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21 Things You Need To Know About Skylanders: SuperChargers

by Andrew Reiner on Jun 03, 2015 at 02:00 AM

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The toys-to-life category has quietly become one of the biggest success stories in gaming, generating over $4 billion in sales since its introduction in 2011’s runaway hit, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. Despite facing stiff competition from the likes of Disney and Nintendo in the years that followed, Activision and Skylanders still command the category, with over $3 billion in sales and more than 250 million action figures sold to date.

All signs point to 2015 being the biggest year yet for the toys-to-life category. Disney eyes success in a galaxy far, far away with the integration of Star Wars into Infinity 3.0. Although Nintendo struggles to keep up with consumer demand for its Amiibo figures, the company has gone all in on them, so much so that their functionality is implemented into almost every new first-party release. Last but not least, Warner Bros. is entering the toys-to-life fray with Lego Dimensions, a game that unites the brand’s buildable functionality with the fun gameplay we’ve seen from over a decade’s worth of Lego games.

Activision is the last toys-to-life entrant to announce plans for 2015. Activision isn’t steering away from the concept of players placing an action figure on a portal, but is changing gears this year, perhaps as a response to the crowding of the market. Together with developer Vicarious Visions, Activision is turning its gaze to another popular children’s toy: vehicles.

In the series’ fifth annual game, Skylanders: SuperChargers, players are invited to race, fly, and dive deep beneath the sea in cars, airplanes, and submarines – vehicles that only come to life in the game when a toy is placed on the Portal of Power.

The vehicular play accounts for roughly 50 percent of SuperChargers gameplay. The other 50 percent will once again see Skylands’ champions battling monsters, smashing crates to unearth valuable gems, and interacting with the likes of Flynn and Cali.

Here are 21 things that you should know about Skylanders: SuperChargers and its new direction:

When is it coming?

Activision locked it in for a September 20 release in North America.

What systems will it be on?
You won’t be able to get it on PC, but Skylanders: SuperChargers is releasing on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, 3DS, and iOS.

Who is developing it?
Vicarious Visions – the team behind Skylanders: Swap Force – is handling the development of the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, and iOS versions. Beenox has been tapped to bring this game’s concept to Wii and 3DS.

What Comes in the Starter Pack?

Along with the game disc, Skylanders: SuperChargers comes with a new Portal of Power, a land-based vehicle named Hot Streak, a fire-elemental character named Spitfire, and a redesigned version of Stealth Elf named Super Shot Stealth Elf.

The New Portal of Power
The Portal was redesigned to offer a wider surface for the increased size of the vehicles. Guha Bala, the president of Vicarious Visions says the old portals were a little too crowded. “When you put two characters, a vehicle, and maybe a magic item on there, you run into some issues. The new portal offers more comfort for the figure placements.”

The new Portal also features a slot for the traps from last year’s Skylanders: Trap Team, but it will not have the voice or light functionality that brought those boss characters to life. “We support the traps in a different way,” Bala clarifies. "This game isn’t about trapping. You won’t be able to capture a villain. The traps themselves give you special ammo, and unlocks a Skystone of that specific villain [in the trap].”

The Introduction of Vehicles Means Fewer Characters
Skylanders: Trap Team was home to more than 70 new Skylanders figures. Skylanders: Swap Force offered more than 50 new figures. To date, no Skylanders game has released with fewer than 30. That changes with SuperChargers.

Activision is only releasing 20 figures alongside the game. The 20 characters consist of returning favorites like Stealth Elf and Trigger Happy, and faces new to Skylands like Spitfire. In addition to the characters, Activision is releasing 20 vehicles that are as uniquely designed and creative as the characters. In total, collectors will be on the hunt for 40 items. Activision also hinted at the possibility of a legacy line along the lines of Eon’s Elite releasing at some point after the game ships.

Up next: A test drive with vehicles...

Each New Character is Paired with a Signature Car
Just as the Batmobile looks strikingly like Batman, you’ll find all of the SuperChargers’ vehicles are designed to look like their pilots. All 20 of the new characters have a signature car. Spitfire rides in Hot Streak; Dive-Clops is at the helm of Dive Bomber; Jet-Vac pilots Jet Stream.

