Charging back into the Skylands
Skylanders games always appear to have a lot going on. Players are offered the standard level adventures, where replays are encouraged due to hidden rewards, character specific challenges appear in each installment’s hubs, elemental gates offer special content to certain types of characters, and Skystones offers a trading card and collecting experience. Early indications for Skylanders SuperChargers, however, suggests this title could offer more content than ever before.
It begins with the entire nature of the game. Skylanders SuperChargers could almost be seen as two games in one. We’re getting the standard experience with the traditional campaign, which can be played alone or in cooperative multiplayer either offline or online with a friend. This takes you through a new storyline where Kaos is using a Sky Eater and the power of darkness to ravage the Skylands. The Skylanders travel around in the Academy, an all-new hub area, that’s constantly on the move to stay safe.
Now more than ever, it seems as though the Academy hub will be critical for players. Each chapter of the main story can be accessed from there, bringing you back to the current quest. In fact, if someone hasn’t played for a while, they will even see the most recent cinematic upon returning as a reminder of what should happen next.
It’s also a place of preparations. Persephone returns to offer power-ups for each character in exchange for gold. If Soul Gems are acquired, either from chests found in levels, races, or the wishing well, ultimate abilities can be purchased from her. These skills can then be tested in a new arena area, where characters can walk up to a capsule machine that, when turned, will spawn up to three trolls. They’re harmless, wielding squeaky hammers, but are perfect targets for testing out recently acquired abilities.
All sorts of daily challenges appear in this area. Some are even randomized, to make multiple replays more enticing. Players can come in and test out their characters or vehicles in the hopes of doing their best and setting records. I was able to test two vehicle challenges in Skylanders SuperChargers . One had Stealth Elf’s Stealth Stinger helicopter performing a precision mission where caterpillar characters needed to be retrieved from spider webs in thorny vines. More than one could be rescued and brought to a safe zone at once, but hitting a vine would make one drop and need to be retrieved again. Another sent Dive-Clops’ Dive Bomber under the sea to retrieve Scuba Sheep from a maze. However, an eel with echolocation abilities lurked in the background, making the need to find cover a priority.
Skylanders SuperChargers is also the first entry in the series where the 20 SuperChargers characters will have their own story arcs. These are similar to the Heroic Challenges that originally appeared in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure . This allows these characters to showcase their personalities with unique conversations. In the example I experienced, Fiesta, an undead skeleton inspired by Dia de los Muertos, was going through a challenge in his Crypt Crusher car. Going through all of his missions would result in a permanent stat upgrade for that character.
Going through these challenges also meant earning experience for the all new Portal Master rank. As you play through Skylanders SuperChargers , many actions will earn general experience points that will apply to you whenever you go through the game. As an example, after beating one of Fiesta’s challenge, I ranked up and was able to choose between getting more experience points or more money from any defeated enemy.
It’s the implementation of vehicles that could end up adding the most to Skylanders SuperChargers . Their purpose is twofold in the game. Each level has land, sky, and sea sections to peruse, though only a land vehicle is required to beat the game. There is also a Test Track at the Academy hub, as well as a racing arena.
The Test Track is where I was able to start my experience. It’s essentially a sandbox area. People can try out any of their vehicles, seeing how they handle and perform. It’s a good way to get a feel for new mods and how they change the way a car, plane, or boat reacts. You can try beating enemies, perform some fun tricks, and perhaps find puzzles to complete.
The racing area allows you to participate in land, sky, or sea races with whatever vehicles you own. This can be done alone, with friends at home, with friends online, or even with strangers online. In land races, cars can drift with the X button, in a manner similar to Mario Kart. Water races allow the boats to temporarily go underwater in search of extra boost pads, paths, or weapons with X. Air races have a barrel roll that acts as a dodge. Make sure you go into options before taking flight though, as inverted controls were not the default in the air race I experienced (that threw me for a loop – pun intended).
In actual levels, the vehicles can function quite differently. At one point, I played through a Cap’n Cluck level, where one of the primary mechanics was the ability to make certain objects grow or shrink with the push of a button. The boss fight put my Skylander in a car and had it shooting at generic chicken-puffballs to make them go into specific target areas to defeat Cluck from Skylanders: Swap Force . It was a frustrating experience, but also interesting since it was more of a standard action and platforming activity rather than a typical car driving or racing experience.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was the inclusion of vehicles in Skystones Overdrive, the new iteration of the in-game TCG. You can acquire Skystones from the Wishing Well in the Academy, chests, races, or by scanning traps from Trap Team. The game plays differently than past iterations, with each stone having a certain amount of health, a certain attack power, and perhaps an ability. The goal is still to reduce an opponent’s health to 0 from 30, while keeping your own health high. One vehicle card is always in your deck, however, and charges each turn. After 3 turns, it can be played. These always have an ability, as well as a strong attack value. It’s an interesting twist and seems to work better than the original Skylanders Giants version.
My biggest takeaway from my extended time with Skylanders SuperChargers is that it appears to be a massive game. People may wonder how much is new, due to only 20 new figures and 20 vehicles being added, but it felt like there was a lot to experience during my preview session. My initial impression is that it feels very substantial, and it’s one I hope carries over to the final version of the game.