As you may or may not be aware, we're kind of fond of Skylanders here at Everybody Plays - well, all the 'toys to life' collectible figure games really. And while we've amassed a fair collection of Disney Infinity figures, it pales in comparison to our box of Skylanders, an almost hundred strong heap of plastic characters spanning each of the four (now five) games. Needless to say, a new Skylanders game is a cause for excitement, and we were seriously stoked to get our grubby paws on the latest entry - Skylanders Superchargers, which adds collectible vehicles to the co-op adventuring, bad guy bashing, family fun too.
The plot here is the same old story - to the surprise of no-one at all, Skylanders series bad guy Kaos is up to no good again, trying to take over the world. In cahoots with a terribly evil being known as 'the darkness', he's unleashed his baddest weapon yet - the Doom Station of Ultimate Doomstruction, a giant floating head (shaped, naturally, like Kaos' bald bonce), which threatens to swallow the sky itself, bringing an end to the Skylands once and for all. As is always the way, it falls to the Skylanders to get everyone out of a pickle, this time with the help of a new brand of characters, the titular Superchargers. Together with their powerful new vehicles, these Skylanders can take the fight to Kaos across land, sea and sky, hopefully putting an end to his most devilish plan yet. It's essentially the same old fantastical nonsense that serves as a light-hearted backdrop for what is perhaps the best Skylanders game in the series so far.
Unlike the somewhat hackneyed plot, though, the writing here is top notch, with loads of laugh out loud moments that'll have you sniggering all the way through. The same cast of characters are back to guide you on your adventure, each bursting with more personality than ever before - the somewhat bumbling Flynn, the have-a-go hero of the Skylands; Hugo the bookworm; Tessa, the brave adventuress, and a few other returning favourites like Sharpfin, the Cockney shark, too.
The basic starter pack comes with all you need to get going - a portal for placing your figures on, the game itself, a land vehicle (Hot Streak), and two Supercharged Skylanders - Super Shot Stealth Elf and Spitfire. The new breed of characters for SuperChargers, these figures are each specially in tune with a certain vehicle, and can supercharge it if you use the right character and their vehicle together, giving it an extra boost in terms of power. This time around, there's a smaller range of characters that'll be drip fed onto shelves, with ten new characters, and ten reposes of old figures set for release - only this time around, rather than being a cosmetic upgrade, each redesigned old character comes with an entirely new move set too! To see the full range of figures, why not check out our full list of Skylanders SuperChargers characters?
In terms of basic gameplay, SuperChargers may add vehicles, but the basic formula is the same as it's ever been - not that we'd have it any other way. Players place the figure of their choice onto the Portal of Power, and the character in question appears in the game as their playable avatar, ready to smash, shoot and bash their way through waves and waves of Skylanders enemies. Platforming, bad guy bashing, simple puzzles and searching for collectibles help break up the action too, all meshing together to give a surprisingly varied adventure that helps cement Skylanders as the king of the 'toys to life' genre once more.
While some games can sometimes sink into a bit of a groove, with each level simply being more of the same, Skylander SuperChargers sets a new - and incredibly high - bar for the series, as there's so much variety here in the levels, and what you have to do. There are thirteen or so sprawling levels for you to explore, each with their own unique theme and feel, all suitably bright, colourful and littered with hidden areas. In the space of the story mode you'll get shrunk down to a miniature size and chased through the towering grass, rocks and debris by a maniacal collect-o-phile, in a scene that wouldn't feel out of place in Honey I Shrunk the Audience; literally walk on the ceiling in a gravity-defying prison; and even be turned into a giant version of yourself in a level that lets you act out your destructive urges.
Another great level sees you visit Cap'n Cluck's Fried Chicken HQ, where not only is there a great jingle that plays at regular intervals, but you'll also find yourself equipped with a shrink/super-size ray, which is even more fun than you'd imagine. While it only works on certain objects, there's a few ingenious ways you can take advantage of this - like by using against certain enemies. Wait until they lift an acorn high above their head to throw it at you and - whoops - at the touch of a button, you can squish them under the weight of their own giant acorn. Another stellar level involved a visit to the library, where you could actually enter the books themselves, and take part in the story they told, narrator and all, in a level that totally switched up the Skylanders gameplay. Turning the game from its jaw dropping 3D self into a gorgeous, stylised, 2D cel-shaded paper adventure, these levels are some of the best in the game - and now we really want an expanded version for the 3DS.
Between the familiar on-foot brawling and platforming, though, Superchargers adds it's own unique twist - vehicle sections. Included in the Starter Pack is Hot Streak (or if you're playing on Wii U, the Barrel Blaster), a car which lets you take on all the land-based sections you'll find in Skylanders' story mode. Of course, the catch is, if you want to see all the game has to offer, you'll need to get yourself a couple more vehicles - one for the sky zones, and one for the sea zones, with each level having a section a section for each one of the three vehicle types. Vehicle sections range from high-speed races to vehicle-based combat and simple puzzles, as well as a fair few boss battles, in a really nice twist that takes things beyond simple vehicular races. If playing in co-operative, you'll really need to co-ordinate your efforts too, as Superchargers splits the driving and shooting/collecting between the pair of you, which is a nice touch.
What isn't quite so well done is how Skylanders Superchargers approaches the different vehicle sections in it's levels. Rather than having them waiting as secret areas to be discovered, SuperChargers really throws these sections front and centre - which isn't that great if you only have one of the required vehicles. With each level having an air, sea and land section to be unlocked, you'll generally come across a point in each level where you'll meet a character who needs your help. The only difference is, rather than being an optional thing, you'll often automatically go straight into a cutscene with said character explaining their issue to you, only for you to eventually have to decline it, as you don't have the right vehicle. It's a small change, but one that makes a big difference, as it really makes you feel like you're missing out on a lot more stuff than in the past - and that's not a great feeling. Ramming the point home further, each level has one of three 'stars' to complete, each of which is tied to a specific vehicle path, so you can finish the game completely, but you'll still only have unlocked a third of the stars. In fact, sometimes the game even has to break its own story, as it tries too hard to make the vehicular sections integral to the story. In one level, you'll be told the 'only way' to get somewhere was to defeat an air-based boss. Unless you don't have a air vehicle, of course, in which case you can choose to skip, and you'll just carry straight on...
Still, while the vehicular options are a little bit too forced, compared to it's predecessor Trap Team, Superchargers is actually a much better value proposition. To access the majority of the game, you only really need to buy two extra vehicles - an air, and a water vehicle, with a wide selection of both on offer - as opposed to a Trap Master and plastic trap of each element, a la Trap Team. If you take a particular liking to Skylanders Superchargers' Mario Kart-inspired racing side game, you can also buy additional racing packs, which give you extra tracks, a new character and their vehicle, with one pack each for land, sea and sky races - thereby giving you the most cost-effective way to see the extra parts of the story mode too.
With it's genuinely funny dialogue and characters, an amazing ending song and imaginative level design, Skylanders Superchargers is easily the best game in the series - and arguably, the best 'toys to life' game this year too, edging past both Disney Infinity 3.0 and Lego Dimensions. If you only buy one adventure game this Christmas, then Skylanders Superchargers should probably be it - whether you're new to the series or an old fan.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U