The Vehicles Are Functioning Toys
While it’s disappointing that the character toys cannot be placed into the vehicles, each car, submarine, and airship is equipped with a playable function. Since Skylanders’ inception, the series’ toys have basically doubled as statues – nicely detailed sculpts that are better made for shelves and display cases than any type of play. That isn’t the case with the vehicles. Hot Streak’s wheels spin like any Hot Wheels toy, and the aircraft and submarines are equipped with moving parts.

All 300+ Action Figures Work in the Game
Holding true to the extensive backwards compatibility with the other games in the series, all 300-plus characters released from Spyro’s Adventure up to Trap Team can be played in SuperChargers. Any character can ride in any vehicle; even the lumbering Giants are capable of squeezing into a tiny sub. Vicarious Visions went through and added new vehicle-based animations for all of the characters.

Car Functionality
Characters are free to roam levels and the hub world just like they have in any other Skylanders game, but a vehicle won’t appear in the world until a player enters a portal leading to a vehicle sequence. The portals are similar in design to the elemental zones from previous games. The portals are clearly marked with the vehicle type needed (land, air, or sea). Some of the vehicle portals are placed smack dab in the middle of a level’s critical path and are mandatory. Others are placed along the side, where secrets and bonuses await. Of the critical-path missions, only land-based vehicles are used. This means that the game can be completed with the contents contained in the game’s Starter Pack; one figure and a car are all you need.

Once a vehicle is placed on the portal along with a figure, you’ll be off and running in a sequence designed for that vehicle type. During this sequence, the character is locked into the driver’s seat and cannot run on foot until the sequence ends or is aborted.

The first driving sequence we were shown in our demo session this April sees Hot Streak racing along a linear path. Our view is positioned behind the vehicle, just like any modern day racer. The track is littered with jumps and obstacles, and Hot Streak wastes no time roaring along it – the sense of speed is impressive. Along the track are collectible “Gearbits,” a new form of currency used to upgrade the specific parts on the vehicle. The Gearbits are often positioned in places that help the player navigate the obstacles, such as a trail leading up to a ramp that launches over a barrier or electrical field.

The sequence only lasts for a few minutes, but it doesn’t give way to another on-foot section as expected. Instead, we see another vehicular section, this time placing Hot Streak in an arena that looks a little bit like a skate park with its walls doubling as half-pipes that can be launched off of. The arena is quickly occupied by enemy cars, all gunning to take Hot Streak down. Thankfully, Hot Streak is equipped with a Flamethrower and handy lock-on technology that automatically targets the closest threat. The enemies are downed within a matter of seconds, giving Hot Streak the space needed to launch up on the arena walls to physically hit a series of bells that must be rung to open a door.

Activision representatives wouldn’t reveal if traditional car-versus-car racing is a part of the game, but they did say that we should “wait for further announcements” regarding the matter.

What “SuperCharged” Means
When a pilot hops into his or her signature car, the duo becomes SuperCharged, earning a damage boost and other perks. The SuperCharged effect is shown visually through a pulsating energy being given off by the vehicle. If the player can finish a vehicle section SuperCharged, the character will still have a damage boost for a set amount of time in the next on-foot section.

Up next: Water and air...

Influencing Flight
The Skylanders series has dabbled in flight before, mostly in breakout action sequences that were used sparingly and didn’t have the level of polish of the core gameplay.

SuperChargers’ stab at flight is clearly inspired by Nintendo’s Star Fox series, sending an aircraft hurtling along a predetermined path filled with enemies that can be locked onto and debris that can be avoided with a quick barrel roll. The flight sequence we saw, again in the Cloud Kingdom stage, is beautifully realized with sunlight painting a colorful backdrop to a Roman-esque city poking high into the cloud line.

The flight sequence pits Stormblade, a bird-like Skylander, and her craft, the Sky Slicer, against an armada of transport ships. The Sky Slicer is equipped with razor-sharp feather projectiles and secondary homing missiles that can lock-on to numerous targets at once. The action is fast, dynamic, and again, a clear tribute to Star Fox for those of us who grew up playing those games.

Above and Below the Water
The submarine sequence we witnessed (yes, in Cloud Kingdom) was the most disappointing of the three vehicular examples, as it appears to lift most of its design from the racing and flight. The submarine we see is the Dive Bomber, in this instance piloted by Spitfire. Note: Activision didn’t have the sub’s owner, Dive-Clops, on hand for the demo.

