(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 4 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Highly Recommended
Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack
- Street Date:
- September 20th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- September 20th, 2015
- Game Release Year:
- Wii U
- Vicarious Visions
Wii U disc version reviewed. Review time included local co-op, online versus, and time with the Xbox One version. Wii U Starter Pack includes a game disc, wired USB Portal of Power, collection poster, Super Shot Stealth Elf, Turbo Charge Donkey Kong, and Barrel Blaster. Review time was also spent with an extra half dozen new 'Skylanders SuperChargers' figures and vehicles beyond the Starter Pack, as well as the Skylander SuperChargers Sea Racing Action Pack. The extras are noted in the review. Also worth noting is that this game is scored in part with the help of my family. Sections of this review (including screenshots as marked) are shared with the Xbox One version review.
Since 2011, one runaway entertainment brand has, year in and year out, crossed over the fun and collectability of action figures with the dynamic world of video games. With toys to life gaming growing to an entire (gaming and toy) genre, 'Skylanders SuperChargers' arrives bearing big expectations.
Series' staples like the support of 300+ figures (from the past, present, and near future), drop in, drop out co-op, and a game that can handle ages 6 and up are a given, but not unlike the heyday of various iconic toy brands (the 1980's), 'Skylanders SuperChargers' seeks to take the sensation to another level, the one with vehicles.
That's right, this year, there are a crazy variety of 20 vehicles, but all of this armada breaks down into three ways, land, sea, and air. Within those categories, the SuperChargers vehicles can be paired with any Skylander, they can be modified for both looks and specs, and they can be raced.
There's even match-making online racing, but the online doesn't end there. This time out, full online co-op is available. Along with these series' bombshells, there's Environmental Challenges, Skystones, Daily Challenges, SuperChargers Challenges, collectibles, leaderboards… it goes on.
With the Wii U version (and the Wii and 3DS versions), Activision and Nintendo partnered up for something exclusive, and by definition, special. The Wii U 'Skylanders SuperChargers' starter pack includes a combination Skylander and amiibo in the form of Turbo Charge Donkey Kong.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
When reviewing an installment from a franchise as big (and as frequent) as 'Skylanders,' it's important to relate my feel for the series up to this point. With toys to life, that is, with collectible figures that kids could, in effect, bring into a big, colorful, video game world, and play with, level, and customize, 'Skylanders' has been a unique concept that, from a purely video game point of view, started off a bit stilted, but by the time of last year's 'Trap Team,' had grown into a surprisingly diverse offering. Diverse in all the different things that players could do beyond just playing through the story, but also, to my tastes, uneven.
'Skylanders SuperChargers' could also be accused of being uneven, and of pushing quantity over quality, but for me, 'SuperChargers' really clicks. No doubt, this is a game aimed at kids, and each part of the main game and main story has been refined in order to fascinate kids while encouraging the use of the new 'SuperChargers' vehicles and figures.
Flynn, Cali, Hugo, Eon, Kaos, (Mags, Glumshanks, etc,) all enact a dramedy that is meant to entertain a young audience, along with the occasional subtle harmless joke worth noting for an adult player.
But while the trappings on the whole suggest business as usual for a 'Skylanders' title, the simple dynamics of putting signature vehicles in the mix speaks to me.
Vehicles Are No Mere Tweak
Not only is Donkey Kong along as a guest star, but as with the other SuperChargers, the vehicle unlocks lots of awesome (there's even a Diddy Kong riding in a side car).
With an established character like Donkey Kong, it's easy to see how special this latest version of 'Skylanders' is. Turbo Charger Donkey Kong is large and in charger, he can equip (via upgrade) giant half barrels on each arm which allow him to pound enemies, and do things like roll around. He can even be shoot around via his own barrel blast.
But yes, when its Land vehicle time, his Barrel Blaster is ready to deploy. We've seen DK in various 'Mario Karts' (and even his own racing game), but it i still a be an ape, will travel sensation when its time to get driving.
