Skylanders games have traditionally been aimed at younger players, but this year's SuperChargers instalment features the deep modification of land, air and sea vehicles that may pique the interest of a slightly older market.
Having sold over 250,000,000 of its plastic figurines, Skylanders is now turning its attention to vehicles, with 20 to choose from in this year’s game. Each one is individually sculpted both in the game and as a physical, articulated mode of transport.
For instance, placing the Hot Streak model on the portal will bring a fully customisable hot rod into the game. Use his related owner, Spitfire, and you unlock even more options. Progressing through the game opens up an ever wider array of mods to apply, mixing and matching wheels, engines and body work.
Another nice touch this year is the Portal Owner pack. If you have access to a portal from any of the previous games (going back to Skylanders Giants) you can re-use that and simply download the game sans toys. This not only keeps costs down, but means you can purchase just the vehicles you want to use, rather than being stuck with the Starter Pack choices.
And if you’ve upgraded to a new console recently there's no need to worry: you can most likely still use your old portal. The Wii U can use the Wii portal and the PS4 can use the PS3 portal - although it's worth noting that the Xbox One can’t use the 360's portal. Boo.
Players who do go for the Starter Pack get the Hot Streak vehicle, Sure Shot Stealth Elf and SuperCharger Spitfire along with the new rubberised portal. The portal includes a Trap slot like last year, and these plastic Trap items grant further power-ups when used in the game.
It’s in the game where the SuperCharger vehicles really make a difference. Plenty of attention has been paid to the handling of each different ride. Hot Streak for example feels sticky and tactile on the road, a bit like racing an RC car around an outsized car park.
The environments play a big part in the handling. This is most easily seen for the submarine or hover craft transports. The sea is procedurally generated and must be worked with to get the best performance. Whether you bounce off the waves with the hovercraft or dive under them with the sub, you need to pay attention to what the world is doing on each level.
The game mixes vehicle and on-foot challenges. Two player co-op continues in shared screen mode, but when using vehicles players tag-team so that one steers while the other shoots. For families of mixed abilities and ages it's a nice way to get everyone involved.
Starter Pack vs Portal Owner Pack
It would have been nice if you could place the different toy characters in their respective related vehicles. Yes, it would likely have pushed up the cost or necessitated another portal, but it's something younger players will miss.
As it stands, this year’s Skylanders is looking more tasty for serious gamers. With all sorts of new modes and cars still to be announced, it may be too good to leave to the kids.
Skylanders SuperChargers will be released on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iPad and Wii U. This year we don't get the full game on the Wii, but there will be a complementary offering on Wii and 3DS. The game releases 20th September in North America and 25th September in Europe.