Skylanders SuperChargers Gets a False Start
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.
Skylanders SuperChargers is the most arbitrary game I’ve ever played. This extends to rewards earned during play. In previous Skylanders adventures, specific hats, soul gems, and legendary treasures would be in exact locations in levels. Now, they’re doled out randomly from things like slot machines, races, or a wishing well. You aren’t rewarded for doing things right, rather, you’re rewarded for simply doing things.
This quality extends to the racing as well. In most kart racers, say Mario Kart 8 or Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed , winning comes down to skill and luck. Fortunate timing or item acquisition can aid, but never completely influence the competition. With Skylanders SuperChargers , it genuinely feels like you could win or lose a race at any moment because of opponents, real or virtual, getting in some lucky shots or the right special items. Especially since some special items fight against you.
The rocket is the one I’m thinking of in particular. In at least five races, I obtained the rocket item. Once it takes effect, the controls are abruptly inverted without warning. I didn’t realize this until the third time this effect was inflicted on me. It was obnoxious, rather than beneficial.
It’s a shame, because if it weren’t for the vehicles being less than super, Skylanders SuperChargers would be a great game. There’s tons of content. Especially appreciated are the side-quests tied to the SuperChargers Skylanders. They let you see specific characters’ personalities, learn more about them, and get permanent stat boosts. It’s like suddenly, it made sense for actors like Josh Duhamel to be voicing heroes.
Probably the best alteration is to Skystones, the collectible card game present since Skylanders: Giants . In Skylanders SuperChargers , it clearly takes notes from games like Hearthstone and SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash . Players can place up to three Skystones in front of them, with each having its own health, attack power, and perhaps even a special skill. The goal is to bring the opponent’s health down from 30 to 0, while protecting your own. The inclusion of a vehicle Skystone based on the one on the Portal of Power that takes turns to charge and has a special ability allows for a game that’s more entertaining and thoughtful than before.
Skylanders SuperChargers is a situation where everything seems promising, but one major element doesn’t live up to its potential. Regular adventuring is fun, but the second a player has to hop into a vehicle, it’s a gamble as how good or bad the experience will be. If the vehicular elements were separate from the story and entirely optional, this would be the best entry in the series. But they’re not and bring the rest of the game down.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
The Skylands and its inhabitants are gorgeously rendered, with delightful and imaginative worlds to visit. 2.5 Control
There are multiple control options, but some frustrate, especially when things invert abruptly without notice. Driving and shooting, or sometimes even just drive, is trying. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Most of the characters sound amazing and all actors from previous games reprise their roles, but one or two Skylanders do sound lackluster or generic. 3.0 Play Value
There are a lot of good ideas and tons of things to do, but the vehicular gameplay is overshadowed by other cart racers and driving games. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best