For me, this is already way more awesome than the traditional 'Skylanders' set-up. Getting into a vehicle and changing the gameplay up, say mid-level or for a boss fight, is vastly more engaging than the typical elemental change. But it's really just the beginning. The games have been great at letting players customize, level, and upgrade their Skylanders, and 'SuperChargers' is likewise great. Hats, new attacks, and new levels make each Sklyander feel like its own little RPG character. But having said this, it's those vehicles that really make the point.
There is tons of stuff to do is 'Skylanders SuperChargers,' and within the options, there is plenty on offer that is more advanced than just beating up enemies or getting to the end of the level. While some of the cool stuff unlocks later on in the game (like the demolition derby), much of it comes almost right at the beginning.
The point I'm circling around here is that these different vehicles can be set up different ways with different goals. Take Sky Slicer and Stealth Stinger (both are additional buys beyond the starter pack). Sky Slicer is a jet while Stealth Stinger is a Helicopter (really a gun ship made out of the trees, like something from 'Gilligan's Island'). I had both of these to play with, and both fit into the game's Air category. Not only are they extremely (and obviously) different to operate, but what I might (and the game will) ask for both of them to do, varies wildly.
I raced these Air vehicles against other players online. I raced them against the clock. I used the copter to rescue Twitterbugs (igniting for me fond 'SimCopter' memories). I also engaged in dog fights, evacuation cover fire, and co-op boss sorties against a giant rooster. If I had had the Air Racing Pack (which is due out later on), I would have chased down boss planes, pouring fire on them in while keeping abreast race style.
The point is that with these vehicles, the difference between top speed, handling, armor, acceleration, and weight, can mean success or failure in these events, many of which are easy enough for a toddler, while others can get me shouting at the TV as I retry. In 'SuperChargers,' designating which parts the vehicles uses (the mods) is pretty darn important (well, not the horn so much). The right set-up can mean victory, but even pushing pure speed over toughness for a race can leave the vehicle in the dust, beaten down by the weapons of more balanced rides.
And that's where it is. I've played several 'Skylanders' titles, but this is the first time I've had such an array of choices to place on the portal from the jump. (Nearly 20 new vehicles and figures combined, courtesy of Activision.)
Having this stuff on hand is great, especially with co-op. It really lets me and my family ferret out our favorite designs, but I could see recommending that in contrast to past games, the starter pack plus an Air vehicle and Sea vehicle will make each campaign level feel complete, not gated off.
Air, Sea, & Land Sections
Each campaign level (there are 13 in all) roughly contains an Air, Sea, and Land section. A Land vehicle (like the one included in the starter pack) is enough to get through a level, but the Sea and Air sections really shouldn't be ignored. Sure they yield Stars, and all kinds of loot, and they can affect the levels in very special ways, such as shutting off certain omnipresent hazards, or in one case, making enlarged chickens able to be shrunk. But again, there is a different quality to it.
Being on foot is as good as ever. There's combat, puzzles, platforming, and all kinds of little secrets hidden around. One of my favorite things in gaming this year, is putting Dive-Clops on the portal, firing the water jet that gushes from his eye portal (press Y after upgrading from Mags), and hearing him laugh heartily and maniacally as he attacks. A further upgrade lets me use a special X attack while doing the Y eye jet stream. As my family can relate, if Dive-Clops doesn't do his wonderful laugh, I'll do it for him.
Since I love Dive-Clops and his shenanigans, it's only fitting that I would want to have his signature vehicle, the Dive Bomber submarine, around.
As for playing levels and approaching the vehicle sections… well it's like watching an old-school 'Voltron' episode. You know that the Voltron team will start out as individual lions and will fight. Eventually though, they will come together and form Voltron. They will even probably do Voltron's crazy sword attacks, so that's an inevitable bit of joy as well.
We Need Your Help
There's something about coming upon some sad NPC midlevel, where they say we really need your help and we need it in the car, or in the water, or in the air, that makes me go "Frick Yeah." And to further the Voltron imagery, it's a big deal for co-op. On foot, me and my more casual co-op partners might be running in different directions, falling off of bouncy mushrooms, or even spamming attacks in a furry of color that's hard to see through, but when its vehicle time, we have to come together, however briefly, one piloting, one working the weapons and Gear vacuum.
