Crank up your Portal of Power, kids. The loudmouth villain Kaos has managed to lock all of the Skylanders out of the Skylands, and you'll need join up with some familiar friends to find a way back to the Skylanders Academy, rescue Master Eon, and launch a counterattack against the Darkness. Oh, and you'll probably have to buy a few extra toys along the way.
Skylanders Superchargers is my first Skylanders game and I have to comment on how the technology feels magical. My kid was going nuts when she realized she could swap figures at will and the game would react to what she did in person. I think they're onto something with this "Toys-to-Life" thing. The graphics are vibrant and all of the Skylanders (if not the secondary characters) are memorably designed.
Each new entry in the Skylanders series introduces a new kind of figure, and, as the name implies, Superchargers brings vehicles to the mix. The retail version of the game comes with Hot Streak, a flaming hot rod, and Spitfire. Pairing a Skylander of the same element as a vehicle "supercharges" it and makes it much stronger. The included Spitfire figure will grant you that ability out of the box. You also get a Stealth Elf figure to round out the package and give your co-op partner someone to use. If you purchased the Wii or WiiU versions, you'll receive Bowser or Donkey Kong and their special vehicles instead.
The vehicles come in three archetypes: Land, Sea, and Sky. Each one controls differently depending on context. For instance, in an arena-like area, your Land vehicle controls a bit like your character, except you have to pull the trigger to start moving. When the stages turn into a track, they control as you'd expect any racing game to. Sea vehicles feel similar to the Land vehicles, though you can dive underwater and leap out like a dolphin. The Air vehicles feel very similar to Star Fox, mostly taking place in on-rails sequences or a large circular arena for bigger fights.
Your vehicles can be upgraded by finding parts throughout the game's stages, granting an altered appearance and some buffed stats. You can also improve their armor and damage output if you so desire. When not in a vehicle, the game is a fairly standard beat-em-up with some platforming and RPG-lite mechanics, but you'll spend a bit more time in the vehicles than on foot.
As far as the campaign goes, only about half of it seems accessible out of the box since you have to purchase Sea or Air vehicles separately. The story mode is broken up into discrete worlds, each including at least one stage for each vehicle type. You're not stopped from progressing the story by not having a certain vehicle type, but the subtle reminder that you need to purchase something is there. Other games in the series have locked side areas out if you didn't have certain Skylanders, so this is a bit of a change.
There's also a Mario Kart-esque racing component to the game with twelve courses, split evenly between the three vehicle types. Unless you've acquired a "trophy" figure for the vehicle type, you'll be locked out of six of those courses (though they permanently unlock once the figure's been touched to the Portal, so you can just borrow them). It's a pretty fun mode even if the item use is automatic and removes almost all of the tactics from a genre that doesn't have many in the first place.
As with all other games in the series, Superchargers has two player local co-op. For local play, you'll need to have two Skylanders figures and one vehicle, which is what you get with your purchase. Convenient! While on foot, both players share a single screen and are leashed quite close to one another, but when in a vehicle you'll have to work as a much tighter team. Each player gets control over one element of the vehicle: movement or weaponry. Whoever drives steers and evades while the other player uses a targeting reticle to shoot all of the baddies. It takes a little bit to get used to, but I think it's a smart choice, since it makes both players equally important. It's also the more interesting way to play, since weapons in single player automatically lock onto targets.
A slightly annoying aspect to co-op (especially if you only have the starter pack) is that if one of the players dies, their figure "needs to rest" and must be replaced by another figure for them to continue playing. Skylanders become available again if your partner finishes the level or you restart the game. If you don't have an army of figures to act as "lives" this gets in the way of the fun.
You can also play the racing mode locally, but it's split vertically, so you lose a lot of visibility. Both players also have to use the same vehicle, so it's a slightly neutered way to play. It's more interesting to play in singleplayer or online, if you ask me.
New to the series is online play. You can either hook up with a friend to take on the campaign, or up to four players to race. Since this is supposed to be a kid's game, you can't voice chat with people not on your friend's list.
As a game to play with your child, or just a breezy co-op adventure to play with a friend, Skylanders Superchargers is a pretty solid experience. Series veterans may not find too much new to collect, since the focus is on the vehicles, but the campaign is a fun, light-hearted romp, and the racing mode does promise some degree of replayability. To hear other folks tell it, vehicles are the least interesting addition to the Skylanders formula, but the addition of online play shouldn't be ignored. More ways to play with friends is always a great addition in my book.
Skylanders Superchargers was reviewed with an Xbox One copy of the game provided by Activision.