Friday, October 9, 2015

Skylanders: SuperChargers Review

Skylanders was always a game I looked at with great interest, but never got into. This could be because of it's perceived target demographic being younger kids, and before 2 years ago, I was well outside that range. Thanks to the amazing folks over at Activision, I was sent a starter set for newest entry in the Skylanders series, SuperChargers, for review. With Xbox One controller in hand, little toy figurines on my table, I took my first steps into the wild world of Skylanders.

Before I dive into the game itself, let me give you a little background on exactly what a Skylanders type game is. Dubbed "Toys to Life", these games involve having a base hooked up to your console of choice where you sit little game specific figures on it and then they appear in your game for play. As you level up these characters, that data is saved within the figurines and when you play next, you can continue from where you left off and upgrade your character with unique skills over time. It's wild to see a child go from holding a toy in their hand to seeing them marvel at that specific figure moving and talking on the screen. My son is only 23 months old and he was amazed by the transition. There are quite a few Skylanders games that have been released and all figures released over the years can be played on all current and future Skylander games. They aren't game specific, although they may have abilities (like this game's super charger ability) that are only available for characters that released with this game's iteration. One additional note - the figurines are really good quality. These are legit toys that my son actually enjoyed playing with when he wasn't watching me play. Ok, enough backstory, let's talk about the game itself.

Some of our Skylanders, their vehicles, and the base

The product I was sent in the mail was the Skylanders: SuperChargers starter pack. The starter pack comes with the game itself, a base to put the characters on to transmit to the game, and three toys (2 characters and a ground vehicle.) Every Skylanders game released so far has had a unique feature and this game's feature is the use of vehicles. Starting up the game and diving into the story mode, you'll be introduced the main villain in the game, Kaos. Kaos has captured the good guys and is in the process of pushing forward his evil plans, which look like they are doing a number on the world the Skylanders inhabit. Through a bit of luck, the heroes in the story summon you to their world where you free them from the clutches of Kaos and then begin your adventure in foiling his plans for good, all while driving and fighting your way through waves of enemies. It's a lighthearted story that kids will love and it has enough humor in it to keep even the adults in the room invested in the characters. You're not going to find Last of Us level of storytelling here, but it serves it's purpose and does a good job telling it's story.

The gameplay in Skylanders is one of it's biggest strengths. Having played Disney Infinity before (mainly for the Star Wars) I was shocked to see how much of an actual game Skylanders: SuperChargers is. Where Disney Infinity felt like a hodge podge of unique ideas that cater to creation over out of the box content, Skylanders felt like I was playing a classic action platformer. The action is smooth and precise and each character you play with has their own unique playstyle. For instance, my favorite character Dive-Clops is an eyeball in a diving suit who shoots torpedoes out of his gun. He's slow, but powerful, and is probably one of the more fun characters available. On the other hand, Spitfire is a faster melee attacker who gets up in your face with abilities. Each character can be upgraded with experience points they gain to learn new and powerful abilities that add combos and unique skills to your game. The leveling up process keeps gameplay fresh and you always feel like you have something you are aiming for.

Skylanders: SuperChargers is at it's core, an action platformer. You'll move around the world fighting enemies with combo attacks and collecting currency and experience along the way. With the currency, you'll unlock skills and upgrades to your vehicle when you revisit the hub world, your go to place in between missions. You will also find hats your Skylanders can equip and this will give them boosts to their powers as well as making them look truly unique (a mild form of an RPG mechanic.) As you level up your characters, your strategies of taking down enemies will change as well. For instance, Spitfire was always my scrappy melee guy that I would use to charge into enemies and unload a barrage of attacks. Once I upgrade to his flame tornado though, I would work on fighting enemies systematically while my flame tornado chipped away at their health. Having the ability to pick and choose the way I fight was something that made each encounter feel unique and each character have specialties I would turn to in each battle. The fighting itself was highly dependent upon which character I was using and this level of both customization and freedom of choice was truly refreshing after coming from Infinity (which didn't offer quite as much.)

Vehicle combat is fun and engaging

As you play the game, you'll come across areas that are gated behind vehicle types. These are optional areas that can't be accessed unless you have a corresponding vehicle. The starter edition comes with a car, so you'll always be able to go down that path, but if you want to play the sky missions or water missions, you will need to buy the corresponding vehicles that match that element type. As I said though, these are optional, but if you truly want the full experience of the game, you'll have to at least spend another $30 or so to get the two vehicles. And while the air and sea levels are optional, all vehicles feel well implemented in the game. They aren't just some tacked on bulletpoint to an already existing game, they legitimately feel like a fully fleshed out feature and driving was one the highlights of my playtime. There is even a Mario Kart style racing game inside that was a blast to play when visiting the aforementioned hubworld. Depending on which vehicles you own, the racing itself can last for hours of fun, especially with the included challenges and unlockable items you can add to your vehicles. These unlocks actually change the look and feel of the vehicles as well as give them bonuses to play style. Plus, you can unlock different horns for the vehicles and that's always a blast.

Another fun extra in the game is something called Skystone. For fans of card games, you'll instantly recognize the similarities to Blizzard's Hearthstone. The way I would describe it is as a simplified Hearthstone that involves the same level of collecting you'll find in Witcher 3's Gwent. The video above is one of the games I recorded and that will give you a good feel for how it plays out. As you play games in the world, you'll also be able to collect additional, more powerful cards, that you can add to your deck for future games. There is a level of strategy involved that always had me playing whenever I came across someone in the world. It's an extra, but it's one of the more successful extras that I have seen in a game.

To say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Skylanders: SuperChargers is an understatement. I went into this review thinking it would be a game that I would do a quick review of, post a blog, and move on. Instead, I've found myself coming back to the game to play more whenever I get the chance. One of the main reasons - the difficulties. There are 4 difficulties in the game with the lowest being perfect for young kids and the hardest being perfect for those who want a really difficult action platformer. I played most of the time on the hardest difficulty and it was a challenge to not burn through all of my figurines. When one characters goes down, you can place another on the board to continue where you left off and the downed characters can be played again when you finish the chapter. Skylanders: SuperChargers is perfect for gaming parents with small kids who want to bond over a shared hobby or for anyone of any age who want a solid game that can be tailored to your playstyles. I highly recommend Skylanders to anyone looking to find out just want the toys to life thing is all about.

1 comment:

  1. Skylanders has been great series, but be careful if you have a collector's mentality. My house has a pile of figures worth a small fortune that gets little use because the kids have moved on to new games.