Review: Skylanders SuperChargers (Wii U)

Take notice, Nintendo fans!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/23/2015 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Land, sea, and sky via vehicles is a great new direction; clever level design and play mechanics; gorgeous graphics and cutscenes; multiplayer is fun; Bowser and Donkey Kong
Poison Mushroom for...
Car controls can be finicky in 360 degree mode; a little glitchy at times; cinematics have awkward transitions

Skylanders SuperChargers could have failed a million different ways. Besides maintaining the series’ signature platforming and toys-to-life concept, SuperChargers also throws vehicle racing, combat, and exploration into the mix, along with online and local multiplayer. Some games falter from an overly ambitious development team, biting off more than they can chew and ultimately delivering a half-baked experience that falls short of their lofty goals. SuperChargers suffers no such dilemma, instead standing tall as the culmination of developer Vicarious Visions’ hopes and dreams to deliver something new in the Skylanders universe. Though imperfect, SuperChargers remains a huge step forward for the franchise, and is easily the best game in the series yet.

Land, sea, and sky; all three regions and accompanying vehicle types are an integral part of SuperChargers, and unlike Skylanders games of the past, it’s possible to explore every nook and cranny of this campaign with four toys in tow: a base figure and one of each of the aforementioned vehicle varieties. That’s it. Though Activision sent me a huge bundle of figures and vehicles to play with, I made my way through SuperChargers with a very modest crew of toys. Though fatigue is undeniably circling above the head of the burgeoning toys-to-life genre, Activision is doing its best to keep those vultures in the sky where they belong. SuperChargers not only boasts a streamlined selection of toys and vehicles, it also smartly doesn’t lock its wondrous gameplay behind too many payment barriers. I enjoy this series a great deal, but some installments have arguably strayed very close to the sun by asking players to invest too much money into the toys in order to see everything a given game had to offer. Not so with SuperChargers.

Ironically, though it isn’t necessary to purchase a ton of vehicles and figures to enjoy SuperChargers, I found myself enamored with every single one of the new toys. This is a solid lineup of Skylanders, striking a sound balance between returning, re-imagined favorites (Terrafin), and entirely new ones (Splat). Each character comes with a vehicle, but every Skylander can pilot any vehicle– and that includes the old ones! Want to see Spyro riding Donkey Kong’s Barrel Blaster? Done. Prism Break soaring through the skies on Bowser’s Clown Cruiser? Have at it. There are hundreds of Skylanders in existence at this point, and they’re all compatible with this latest game. There’s an advantage to playing with the new toys, however, in the form of vehicle customization. Using a SuperChargers character as a pilot allows the player to add new parts to a vehicle, which boosts its stats and alters its in-game appearance. There are a ton of parts to discover, and though I initially felt a little overwhelmed by all the different options, it’s actually very straightforward to upgrade and modify each vehicle. I quickly found myself scouring every level in order to get my hands on new parts. These upgrades are especially helpful in later, more difficult stages and during multiplayer, when vehicle balance becomes more important for success.

Vicarious Visions did a wonderful job of incorporating its vehicles into the core adventure-platforming that Skylanders is renowned for. Frankly, the team was so successful that I can’t imagine a future Skylanders without them. Other than driving segments (each starter pack comes with a car, and the game can be beaten with it alone), sky and sea challenges are entirely optional, but foregoing them would mean missing out on a ton of both gameplay and narrative. The story elements that are lost by foregoing these optional sections aren’t integral to the overarching narrative, but they do serve to enrich the experience as a whole– especially because they’re fun! They’re also varied. When I went to visit the development team a few weeks ago, they stressed how each level had its own gameplay hooks, with some never appearing more than once in the whole game. It turns out that the designers were true to their word, as between the driving and platforming, there were a ton of mechanics and level designs that I only ever saw one time, and they were always memorable. From top-down, 1942-style arcade shooting sequences, to 2D platforming with a storybook aesthetic that looked like something from Okami, SuperChargers has a design and visual flare that belies its status as an annual “kids” game.

Though the story admittedly skews toward a younger audience, it’s very well told, with excellent animation and voice acting throughout. I can’t heap enough praise on the art direction of SuperChargers. The environments are lush and detailed, often perfectly complementing and enhancing the gameplay mechanic of a given level. At one point I found myself shrunk down to the size of an ant, with the antagonist towering overhead throughout the entire stage. Surrounded by enormous blades of grass and drops of water, I felt like I’d genuinely been shrunk. I also couldn’t get enough of Bowser and Donkey Kong, who both fit right into the Skylanders’ world. Vicarious Visions nailed their look and feel, and they’re a real joy to play with. As pure Skylanders characters, their move sets are brilliant, and I can’t help but wonder how big of a hole it must be for the other platforms to not have them. PS4 and Xbox One might have a leg up on Wii U in terms of graphics, but Bowser and DK make this version of SuperChargers the definitive one, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a great bit of Nintendo fan service that isn’t too heavy-handed. More, please.

SuperChargers is bolstered by the series’ familiar, solid controls, but there are a couple of hangups that hold it back from true greatness, sadly, and they’re primarily centered around piloting the game’s many vehicles. Though I took to racing immediately, steering the cars 360 degrees in the game’s arena environments was very hit or miss for me. I’ll concede that it’s possibly a “me” issue, as toward the end of my time with the game (and after hours of practice) I felt a little more confident behind the wheel. Still, it was the one aspect of SuperChargers that never felt truly natural, which was a bummer. Outside of the controls, there were also a handful of glitches that I experienced during my playthrough, including a moment when I looked at the map in the hub world and the game froze on me. Assuming a patch will arrive in the future to clean these bugs up, and considering their relative infrequency, these glitches were minor annoyances more than massive headache inducers. Finally, though I enjoyed the cinematics, the transitions between scenes could often be jarring, including when they’d abruptly come to an end and shift back to gameplay. A handful of gripes, to be sure, but nothing that should send anyone screaming into the hills.

SuperCharger’s competitive racing is another highlight in a game full of them, with satisfying driving and combat controls that fall somewhere between Mario Kart and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. I don’t see it replacing either of those two games for anyone, but I look forward to finding out how much of a community builds around this part of SuperChargers. The racing modes and courses are generous, and it can be very easy to get swept up in taking on other players. That’s how this game is, though, as there are so many bits and pieces to discover. I spent hours on the campaign alone, but between the multiplayer, sidequests, secrets to discover, and experimenting with all the toys, SuperChargers is like a living, breathing world. The gameplay is perfectly paced, which is a wonder given how much of it there is.This is hands-down my favorite installment in the series, strengthened by the excellent addition of Bowser and Donkey Kong. AAA third-party titles aren’t all that common on Wii U, so when an offering like this comes along, fans should stand up and rejoice. Vicarious Visions really shocked me with the quality of SuperChargers, and has taken this franchise to new heights. Young or old, this a game everyone should enjoy.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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