Hands-on with Skylanders SuperChargers

Bow-wow-ser, yippie yo, yip-DK…

After the X15 Media Showcase, Nadia and I had the opportunity to check out the newest release in the Skylanders series, Skylanders SuperChargers. And with the game coming out this we– wait, it’s coming out tomorrow?! Since when do games come out on a Sunday?!

Okay, I’m told that this is apparently what Skylanders has been doing for years… as well as Disney Infinity, and apparently even LEGO Dimensions. No guesses as to why, but I’m assuming it has something to do with the toys.

Ahem. So on the eve of the release of this game, I figured now was as good a time as any to share my thoughts on what I’ve seen. I don’t have a copy of my own yet, though I’m expecting a review copy sometime for the November/December issue of Nintendo Force magazine.

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One thing to make clear is that it should be no secret that I like toys. I own a ton, I’ve reviewed a good few, and I hope to indulge in more for many years to come. That said, I’ve not had a chance to properly get into one of these “toys to life” styled games, but I’ve long thought what Skylanders is doing is pretty cool, and I’ve enjoyed the little bit I’ve seen and been able to dabble in.

One of the cool parts is how creative many of the characters are, enough that it’s generally pretty easy to find a guy that you like to be your “in” to the whole concept. From what I can tell, the stories don’t tend to focus on specific player characters, allowing you to use whoever you like without missing a beat. With each previous iteration I’ve looked over, I’ve found a number of characters who look like a lot of fun.

That said, in what might be considered a masterstroke, player initiation may be easier than ever this time for Wii U, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS owners with the inclusion of Nintendo’s own Bowser and Donkey Kong as playable characters.

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Not only does the familiarity of the characters help ease one into this strange new world, but it’s done with a style I love. The game really seems to play up the whole “toys” thing, not just in how they appear on-screen (DK’s texture, for instance, has more of a molded look than a real fur-like aesthetic), but also the way they’re presented. Decked out in special attire and gear as “Turbo Charge Donkey Kong” and “Hammer Slam Bowser,” they are reminiscent of so many figure variants released in various toy lines over the years, from Battle Armor He-Man to Cyber Samurai Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They even have their own brief bios, much like what you see on the back of Transformers packaging nowadays:

Turbo Charge Donkey Kong is joining the Skylanders in their fight against Kaos with a barrel full of powerful moves!

Hammer Slam Bowser is ready to battle alongside the Skylanders and pound down evil with his mighty hammer!

Their various moves in the game are also centered around their histories, with Bowser able to call upon a pack of Koopa Troopas to sic on his foes. Meanwhile, one of Donkey Kong’s moves features some falling girders from the original Donkey Kong arcade game, but the bulk of his moves involve his barrels, and to me, that’s awesome. Really, DK doesn’t fight with barrels nearly enough, so this is a nice change.

The core gameplay feels like a fairly standard 3D beat ’em up, though if you’ve got a character with ranged attacks, that’s obviously less beating and more shooting. While DK has been playable in the 3D space before, it was never quite like this, while this is pretty new territory for Bowser. However, smacking foes around is only part of the game this time around.

SSC_Barrel-Blaster-2

Each year, Skylanders brings with it a new gimmick. The second year was giants, the third had characters who could swap top and bottom halves to gain new powers, and last year featured trapper specialists who could capture baddies and bring them over to the good side. While those figures are all still compatible with the new game, this year’s gimmick revolves around vehicles.

Like G.I. Joe, this year’s Skylanders are there, fighting for freedom over land and air… and sea, too! The new guys, including DK and Bowser, come with their own vehicles which specialize in one of the three terrains as needed, and you can mix and match characters (even older ones!) with the different rides. Bowser comes with the Clown Cruiser and Donkey Kong has the Barrel Blaster (seen driven by Bowser above), while others have their own rides, too, including the pretty cool Spitfire and Hot Streak, who takes their place in all other versions (and will hopefully be available separately). (Another, Super Shot Stealth Elf, is available in all Starter Packs.)

