The Skylanders franchise created the Toys to Life concept, and if you accept Activision's stats, it still racks up 75% of the sales in the genre. This year's reason to buy 40 new toys is Skylanders Superchargers, and while it may not be able to match Disney Infinity's vast content library or Lego Dimensions’ real world playability, it's still Skylanders, and there's still something uniquely cool about its sensibility. In the world of these little toys, everything is bigger. There's speed, there's lightning, there's Patrick Warburton. It all just works to put you in that 6-12 year old head space.
The adventure this time around stems from series villain Kaos building the Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction, and this device is eating the sky of Skylands. Rift portals are getting broken, so the only way to get around is through land, air and sea... and so we have the narrative pretence for putting vehicles into the Skylanders franchise.
It is, of course, a little more complex than that. The vehicles all have elements as well as the Skylanders, and when you match a Skylander up to his or her favourite vehicle it gets supercharged – hence the name of the game. Supercharging unlocks a set of custom mods for that vehicle that you collect throughout the game, and these mods give you the opportunity to tweak the vehicle's stats – top speed, handling, acceleration, and so on – as well as cosmetic changes. Skylanders is a game franchise for kids with puny attention spans, so these customizations can be done on the fly while you're driving via a pause screen. And of course the jump in, jump out feature is still present. In game, the car that I played leaped off ramps, swerved around obstacles, and did skateboard-like runs through halfpipes, all accompanied by element-based powers and zany character chatter.
For older players, there are increased difficulty modes, including a nightmare difficulty. So while Skylanders maintains its young following by being a notably easy game, it has difficulty for those who want it. Transformers actor Josh Duhamel also joins the Skylanders voice cast this time around, though in what capacity we don't yet know.
And it may be a small relief to parents that if you already have a ton of toys, you don't have to buy a new starter pack for Superchargers. An owners pack version is available for digital download and you can continue to use your existing Skylanders portal.
Breaking from Skylanders tradition, there are two figures in Superchargers that are only playable on a single brand of platforms: the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, as a crossover with Nintendo's Amiibos. Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and his vehicle the Barrel Blaster are available in the Wii U starter pack. Hammer Smash Bowser and his Clown Cruiser are packaged with the 3DS starter bundle. While this is a clear boost for Nintendo, it's a step away from what made Skylanders cool in its original incarnation: any figure could be played on any system. The Amiibo Skylanders don't really factor into the core experience, however, so this cross-promotion will likely only affect those rabid Skyparents who insist on fighting each other for the rarest figures to complete the set, claiming it's for their kids.
Skylanders Superchargers comes out Sept 20, 2015. Use caution in toy stores around that time. Those Skyparents may bite.