weapon that shoots daggers and also slows her down tremendously when she fires it.

I think I like Stealth Elf better without the gatling gun.

Above: I think I like Stealth Elf better without the gatling gun.

Image Credit: Activision

Gill Grunt goes through a similar 180-degree transformation. In all of the previous Skylander games, he was a primarily ranged-attack character, sporting a harpoon gun and a water blaster. This time around he’s a melee brawler with a trident.

You may find these changes exciting, but some of them made me miss the old versions of the characters that I knew well and relied on.

It has some bugs that are bizarre and other that are just bad

During my time with Superchargers, I encountered more than a few bugs. The first night I played the game, I didn’t have any extra figures available, and the two I had both got defeated on one of the early boss fights. I had no choice but to restart at my last checkpoint. When I selected the option to do so, the game crashed and completely exited back to my Xbox One home screen.

Some of the other glitches I encountered were strange but not as bad. One time, I was playing with one of the Legendary Treasures you collect in the game called the Shrink Ray. I used it, and it shrunk my character down to a minute size for a few minutes, like you might expect. What I did not expect, however, was that when I grew back to full size, my Skylander became bugged and was unable to attack until I removed him from the portal and put him back on again.

Another time, on one of the last boards in the entire game, I was solving one of the game’s many slide puzzles. I looked at it for about 10 seconds and saw the solution immediately. It would only require three moves. After I pushed the first two blocks and was one move away from solving the problem, Skylanders Superchargers decided I was having trouble with the puzzle and asked me if I wanted to try an easier one by lowering the difficulty level. Why this was the only time this happened, especially considering it was on a puzzle that I made no mistakes on, was beyond me.

Maybe we could ask this Wii U exclusive Donkey Kong character to smash some of the bugs for us.

Above: Maybe we could ask this Wii U exclusive Donkey Kong character to smash some of the bugs for us.

Image Credit: Activision

Another entry in the quizzical messages department happened during the very last level of the game. I had just completed the area of the board that required a water vehicle, and I was back on land again. Seemingly out of nowhere, the game supplied me with the spoken message, “Only a Supercharger Skylander can customize vehicles.” Not only was I using a Supercharger Skylander figure at the time, but this message repeated several times while I was just walking around.

I also had one catastrophic bug (at least by Skylanders’ standards). After loading the game up one night when I was almost finished with the main story, I placed one of my figures on the portal, but it would not load. After attempting the “retry” option several times to no avail, I reluctantly selected “recover” and then lamented when all the abilities that I had purchased over the course of the entire game were locked again.

Conclusion

Skylanders Superchargers is the most diverse and enjoyable entry in the series to date, but it also locks away a lot more of its fun content behind additional purchases. You honestly won’t enjoy it as much unless you also buy at least one sky vehicle and one sea vehicle to go with your starter set. A few bugs also marred an otherwise fun experience. It’s obvious that the developer tried to expand and innovate with this follow-up (likely spurred at least a little by the added competition of Disney Infinity 3.0 and Lego Dimensions this year), and despite a few complaints, Superchargers is still one of the best family-friendly games of this year.

Score: 80/100

Skylanders Superchargers is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The publisher provided an Xbox One Starter Set and additional figures for the purpose of this review.

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