It's been nearly four years since Activision first introduced Skylanders, the now-annual toys-to-life franchise. New Skylanders games have debuted with new types of figures or accessories; whether it be the larger figures in Skylanders Giants, creatures made of swappable halves in Skylanders Swap Force, or the speaker-embedded portal that brought trapped bosses to life in Skylanders Trap Team. However, the next instalment, Skylanders SuperChargers, will introduce a completely new feature and new toys to accompany it: vehicles.
At certain points in the game, an access point will allow the player to place one of these new vehicle toys on the Portal of Power and pair with an in-game Skylander character. This allows that character to enter the vehicle in-game. There are three different classes of vehicles; ground vehicles which allow the player to race on land, water vehicles to weave through obstacles underwater, and flying ships to do battle with in the sky.
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SuperChargers will introduce 20 new vehicles paired with 20 new matching Skylander figures. While the vehicles can be used in-game with any new or old Skylander character, pairing a vehicle with its matching Skylander partner will activate a Supercharge state in-game, granting amped up damage and stats. This was demonstrated to me with new character Spitfire, who when paired with his chosen car Hot Streak, gained a powerful fireball shooting ability. The vehicles themselves are introduced with a brief in-game cinematic when summoned using the portal of power--an intro that could be likened in its outrageousness and glamour to that of a car show spectacle.
If you don't have a specific vehicle type, you cannot access the areas that have been designed for them; these areas are simply gated from the player. While platform levels do make a return in Skylanders SuperChargers, it was these vehicular sections of the game which really captured my attention during a preview session hosted by Activision.
Racing On Land
Getting behind the wheel in SuperChargers will feel very familiar to those who have played Mario Kart. The course shown was beset with sharp turns, littered with hazardous obstacles, and at one point launched the player high into the air to land on an adjacent platform. Similar to Nintendo's flagship racer, each course contains alternative routes to the finish line. Taking time to explore these alternative routes is beneficial, as they sometimes contain new parts which can be used to customize and boost the in-game stats of a vehicle. Collected parts can be added to a vehicle the instant they are picked up, an action which pauses the game mid-race and opens the vehicle customization screen.
The race culminated with a boss battle, at which point the Activision representative switched out their Skylander character in favour of Spitfire, who was paired with this particular vehicle. Equipped with Supercharge, Spitfire could weave around the boss in the vehicle and spew destructive fireballs at the enemy. It wasn't all physical fighting however; once the boss was defeated, a simple puzzle had to be solved to progress through the section's exit.
The vehicle toys themselves will have articulation that allows interaction outside of the video game. For example, the wheels on Hot Streak spin. However, I was warned that the vehicles' figures were not recommended for contact with water, unlike some of their in-game counterparts in the following section.
Diving Into The Sea
The next part of the demonstration took the Skylander character for a plunge into the sea with a water vehicle that looked like a cross between a boat and a submarine. Racing through the water track started off as a straightforward affair, but dodging obstacles by submerging underneath the water's surface turned the section into an aquatic course with two sections--one above water, and one underwater. Hazards on the surface of the water could be avoided by diving underneath, and vice versa.
Like in the land race, the sea level culminated with a boss fight that required the player to simultaneously dodge obstacles and shoot enemies. The dramatic swell and crash of the waves made the fight appear more challenging than its land counterpart. I was particularly impressed with the textures and animation of the water; according to the Activision representative, SuperChargers is a game "built for next-gen consoles," despite being available for last-generation consoles. With the boss in the water section defeated, the Skylander took to the section which inspired part of the series' name--the sky.
Sailing Through The Sky
Like previous sections, taking off into the skies required a specific vehicle figure to be placed on the Portal of Power. Activating a flight-capable vehicle in the game started up the sky section, which had the player weave the ship through the air to pick up collectibles and shoot cannons at enemies. While the ship's acceleration could be controlled, left on its own it would fly slowly to its destination, thanks to an autopilot system of sorts in place to ensure that players are guided to where they need to go.
As with the land sections, picking up new parts during the section instantly opened up the customization screen, allowing the player to add new parts to their ship soon as they were collected.
Compatibility With Old Content
Parents will be relieved to hear that SuperChargers will be compatible with all previously released Skylanders figures and Portals of Power. Tying in with this backwards compatibility, Activision has confirmed that a digital version of the game will also be released for sale. However, the bulk of the game's new content will still need the new vehicle figures to access. Not all vehicles and figures will be available at launch, though the starter pack will include new versions of returning characters Hot Streak, Spitfire, and Stealth Elf. Only the new versions can be partnered with their chosen vehicles to unlock Supercharge in-game--using the old versions of these characters will not produce any extra effect.
While the new types of levels in Skylanders SuperChargers were impressive to behold, the need for additional vehicle figurines was not. If the land vehicle stages, water levels, and sky battle sections will make up a large portion of what is new in the game then restricting players who don't own the corresponding vehicles will mean that they miss out on what makes SuperChargers unique. Crying wallet aside, the changes in scenery these new sections will offer look interesting enough to welcome newcomers and seasoned collectors alike, and kids will likely love playing with the new vehicle figures--both in-game, and outside of it.