Just in case there’s any doubt, Skylanders SuperChargers is for kids, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
After all, players come in all ages and sizes, and a game that appeals to a younger audience is just as valid as the rated-M-for-mature titles that tear up the sales charts every year. And while Skylanders is a huge money maker for Activision, it’s clear that Vicarious Visions has young gamers’ best interests at heart. Yes, the developer wants to sell a lot of toys, but it also wants to deliver a quality gaming experience. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Activision can have it both ways.
Skylanders was the first of the ever-growing “toy to life” genre, in which players hook physical toys up to their game console using an adapter to unlock new characters in the virtual world. Over the past few years, it’s been a huge success for Activision; going by sales, Skylanders is the number one childrens’ gaming franchise, and this year’s entry, Skylanders SuperChargers, is being positioned as the most ambitious entry in the series yet.
Every year, Skylanders gets a new twist; last year, Vicarious Visions introduced Pokémon-like traps, which let players capture and use villains in combat. Before that, Swap Force introduced customizable figures, while Giants took traditional Skylanders figures and supersized them.
This year, Skylanders SuperChargers introduces vehicles to the game, creating a ton of new gameplay opportunities – and providing even more toys for eager fans to buy. The vehicles don’t fundamentally change the game’s bread-and-butter platforming elements. Instead, vehicle gameplay is an add-on. Players will be prompted when they’re entering a section of the game that requires a land, air, or water vehicle.
For example, during the demonstration, Vicarious Visions representatives showed off the Reef Ripper, a submarine, which is piloted by Shark Shooter Terrafin, one of the game’s returning characters. Terrafin jumped and bashed his way through a standard level, when a distressed villager flagged him down. Apparently, the local dam was blocked. Terrafin doesn’t have to help; the rep decided he should, however, and hopped into the Reef Ripper, undertaking the completly optional (but fun looking) mission.
Skylanders SuperChargers will launch with 20 characters (8 classic characters and 12 new ones), and 20 vehicles; each character has his or her own signature vehicle, and pairing the two together gives players a bonus. If that’s not an option, then don’t worry; any character (including characters from past installments) can ride any vehicle, and players are welcome to mix and match.
Vehicles can be upgraded during gameplay – the Reef Ripper, for example, can get new fins, or a new nose, which changes its abilities – which is saved to the figure itself. Stats are represented via easy to read bar graphs, so kids won’t have to work too hard to understand what’s going on. The vehicle toys don’t have stands, either, and are articulated where appropriate – car wheels turn, helicopter blades spin, that sort of thing – to make them more playable outside of the game.
The Skylanders SuperChargers starter kit comes with two characters and the Hot Streak hotrod, and the game can be completed using just land-based vehicles. However, air and sky side missions make up a lot of the game, and players without appropriate vehicles will miss out on a lot of content. Each vehicle type plays a little differently. From what the demo showed, water vehicles were about exploring and light combat; land vehicles were speed and racing focused (Vicarious Visions is taking a lot of care to make sure that race tracks are unique and exciting; as the rep said, “Instead of driving through an alley, we’re racing on the back of a dragon.”); and air vehicles let players engage in 360-degree dogfights.
In addition to vehicles and platforming, Skylanders SuperChargers also features light puzzle elements, which the Vicarious Visions rep said are designed with the 6-12 year old audience in mind. For older players, this won’t be anything too taxing – simple shape recognition, patterns and symbols, and that sort of thing – but it’s a nice change of pace from the game’s solid, if uninspired, platforming.
The presentation closed with a look at Skylanders SuperChargers’ Nintendo-exclusive additions, Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and Hammer Slam Bowser. As previously detailed, rotating these figures’ bases switches them from Skylanders figures intoNintendo’s amiibo; the flaws in this system were also demonstrated, when the Skylanders base couldn’t read the Hammer Slam Bowser toy (the rep noted that the figures on display were prototypes; final figures shouldn’t have that problem). However, Donkey Kong certainly looked like a lot of fun, with the ability to throw barrels, warp to different locations via barrel cannon, a bongo-playing attack, a (literal) barrel roll dodge, and a slam attack that knocks retro-style girders from the sky.
The Vicarious Visions representative confirmed that the two Nintendo characters would only work on Nintendo consoles. Donkey Kong and his Barrel Blaster will be packed with the Wii U version of Skylanders SuperChargers, while Bowser and his Clown Cruiser will ship with the 3DS and Wii editions.
Skylanders SuperChargers will arrive for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and iPad on September 20, 2015.