The level we see is again linear, pushing the sub at great speeds along a straight path of water. Like the car sequence, we see the sub hit jumps to catch air and avoid hazards. The big difference here is the sub is equipped with the ability to submerge beneath the water’s surface, a move that is used in this instance to avoid objects and reach underwater Gearbits.

This level ends with an arena battle fight against rival boats and subs. User-activated sonar pings are used to lock-on to these targets. Dive Bomber is also tasked to deactivate a storm-sequencer that is threatening the inhabitants of Cloud Kingdom. Rocket blasts do the job nicely.

David Nathanielsz, senior executive producer at Vicarious Visions, is quick to point out  that this is just one example of how the submarines are used. “We have a whole bunch of different types of water gameplay,” he says. “This is what we would call our ‘linear gameplay,’ where it’s fast-paced, ‘Go from point A to point B.’ We also have full-on diving, deep-sea gameplay, where you go far below the surface to explore massive underwater areas.”

All Vehicles Can Be Upgraded With Mods
The Gearbits earned in stages are used as a currency for buying mods for your cars, boats, and planes. The upgradeable parts are different for each of the 20 vehicles. One car, like Hot Streak, may give you the chance to upgrade the engine and tires, whereas another car could offer defensive body and suspension upgrades. Players will also earn instant mods hidden in stages and at the end of specific vehicle sequences.

Classic Characters Reimagined
Some of the series’ famed characters, who you often see store shelves as stuffed animals and on blankets, are coming back in SuperChargers, but it sounds like they’ll be quite different than what we’ve seen of them in the past.  They now have superhero-like guises that open up a new arsenal of moves. Here are three examples that we know of so far:

  • Super-Shot Stealth Elf has a new green and yellow outfit and is equipped with a rail gun. She also has a poisonous attack, and a new stealth attack, where she drops her gun, turns invisible, and sneaks up on enemies as they try to combat her sentient firearm.
  • Jet-Vac is also returning, but now goes by the name Hurricane Jet-Vac. He can unleash a hurricane hover attack, can narrow the distance to his attackers using a dash kick, and can once again use his vacuum gun to sweep up the battlefield.
  • The last example we have is of Skylanders’ most popular face. Trigger Happy is coming back, but we didn’t get to see him in action. We were only treated to concept art, which shows him holding a new gun, which appears to be some sort of flamethrower. He’s also wearing red and white gloves. His new name is Double Dare Trigger Happy. 

Kaos Is Once Again the Big Bad

When we last saw Kaos, he was forced to work with the Skylanders – his sworn enemies – to defeat a new foe. With that episode of his life behind him, Kaos once again hates the Skylanders and wants to lord over Skylands. In the past, his plans for world domination called employed titans and beasts from the deep – none producing results other than mass destruction across Skylands. Despite failing in all of his attempts, Kaos truly believes he has a shot this time around. His new weapon, the Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction, is said to be his most sinister device yet, capable of eating the sky and everything contained within it.

Plenty of Story to Watch
Activision says that Kaos’ latest caper unfolds across over 40 minutes of cinematics.

Familiar Staples
Collectible hats, collectible Skystone cards, lock-picking minigames, and laser and block puzzles all return in SuperChargers.

Cooperative Play May Take a Hit
Skylanders has always been a series that has allowed to players to cooperatively play offline. SuperChargers offers the same cooperative experience for the on-foot sequences, but does not allow for two vehicles to be onscreen at the same time. If two people are playing a vehicle sequence, one player steers and the second mans the weapons. Given that roughly 50 percent of the game is dedicated to vehicles, it’s odd to see the second player be thrown to the backseat like this. We’ll have to get our hands SuperChargers to see exactly how this plays out, but we can safely say this isn’t the cooperative vehicle experience we were hoping to see.

No Level Cap Increase
Sadly, Activision is not upping the level cap beyond 20, giving little incentive to bring out old, beloved characters, as the experience points earned should go to other characters still in need of leveling. This is one part of the game that is starting to read of Activision not wanting us to use our old figures any more.

A Digital Version
Activision is releasing a digital version of Skylanders: SuperChargers for all systems for people who don’t want to purchase another portal. “We wanted to offer backward compatibility with the portals for an obvious and important reason – out of respect to our customers – which allows them to get into the game at a lower price point without having to buy the full set.” People who download SuperChargers unlock digital “Instant” versions of Spitfire and Hotstreak for use in the game. No other characters or vehicles are planned for the Instant line.