While it isn’t a franchise that most gamers talk about, Skylanders is a series that’s about as big as they come. The “toys to life” formula of blending a video game with toys has been a massive success with children, and is something that several companies have adopted as well.
Though the Skylanders franchise is released annually, it never rests on its laurels. Every year, we see new and innovative features in each release which keeps things fresh and exciting for the target audience, as well as adults. The latest installment, Skylanders Superchargers, is continuing that trend with a wide array of new gameplay features and modes.
I had the honor of being invited to visit Vicarious Visions studio up in Albany New York where I got to spend some time with the developers of Skylanders, was able to see exactly what goes into making a Skylanders game, and of course, got some good hands-on time with the upcoming title.
During the introductory presentation, we were told about all of the new additions and the thinking that went into them. The biggest new feature is vehicles. These come in three varieties: Land, Sea, and Air. These let the players experience the imaginative world of Skylanders in very cool and different ways. Since this is Skylanders, the vehicles will be real-life toys as well. Some of the toys were passed down to us so we could check them out. Despite the room consisting of only adults, we gave each other the vehicles by rolling them down the table. As the developers told us, a car toy wouldn’t make sense if it didn’t have moving wheels, so we definitely took advantage of that.
There will be 20 new characters called “SuperChargers” and there will be 20 new vehicles to go along with them as well. The vehicles will be able to be driven/piloted by all of the previously released Skylanders characters. This created a unique challenge for the creative team since some characters are huge… or don’t have hands, but this was done to ensure that folks’ collection of Skylanders characters would be compatible with this game.
One of the things that even the development team was surprised by was the fact that players spent half their time in the games’ hub worlds. Since this was the case, they made it so the hub world in SuperChargers was an integral part of the game and the overall narrative. Kaos, the series’ main antagonist, has won and has deployed a “sky eater” to wreck havoc. This causes the heroes to form a rebel alliance which is based out of the Academy: a moving structure which flies from place to place in the Skylands.
Skylanders has always been known for having a ton of gameplay modes and this latest game is no different. From the hub world, players will be able to partake in a great variety of activities. There will be the traditional story quests that fans have come to know. The difference now is that players won’t all be relegated to being on foot thanks to the vehicles. Even in vehicles, the game will have combat, puzzles, and platforming. There will also be a card battle game which is very reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering, and a training area where you can test out vehicles.
Vehicles are obviously the centerpiece of the game. Though they’re a new introduction to the series, they feel as if they’ve always been there and are a natural fit. Just like with the other Skylanders toys, the vehicles can be placed into the Portal of Power and be used in the game. Since they are still toys, they do have moving parts (like the aforementioned wheels).
The vehicles are aligned by element and terrain type and offer different abilities. The vehicles will be customizable in-game with several modifications and weapon upgrades. There are also some hidden mods scattered throughout the game as well. Lastly, players will be able to do SuperCharged combos by pairing a SuperCharger Skylander with its specific vehicle. Doing this makes the vehicle become more powerful and able to perform unique attacks or tricks.
I had a great experience with racing in the game when I participated in a tournament which was held for us at the Vicarious Visions offices. I initially did well in the first round which had us driving on land. Drifting was the key to winning since doing it correctly would allow for a burst of extra speed when you let go of the drift button. This felt very reminiscent of Mario Kart since you could attack your opponents from behind and also find some short cuts along the route.
Next up was a sea race which completely humbled me after my first place finish in the land race. Sea racing can take place on water or below it. I got into trouble because I kept going underwater to find shortcuts instead of focusing on the main race. With that said however, I really enjoyed this racing type because you’re essentially racing on two planes. I came in third place, which wasn’t personally great, but it let me go on to the final round… the air race.
I won’t even lie to you guys, I completely bombed during the air races. I’m a guy who is used to inverted flight controls in games and this was set to normal controls by default. I actually did well during the first lap since I was able to compensate for the altered controls. However, it seemed like the strain was too much on my brain, and during the last two laps, I totally blew it and kept slamming into the canyon walls. A shameful loss, but I didn’t feel too bad since it was a lot of fun to play.
The experience I had with racing can be shared by anyone thanks to the introduction of online multiplayer. Online races will have four players facing off against each other to see who is the best. You’ll be able to talk to anyone on your friends list, or to friends of friends, for some… friendly smack talking. Online isn’t just about competition however, and the campaign will support co-op as well. The team has worked very hard to get the online portion just right so I expect it to open up Skylanders to a whole new audience.
Racing Mode will be in the game from the get go in the Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack. There will be six race tracks with two for each terrain type: Land, Sea and Sky. There will also be additional content that will be unlocked by purchasing other Racing Action Packs. There will be three of these packs for each terrain type as well, and they’ll come with a SuperCharger, a Vehicle, and a Villain trophy. Villain trophies unlock two new tracks and modes which include the SuperVillain Cup, Boss Pursuit, and Mirror Cup.
Like last year’s Trap Team, Skylanders: SuperChargers will also be available on iOS devices (iPad, iPhone and iPod touch). I got to try this out on both an iPhone 6 and an iPad and was surprised to find out that the entire game, with no significant alterations, can be played on iOS devices. Touch controls in general are hard to get used to if you’re accustomed to a controller, but this game played intuitively enough that I acclimated to it quickly. The game was easier to play on the phone, but it definitely looked much better on the iPad thanks to the bigger screen.
The game will have iCloud saving, which means that players can play this on most of their iOS mobile devices and not have to worry about one device not having their game save. The Starter Pack will come with a Bluetooth Portal, a Bluetooth controller, and a built-in stand. Players will get Instant Spit Fire and Instant Hot Streak free with the download. In-app purchases will unlock Instant versions of Dive-Clops, Dive Bomber, Super Shot Stealth Elf, and Stealth Stinger.
Lastly, a dedicated racing game called Skylanders SuperChargers Racing is coming to the Wii U and 3DS with the main SuperChargers game. This game will have all-new tracks which have augmented power-ups, boosts, hazards and will have 50 different gameplay experiences. Best of all, these versions feature Donkey Kong and Bowser who will each come with their own vehicles. They will be available in select amiibo enabled titles as well.
Vicarious Visions always seem to outdo themselves with each installment of this series and SuperChargers is by far the most expansive and robust Skylanders game yet. In an age where companies seem to be putting less and less into games, Skylanders does the opposite and crams their titles with a mountain-load of content. While this is a franchise mostly directed at children, the team always makes it so that anyone can enjoy these games. Definitely worth a look if you’re into fun, action platforming games.
Skylanders SuperChargers will be released for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U. It will also be available on the 3DS, and iOS (iPhone 5S, iPhone 5/5C, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPod touch 6, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2).