However, if you match a character to their own personal ride, such as Bowser to his Clown Cruiser, you’ll be able to “SuperCharge” the vehicle for more power and abilities. For Bowser, this results in a Clown Cruiser which looks more like one of his fleet of airships (seen below), while pairing DK with the Barrel Blaster adds rocket boosters and brings Diddy Kong in on a sidecar to help man the cannons.

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That said, what I played of the vehicle portions was kind of a mixed bag. Aerial portions featured an “up is up and down is down” movement style, which I was still able to overcome despite my preference for the opposite. While it sounds like you can toggle those before a race, the same can’t be said for driving on land. On straightaways, it’s great; there’s a bit of Mario Kart-ish drifting, boosting, jumping, and even item usage.

However, when you come to an arena, things get a bit… strange. I had a difficult time steering just how I wanted to, as it no longer uses standard car controls, or from what I could tell, even something like overhead racing games (R.C. Pro-Am, Off Road, etc.). It was an odd transition, and one that the children they had test it reportedly took well to, but it seems that adults like myself have a tougher time adjusting. It’s not impossible — I was able to complete the sequence — but it does run a bit counter-intuitively, and there were no plans to allow other options when I spoke to the representatives.

Incidentally, the Wii and Nintendo 3DS versions (titled Skylanders SuperChargers Racing, which come with Hammer Slam Bowser and his Clown Cruiser) will be focused on the racing, while the Wii U version (with Turbo Charge Donkey Kong) will be the full-fledged game, with beat ’em up fun and all that goes with it.

superchargersSet1 superchargersSet2

As for the toys themselves, they’re great — better than my lousy pics above of the lot we got to see can convey. There are no points of articulation or any normal action figure gimmicks — these are figurines that make up for a lack of play features outside of the game with some nice painted detail instead. While I’ve always liked having at least some posability to my figures, I won’t lie — I’d have killed to get these when I was a kid, and in the cases where I had Mario figures that weren’t posable, I was able to make do.

That said, the Bowser and Donkey Kong figures do have some added functionality. With a quick turn of their base, they go from being Skylanders figures to amiibo, able to work with the games that correspond with previous Bowser and Donkey Kong releases. Given my collection currently features neither, they’ll make a most welcome addition.

The vehicles are cool as well, with some nice metallic detailing and paint apps. Unfortunately, they don’t interact with the figures outside of the game, so Bowser can’t ride in his Clown Cruiser, and so on; they’re sort of like those toys where you might have a driver-less Flintmobile from The Flintstones (for example) in that regard. That said, the ground vehicles do have working wheels, so you can race them as you would any toy car, and that’s a pretty neat touch.

Oh, and there is one downside to the vehicles: they’re only available in their standard modes, rather than the cool “SuperCharged” formations. It’s to be expected, yet a pity all the same that such cool designs must stay on the television screen.

darkversiondkbowser

As with Skylanders Starter Packs in years past, there will also be Dark Editions, including for the Nintendo versions. These are available on all platforms except for the Nintendo 3DS, which is unfortunately left out. The Dark Editions feature different sets of figures, including distinct (that is, the game reads them differently) versions of the characters included (so you can’t mix and match your regular and Dark Donkey Kongs and Barrel Blasters). There is also an additional Kaos trophy, which is “the only way to unlock special Kaos gameplay content.”

It’s a tough call. While I like the “dark” thing and all (and have my fair share of black repaints), I think I prefer the more colorful versions of the characters. Both look great, it’s just a personal preference thing here.

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I’m not going to lie: from what I’ve seen and played, and with Star Fox Zero and The Legend of Zelda bumped out of 2015, this is one of the Wii U games I’m most looking forward to getting my hands on.

Skylanders SuperChargers will be available in Standard Edition on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U for $84.99, while the Dark Edition will be available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii, and Wii U for $124.99; Skylanders SuperChargers Racing is available for Wii and Nintendo 3DS for $84.99 and $79.99 each, respectively, beginning September 20th. You can find more information on the game at the official website.

Edit: Updated the text to reflect the different titles for the distinct Nintendo 3DS and Wii versions.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.