|System: Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Vicarious Visions|
|Release: September 20, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief|
by Jenni Lada
When Activision provided the opportunity for me to play Skylanders SuperChargers, I was so excited. NFC figures have become my not-so-secret Achilles' heel, and the chance to collect more of them, including ones that doubled as amiibo, made my inner child rejoice.
Then, that same inner child saw how deficient the racing elements were and how ingrained they were into the game and threw a bit of a temper tantrum.
Skylanders SuperChargers begins as all installments in the series do. Kaos is attempting to overtake the Skylands and extend his rule, and the only salvation comes in the form of a Portal Master (the player) and the titular Skylanders. However, this entry is a little darker than previous installments, perhaps due to the awareness of the aging of its audience.
Kaos is in command of a Sky Eater powered by the Darkness, which actually consumes the sky, lands, and people that get in its way. Master Eon, the kindly mentor, has been captured. The game begins with Hugo, Flynn, and Cali, constant allies, imprisoned, the Portal on the verge of destruction, and link to Skylanders cut off. It's only with Hugo's instructions and the help of the new vehicles that Skylanders return to the Skylands, bust out Hugo, Flynn, and Cali, and start actively working toward saving the day.
About 75% of the game proceeds as normal, provided you only have a land vehicle available (that drops to 50% if you also have a boat or plane). The Skylanders go through levels, beating up enemies, completing puzzles and objectives, and searching for secrets. Combat is tight, everything looks amazing, the characters' special skills have the punniest names, and it's everything you'd expect. Think of it as more of a thing you already enjoy. You get to earn experience to level up your favorite characters, especially Bowser and Donkey Kong if you're on a Wii U, money to improve their abilities, and treasures to make the Academy base look better as usual. Even standard exploration feels more interesting, since Vicarious Visions really went above and beyond to offer more creative environments like a level set on a moving dragon that shifts from side-to-side, a world where characters turn into gigantic versions of themselves, and even a location where gravity flip flops.
But Skylanders SuperChargers is also about the racing, and that's where the game begins to fall apart. Incorporating vehicles into an action game is a difficult task. While it's evident Vicarious Visions tried, it wasn't accomplished very well. Even with vehicle mods, which influence the stats of a car and can be swapped practically at will, the handling never quite feels up to par. This, in turn, made it seem like I was being penalized for going as fast as possible. It made it more difficult to shoot and target enemies, pick up gears or bonus items, or pick proper paths through areas. Not to mention the trouble that comes from bosses fought while in vehicles. They're really two-personn jobs.
There's one boss battle in particular that illustrates this problem, though really any one that involves driving a vehicle while also engaging in combat works. One level has the player facing a chicken flying in a plane above and chucking bombs and eggs to the ground below. The goal is to use attacks on eggs to direct them to specific holes to damage the boss and end the fight.
Alone, the fight took me over 10 minutes on easy. I was fighting the camera, the car's poor handling, and the uncertain nature of the eggs when they were hit the whole time. With a friend, the battle still took about ten minutes, because even though it was easier with one shooting and the other driving, it then became about coordination. Winning didn't feel like it was due to skill. It was all based on luck.