Sunday 18 March 2018

Skylanders: Superchargers review – Brace your wallet for a supercharged kids' adventure

Skylanders: Superchargers - The Stealth Elf is one character that comes with the start pack
Skylanders: Superchargers - The Stealth Elf is one character that comes with the start pack
Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

Skylanders is one of the main franchises in the “toy-to-life” market, where toys are placed on a special portal and then, as if by magic, appear on the screen as a playable character. It sounds like a great idea, but here there is a big catch.

7.5/10 ; Playstation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Playstation 3, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Xbox 360, iOS; Activision; 6+

Skylanders Superchargers repeatedly presents emotionally charged situations that only the player can resolve, before saying something like “oh, I’m sorry, you need an additional vehicle for this.” OK, an adult might feel hard done by, but when it’s a younger player, well, most of the game scenarios are literally a matter of life or death. If you haven't bought that extra vehicle, well I guess all those people just have to die.

Micro-purchase and DLC are an unfortunate part of modern gaming. What irks here is the approach taken by Skylanders. Purchases aren’t sold as something that will make the game easier or add something fun, they’re sold as something you need to buy or a bad thing will happen.

The game and starter pack will set you back about €80 for the game, a land vehicle, portal and two characters. Each vehicle is about €19.99 and character toys cost about €17.99. For a calm Christmas Day (the likely target here) a parent should be looking at Skylanders Supercharger as a €120 gift.

It’s not all bad news as there are only three types of vehicles. Previous Skylander games restricted content based on the type of character used, so you would need at least ten characters to access everything. Also, if the player is a fan of the series, they can use their existing characters and peripherals in the game. Chances are good that toys bought for this game will also play a role in future games.

With the dirty talk of money over, we can look at the actual game.

Skylanders: Superchargers - Two of the shiny vehicles you can purchase to access aerial missions.
Skylanders: Superchargers - Two of the shiny vehicles you can purchase to access aerial missions.

Skylanders Superchargers is big. Like a summer blockbuster, it has the best special effects, the biggest explosions and a thrill ride that won’t require a second thought afterwards.

At first, playing the game felt like a chore. The movement is quite slow and the combat is basic button bashing. The camera is locked, so moving backwards from most routes has the character walking blind into the unknown. The camera also means that exploration is more about walking until you get stopped, rather than spotting a visual cue. Overall the gameplay experience feels blunted. Then I remembered the target audience is not a cantankerous journalist who was alive to buy the original Pokemon Red on release day. 

Change your perspective and Skylanders Superchargers becomes a completely different experience. While many young gamers can probably school the adults in their lives in all things gaming, the simplicity of Skylanders allows players to enjoy the experience of role playing. The Skylanders are more than pixels in a game to their fans, they’re characters with personalities that fans know and love.

Take a step away from the console and the toys can go with you. The wheels of the cars move, so they double as Hot Wheels style toys, albeit expensive ones you shouldn’t cover in mud. Skylanders have adventures in imaginations that we can only guess at. If a child is in to Skylanders, chances are their friends will be too. Progress relating to the character is stored in the actual toy, a nice touch that means a player can bring the toys over to their friend's house and continue playing with their own customised Skylander.

Skylanders: Superchargers - The Wii version of the game features a playable Donkey Kong
Skylanders: Superchargers - The Wii version of the game features a playable Donkey Kong

The cut scenes in Skylanders:Superchargers are extremely high quality and it can feel like the game is really the bridge between TV shows. The voice actors all sound familiar and the characters are great. Sure, the game is filled with the same old stereotypes that crop up in most children’s TV, but I don’t recall complaining that Mumm Ra in Thundercats was essentially He-Man’s Skeletor with bandages.

Even with the water and air missions initially withheld from players with only the starter pack, Skylanders: Superchargers is crammed full of content and different types of gameplay.

At the centre of the game are the new vehicles. Gameplay varies from platforming-in-cars style segments, to more traditional racing along a route. The camera and controls feel quite odd for the platforming, mostly because your first introduction to your car has the familiar Mario Kart style view and controls.

During the races there’s a sense that you can never really go wrong. The challenge is to collect as many sparkly things and achieve as many adrenaline fuelled jumps as possible.  Again, older gamers may be bored by the lack of challenge, but it’s still an awfully good looking rollercoaster ride.

Locks are dealt with using a gremlin-driving puzzle mini-game, which is a nice change of brain-gears. Skylanders’ own card game – think simplified Hearthstone - makes a return, with a new vehicle-related twist. Throughout the main game players can collect cards to add to their deck, so there’s an ongoing benefit once the main adventure ends.

Skylanders: Superchargers - Two-player co-op racing ahoy.
Skylanders: Superchargers - Two-player co-op racing ahoy.

Collectibles are built right in to the experience. The game is encouraging you to collect figurines, of course, but within the game there are fun hats for the characters and parts for the vehicles. Add on top of that the upgrades each character and vehicle can earn and there’s a lot to do before you feel finished.

Beyond the platforming elements there are races galore. Not quite up there with a dedicated racer like Mario Kart, but still solid and extending the multiplayer life of the title.

When you add all the elements up, Skylanders: Superchargers is a big and varied title. The visuals and cut scenes are excellent and while other areas fail to be exceptional, there’s nowhere that goes horribly wrong.

Skylanders Superchargers is truly built for its target audience and built well. It doesn’t have the cross-generational appeal of the likes of  Tearaway Unfolded or the majority of Nintendo games, but this game will make a lot of fans very happy. If you go in to it with eyes open in terms of the cost, this is a big game that should keep young button mashers happy for a long time.

Read More - Tearaway Unfolded review – Shiny happy paper people having fun

Skylanders: Superchargers is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Playstation 3, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Xbox 360, iOS


(Version played: PS4. Starter pack supplied by publisher.)

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