In an age of gaming where every developer is trying to create the “next best thing,” Toys-to-Life has come out front and center. Between an oversaturated market of Disney Infinity, LEGO Dimensions and Nintendo Ambiios, it’s easy to forget that it was Activision’s Skylanders that started it all.
Well, just like Britney Spears taking the stage at the 2007 MTV Music Awards, Skylanders is back, bitch! However it’s not the same fresh faced star we all feel in love with all those years ago. Its gained weight, forgotten how to dance, isn’t as shiny as it used to be, and is money hungry. But to truly love something is to accept it and all its flaws. All its flaws.
Let me start off by saying that I LOVE the Skylanders series. The games were smart, creative and innovative. Playing them transported me to a place of happiness with each and every level. There’s a sort of magical element to the franchise that truly made the Toys-to-Life craze rather special.
Since 2011, a lot has happened. Toys have become more diverse, gameplay is more advanced, and limited editions have become more limited. We all know what happened during the Ambiio release (#neverforget). As time progressed and gameplay became more interactive, Skylanders, the grandfather of it all, has taken a backseat to all the action.
So, does Skylanders Superchargers stand the test of your wallet? Yes and no.
When you first start to play Superchargers, you’re reminded of the delight it brings and the playful colorful nature of the game. This laidback easygoing fun coupled with the humor instantly brings a smile to your face. However, this feeling soon takes a backseat the further you venture into its world.
Despite the rich colors and humor, it’s hard to look past the gimmick of the game, especially since it screams it in your face every chance it gets. In order to compete with the every growing market of new shiny toys, there’s a sense of “look at me” desperation, as if the developers where afraid their already strong product would drown in the market, so the only way to stay afloat is using this tactic.
Gone is the rich storyline full of inspiration. Instead, we are reminded of the brand new feature of the game and this actually takes away from the plot of the game… with a minimal, barely explained plot. From what little story is given, you’ll find yourself once again battling Kaos. This time he has used the power of Darkness to kidnap Master Eon, conquered the Skylands, and shut down the Portal Masters. But fear not, for Fylnn, Cali and Hugo have discovered Kaos’s devious plans. By tag teaming their vehicles of land, sky and water (take that Captain Planet), they will try to defeat Kaos and restart the portals to reconnect the Skyland worlds once again.
The game itself is both breathtaking and uninspiring; feeling like it was designed by two separate teams. While there is a rich color palate, there are levels that were designed poorly, lacking any emotion. The stale colors just hang in the air as a constant reminder of what could have been. This distraction is further highlighted by the complete disastrous decision to not provide the ability to change the camera angles.
Superchargers takes pride in the versatility of the game; the ability to have races on land, sea and air. You’re also able to solve puzzles and walk through portals with angles both up close and far way. When doing these basic tasks, being able to see where you’re going or what you’re doing is just as important as breathing. Your frustration only grows when you soon discover that some worlds and puzzles require you to use your peripheral vision… darn you underachieving eyes!
There are several levels in the game that are rich and vibrant in gameplay and creativity. One of my favorite levels is Spell Punk Library which tells the origins of The Darkness. It uses imaginative 2D animations as you explore the worlds of each book, all telling a different story and involving various vehicles. Experiencing this transports you to a place of childlike wonder. Blasting ships in the skies feels like an Atari game; it’s stripped down, raw, yet authentic. Simply put, my heart smiled.
The Giant Lady of Gadfly Glades level has you running from a giant bunny who is trying to kill you. The task is simple but as you run around this enlarged world, you’ll race through elements that are rich in texture; making you part of the environment. Enlarged carrots and oversized plants evoke a childhood memory of Peter Rabbit and Thumbelina.
Then there are the monotonous one-dimensional boss battles where you’re at times doing the same moves over and over again. The clunkiness of combat isn’t enjoyable which only adds to the frustration of not being able to properly see what’s going on and only makes you want to rush through battles.
When you’re not busy fighting, shooting or running at things blindly, you’re using the game’s interchangeable vehicles. For a massive feature that’s new to the series, the game should have been built around these potentially cool additions. Instead, these vehicles feel like an afterthought and are littered with capitalist problems that in today’s economy is a disadvantage to anyone whose pockets aren’t deep enough.
Don’t have a specific vehicle? Sorry, but you’ll be unable to play rather substantial parts of the game which defeats the purpose of buying the game in the first place. While you can complete Superchargers with just the contents of the Starter Pack, you’ll be weighed down with the feeling of an only half completed game. Your Skylander becomes tired, unless you have another to swap it out with. If not, you’ll have to restart that level again. It punishes the player for something that may be completely out of their control. This is neither acceptable nor fair. I don’t know about you, but my pockets aren’t flowing with expendable money so when I take the time to buy a game, I want the full use of it. Do you want to spend full price for half a game?
The Supercharges vehicles are a first for Skylanders. Those who can invest in the toys will discover that they are expressive, greatly detailed, and have their own personality. The more money you win in the game either through races or defeating enemies, the more you can customize them. The downside is that you cannot take the vehicles with you all the time which is a shame since it’s so unique to the series. For close to $15 apiece, players deserve more from this game. Also add in the fact this installment allows you to combine certain Skylanders with vehicles for additional power, which equals to spending more money.
There are certain trigger points that will tell you which type of vehicles are needed in order to proceed in the game and when you use those vehicles, the game vastly changes; feeling completely separate the from the gaming format you’re used to.
Despite the detached feeling of these sections, the vehicles are fun. You’re transported to a section where you’ll be able to twist and race through various courses, shooting down other drivers and such. Planes and helicopters will have you racing through the skies in order to shoot down enemies or flee from them. The water vehicles will have you racing above and below the waves, or exploring deep oceans where you have to defend yourself against nature.
Once again, these moments are stifled due to the bad camera angles you’re forced to suffer through and not all the sections are dripping with originality and fun. Some of the water battles are repetitive but the various side-missions try to make up for this. Side-scrolling shooting sections are enough to delight you for hours though, bringing you back to the cool retro days.
The multiplayer and co-op manages to keep their excitement, which is a plus. Superchargers introduces us to online play for the first time, which makes racing even more interactive and expensive. The Academy hub allows you to race solo, in two-player split-screen or four-player online access through various courses. The more you race, the more you want to show off to your friends your build in a Mario Kart clone or the additional Donkey Kong amiibo. Yes, you can add specific amiibos to the Wii U version of the game, to make poverty even more appealing.
Despite the game’s unevenness, terrible camera angles and promises to bankrupt you, Superchargers is fun. The voiceover acting is perfect, the jokes are funny and smart enough for adults to enjoy, and the soundtrack, especially the “Supercharged with Love” song at the end credits, is hilarious. The over-the-top-moments of chasing giant chickens are playful and help make the game unique.
If you have the money to support the games’ many vehicles and characters, then Skylanders Superchargers is for you. If you don’t, then there’s always Black Friday and Cyber Monday to do your toy shopping. At the end of the day, gaming is supposed to transport you to a land of imagination and fun, which is what Skylanders Superchargers, flaws and all, does.
This review of Skylanders Superchargers is based on a retail copy for the Xbox 360 which was provided by Activision.