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Skylanders SuperChargers

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2015 (US), Sept. 25, 2015 (EU)

About Judy

As WP's managing editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.


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PS4 Review - 'Skylanders SuperChargers'

by Judy on Oct. 6, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

At the helm of powerful, tricked-out land, sea and sky vehicles, Portal Masters can engage in a high-octane action-adventure videogame like never before.

Buy Skylanders SuperChargers

With each iteration, the Skylanders games have brought big changes. Giants had figures that were twice the size of the regular ones. Swap Force let players create new characters by combining the upper and lower torsos of different characters. It also added new modes of mobility, forcing players to collect more figures if they wanted to unlock everything in the game. Trap Team introduced the idea of capturing enemies and making them fight alongside you, a move that required purchasing more creatures and traps, which can only hold one creature at a time. Skylanders Superchargers aims to add even more mechanics to the game and, for the most part, it works.

Superchargers starts off with Lord Kaos having successfully captured Master Eon and your friends with his aptly named Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction. With them out of the way, he destroys your link to the Skylanders world. Luckily, Hugo creates a transmitter that lets you connect to the world and your army of Skylanders. Your job is to rescue Master Eon and stop Lord Kaos.

The somewhat silly and predictable story is saved by the characters. Lord Kaos and his lackey Glumshanks play their roles well, and they're fun characters to watch. The same goes for your allies Cali, Flynn and Hugo, who provide lots of vocal support. Other characters from past games show up later and are just as endearing as the main cast. Even the villagers you meet are great, thanks in part to the writing, which is humorous and doles out advice without making it apparent that they're providing hints. This has always been a strong suit of the series, and this entry is no different.

Like the rest of the series, Superchargers plays out like a 3-D platformer with an emphasis on combat over platforming and puzzle- solving. All of your Skylanders are equipped with a few moves that go between melee and projectile, depending on who you use, and you can buy new moves with the money you collect. You can even equip Skylanders with silly hats that give stat boosts. Puzzles may be easy to solve, but they're still fun to overcome, and the platforming sections feel worthwhile despite their relative simplicity. It hasn't changed much with each new game, but it works well enough that even series veterans won't feel bored.

Vehicles are the new gimmick to the franchise in Superchargers, and they cover one of three types: land vehicles, submarines, and air vehicles. Like the Skylanders, vehicles are divided into elemental type, and they can also be upgraded by collecting gears to beef up their weapons or shields. You can also find special parts throughout levels to change their appearance and give them stat boosts.

Of the three types, the air sections are the most enjoyable, since they mimic classic shooters like After Burner and Starfox, but you have more control over your movement. They're also the most action-packed since their sections involve nothing but shooting. Car stages are good, but you're usually stuck racing. Your movement speed is fast, and there are enough ramps to jump and enemies to hit that it's enjoyable. That sense of joy dissipates when you're doing arena-style rumbles in the car because the controls feel loose and confusing. Until you get used to it, you'll spend most of your time drifting like you're driving on ice. The water stages are fine if you can deal with the slower pace. When the camera is behind the vehicle, things are fine, but it can be tough to target enemies and objects once the camera moves to any other perspective.

Individually, the various gameplay styles are fine, but the real magic comes from their combination and pacing. Each of the stages is quite long, but they are split up evenly between vehicular and regular stages. By the time you start to feel like you've spent enough time on one type of stage, you get the opportunity to jump in a vehicle and change the gameplay. As a result, you never get tired of doing any one thing. It also helps that the game changes things up by offering stages where gravity gets flipped, sizes change, or the whole thing becomes a completely 2-D affair. The game even offers changes in difficulty for those who feel the default levels are too simple. There's an increase in coin and XP bonuses for those who are willing to play at higher difficulty levels, so there's an incentive to challenge yourself. Everything just feels right.

The Academy, which serves as your hub world between levels, is also home to plenty of activities. You have training areas where you can practice handling your vehicles. There are stations to upgrade your Skylander and your vehicle, though the latter can only be done by Supercharger Skylanders. There are small challenge levels where you can take matching element Skylanders and vehicles on quick jaunts for bonus stars. There's also an updated version of Skystones Overdrive, a card game that acts like Hearthstone but with a much simpler rule set.

Perhaps the most significant activity is the racing, which has about as many modes as a full-fledged racing title, like single races, time trials and championship cups. From the beginning, the game features two races for each discipline (air, land and sea), with the rest of the tracks unlocked after you purchase the racing packs, which are sold separately. Completing races earns you stars that go toward leveling up your portal master, and that, in turn, gives you bonuses such as faster XP gain or more gold.

As a kart racing title, this is no Mario Kart 8 or Sonic & All-Stars Transformed. The track designs are basic, and there aren't any real shortcuts on the track. The weapons are standard, and there's nothing here that is memorable in a good or bad way. The competition is challenging enough that you'll want to give this a spin a few times, but don't expect it to make you forget about the adventure portion of the title.