Co-op also helps the 'SuperChargers' dynamic as well. The game gives you a supercharger bonus for pairing the right (new) Skylander with the right vehicle. (Note: It also still uses the "Skylanders of [this element] are stronger here" system). These bonuses not only feel good, but they make the vehicle look cooler. In turn, mixing and matching is not as satisfying. (Though still completely viable.) But in co-op, with two Skylanders on the pad and one vehicle, it's easy to get the supercharged bonus while having whatever cherished other Skylander in the game.
There's more to the campaign than just vehicle and traditional sections. No-fail Live Wire sections are quick and silly fun.
Skystones, the card-based mini-game, crops up here and there, and most of the levels have some very unique gimmicks. I feel some of the best sections (becoming Giant, being in a fried chicken factory, competing in a fighting tournament) come later on the game, while weaker gimmicks (cloud fog and inverted portalling) are front-loaded. Still, there is a stylized 2D library that includes a separate hub world, and a Scarecrow-like fight/journey to undertake.
Speaking of the hub world, the Academy really sprawls. Throwing down Legendary Treasures is fun, the wishing well, the shop, the emblems… it sprawls, but in a good way.
The main story is like a big-breakout. These rebels stand between Kaos' idiotic machinations and the end of the Skylands, but on the micro, per level sense, it's more episodic. There are plenty of bright spots, however, and the cast helps keep nearly everything charming.
At multiple points in this review, I've praised the character and vehicle design. I'm talking about the style, which I think is light years beyond where the series has been. Even some of the returning characters that have the SuperChargers treatment are so dramatically different, and for me, better.
With the Wii U version, Donkey Kong is front and center. DK and vehicle are an exclusion inclusion to the set, but more importantly, they only work on the Nintendo platforms.
Because of the exclusivity born of an important history of 'Skylanders' and Nintendo, it can be argued that the Wii U version is the best version of the game. (More on that ins the Video section.)
One thing to point out here is that Turbo Charge Donkey Kong switches from Skylander to amiibo with a turn of the base. Really, it is just the green fringe of Life element base, and it doesn't snap, but lightly stays in place.
On the amiibo side, he shows just like any other Donkey Kong, so while it's a very cool feature, it's more of a plus in terms of amiibo.
The toy figure and vehicle are nice, but not necessarily the best physically (in terms of the touch and feel) of the new line-up. The in-game payoff, however is great as DK's attacks and abilities are a blast.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Here again with the visuals, that sense of uneven threatens. Right off, 'Skylanders SuperChargers' is easily tops in the series in terms of looks. It's not just the real-time cinematics, nor is it just the excellent character and vehicles designs. There are large swathes of levels, both campaign and racing, that are nicely detailed, full of deftly applied lighting and particle effects that were likely worried over by multiple teams.
Other areas, off the main path, like the Environmental Challenge levels, are rougher. In level NPCs stand in place doing a whole lot of not much. The UI has its pros and cons, but just comparing the giant (and familiar) pause menu with the lovingly crafted Live Wire one screen sections shows an unfortunate disparity instilled on the part of every platform under the sun development. Clipping on the race tracks (and overly large invisible collision bounds in areas like the underwater library section) also detracts. (Skystones is also too basic in looks.)
Then again, the character design for Skylanders like Fiesta and his Crypt Crusher, the visual changes resulting from upgrades to Stormblade's Sky Slicer, or even just the way that Smash Hit can drop his spike ball and leave it spinning like a top- these are all the scene-stealers. The Skylanders and the vehicles are meant to do very cool things visually. High Volt, who can handle the cheapest of enemies (unlike Fiesta who gets knocked out in seconds sometimes), not only can become a lightning virtuoso, but again, upgrading really makes him pop and that's without ever being SuperCharged.
Going from the Xbox One to the Wii U, and there are two problem areas, aliasing, and lighting. I had to set in the in-game brightness all the way down to help with the washed out look on the Wii U, and just had to live with the aliasing. This was an issue for me in large part because I was going back and forth between the versions.