As it did before, the game supports two players, though the type of experience differs. On foot, both characters share one screen and are prevented from wandering too far from one another. When vehicles are involved, player one pilots the vehicle while player two mans the guns. It isn't exactly the best way to achieve co-op, but it works, and both players can swap positions at any time. Races are where the game offers split-screen play, and it's also the game's only versus mode, since Arena has been removed. The races are fun enough, but they feel like a bonus rather than the focus of the game.

For the first time in the series, SuperChargers offers online play for a few modes. Races support four players competitively, with the other four slots taken over by the CPU. The mode also supports voice chat, but since the target audience is kids, only those on the player's friends list can use this feature. Players can compete against total strangers, but it was a wise choice to keep voice chat restricted to trusted people. The game also supports online co-op throughout the adventure, but this is further restricted, since only those on the friends list can be invited to play. Sadly, there was no one available in either situation to play online, so the performance couldn't be evaluated at this time.

Just like in past years, the starter kit has enough to let two players get into the game immediately. There's a new version of Stealth Elf, and she carries a rifle instead of her traditional blades. There's a new character in the form of Spitfire, who looks like a snub-nosed dragon with fiery wings and a lower torso that spouts flames. You also have his signature vehicle, Hot Streak, a car with moving wheels, making it more toy-like than the statues that have been released to date.

The toys are still modeled very well, with great paint jobs and lots of attention paid to details. The only disappointing thing is the blandness of the portal, which has no lights or anything of interest. It may have the space to hold all of the figures and vehicles, and it may have a nice slot for the traps, but compared to the portals of the past, this one is rather dull. For those who would rather use the old portals, there is a digital version of the game that lets you use them and gives you digital versions of the Hot Streak car and Spitfire. Since the physical version is the one reviewed, we can't tell how the digital versions of the figures are swapped out once physical ones come into play.

What may be surprising is how the game's restrictions have relaxed. Previous titles had a number of areas locked by elemental gates — movement gates, in the case of Swap Force — and while you could always finish the game with the characters in the starter kit, you were missing a good deal of content. In SuperChargers, all you need to obtain beyond the starter pack is an air vehicle and a sea vehicle, and you're all set. Some parts of a level would provide an attack boost if you use a character or vehicle of a particular element, but otherwise, you can access all of the adventure stages with the three vehicle types and any character.

Each of the 18 characters has a corresponding vehicle of its own, and when matched up, the combo creates supercharged versions that have increased stats. Those combinations also have access to special challenge levels with the chance to earn stars to increase the portal master level. When compared to the amount of stuff seen in previous games, there's less of a reason to collect them this time around, unless you were already trying to complete the collection for the sake of it.

Just like the previous four titles, this game supports just about every figure and element ever released in the franchise, from the originals in Spyro's Adventure to the Trap Team. What they won't do, however, is supercharge a vehicle, and that also goes for older versions of characters that have been redone here, like Gil Grunt. Likewise, the newly done characters aren't compatible with older games, since their move sets are now wildly different. Old power-ups and stages now act as decorations for the Academy, while the traps are bonus weapons that are used in vehicles and drained before the vehicle's standard weapons come into play. They also unlock cards in Skystones Overdrive, but only if you have a villain trapped in there first. It may be slightly disappointing, but considering that the game still supports all figurines, any piece of additional functionality is good, especially for a franchise that releases annually.

The game may not be a graphical masterpiece, but it is a very solid entry. Characters remain as detailed as ever, and the textures are very clean, with no hints of blurring. The same goes for the environments, which are even more impressive since there's no sign of clipping or pop-up for textures and geometry. The effects are plentiful but never overwhelming, and the amount that's allowed on-screen definitely shows that the newer consoles aren't pushed beyond the previous generation's capabilities. The frame rate is solid, and there are no signs of jaggies in this clean-looking title.

Audio-wise, the game is as good as ever. The music conveys an epic affair with a few instances of playfulness. For a title that is primarily intended for children, the score seems to aim higher, and it succeeds. The voices are where the audio is at its most impressive because of the caliber of talent. There are some big names in the voice acting field, and they do their jobs admirably. What's even more impressive is that all of the Skylanders have very distinct voices, and although they only have a few lines, it's astounding that I haven't heard any lines repeated thus far.

Skylanders SuperChargers is a solid entry in a series many thought would've run its course by now. There's a bit of a learning curve in some areas, but the vehicles add some welcome variety to a solid platforming mechanic. The minigames are quite good, and the inclusion of online play should quell those lamenting the loss of Arena mode. The product doesn't push consumers to purchase more accessories as much as prior iterations. While fans of the series need no other reasons to buy this, platforming fans who don't mind a few toys on the side will find that this is worth checking out.

Score: 8.5/10

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