Globally, the color is weaker, but the characters still look great, and that includes the Nintendo guest stars. (I was able to play Bowser on the Wii U in a pre-release build.) None of this would stop me free recommending the Wii U version. Far from it.
The Wii U version offers great (if a little dense) offscreen GamePad play. While the absolutely best image quality is found on the newer platforms, I still think the Wii U version is the one to get given the choice.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Some of the voice actors define their roles, and they do so nearly as well as any animated film, maybe better in some ways. Much like with the character design, I think the newest audio assets are the best, and it makes for a stark contrast when Stealth Elf speaks.
Vehicle sounds are right in the groove, and the game manages to work in revving engines all over the place. The music can be very pleasant, but I think more variety was called for on the racing side.
Like a broken record, I think this 'Skylanders' tops them all. Right out of the box, the potential for racing, the big tracks and kart style systems in the game, make for hearty sub game. But even setting racing aside (online at that), and there are entire NPCs devoted to side modes. It took me a few matches to get into Skystones, but it took hold. It's grown since 'Trap Team,' and as I built up my deck, I really got into the strategy of balancing special cards versus pure numbers.
Environment Challenges, SuperChargers challenges, test tracks, daily challenges, Pandergast Challenges, it's all meant to make each new figure and vehicle more useful, more fun. Some of this stuff is remarkably rough compared with the main game, but the challenge is appreciated. I wish there was a way to pause and restart some of these. Messing up right at the start can be extremely frustrating due to the lack of a quick retry option.
Playing the game on different platforms, I was struck by how even when being thorough; I still managed to pass stuff up. Collecting everything in the game, leveling and upgrading all of the characters and vehicles will keep players busy, but it's impressive how all of those collectibles can be found through a myriad of different means.
The ability to scale the global difficulty of the game back (or forward) at any given moment is important, especially with regards to the game's crazy age range.
With the Sea Racing Pack, I was able to face off against a cadre of villains in a defeat the villain's health bar before the end of the race mode. Having bested a villain, I could then use that villain in other racing modes. (This trophy capture is not to be confused with the traps from 'Trap Team.') One of the hardest things I did in the game was to capture one villain using another.
The racing is very competitive in a kart kind of way.
There's single player racing, local versus, online 4 human plus 4 AI racing (so 8 total racers). Having recently reviewed 'Forza 6,' it was hard for me not to draw comparisons. Even the big water puddles seem to relate in a positive way to the serious racer. At the least, what I mentioned earlier about setting up the car, can make the difference when racing against like-minded adults. I raced online (on both the Wii U and Xbox One), and I loved mixing up vehicle choices (just like in 'Forza' or 'Mario Kart.' Online with friends was smooth and simple.
I think Sea racing, with its diving under the water controls is the craziest, but all three terrain types offer a pretty frenetic experience. The game will try to keep races close, with the results a mix of close-calls and sudden loses. Because of the online matchmaking and the nature of racing, I expect this will be an extremely popular mode. It's also more like to entertain the more competitive gamer.
Though I didn't get to do this for the review, I think the online co-op feature is a huge step for the entire genre. It's something I'm looking forward to doing with my family during the holidays this year, and I would think the same applies to families all over the world.
The Emblem system is just one of the ways to mark how players can continue on deep through all of this stuff.
The idea of course is that some players will continue to get new characters and vehicles over the next year, but I've always found 'Skylanders' even more susceptible to sharing with another family.
'Skylanders SuperChargers' is that game that can make the toys to life concept feel exciting again. It can pull together different family members locally or online, and you better believe it will make players want to get a boat and plane to augment that vehicular fantasy. There is depth and variety, but some areas are much more polished than others. It's an obvious buy for existing fans, but the vehicle dynamic makes it a nice choice for anyone who might want to dip their toes. Although the amiibo side is pretty vanilla, the inclusion of Turbo Charger Donkey Kong (and his trusty Barrel Blaster) make the Wii U version the one to beat.
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
- Offline Co-op
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