First past the post
The latest Skylanders game initially seems like the most gimmicky yet. Giving vehicles to creatures who can variously fly, breathe fire, or hurl magic makes about as much sense as when Spider-Man drove a Spider-Buggy. But from its genuinely thrilling intro where the new SuperChargers and their "rift engine" powered vehicles roar through hacked interdimensional portals to begin their latest adventure, Activision's newest toys-to-life effort masterfully proves naysayers wrong.
The addition of vehicles massively improves the core Skylanders experience. While the on-foot action/platforming gameplay remains about the same as ever – explore linear levels, solve some puzzles, clobber some enemies, find loot, increase skills – each area is expanded with optional sections requiring the use of a land, air, or sea vessel. Ranging from destruction derby arena battles or aerial shootouts to slingshot speed runs along a set route, they mix up the gameplay nicely and unlock some fun extras.
Then there are the actual races, a solid enough set of side content that it's surprising they weren't the basis for a Skylanders Kart Racers spinoff. The influence of Mario Kart is indelible, as it is on all lighthearted kart racing games, but look past the inspiration and SuperChargers' varied tracks prove themselves a strong competitor. Online multiplayer rounds it out nicely.
The toys themselves see a noticeable quality bump this year too. The sculpts on the Skylanders characters are fantastic, while the vehicles actually get some degree of articulation. Often, it's limited to rolling wheels or spilling propeller blades, but it's progress. Hopefully the figures themselves will one day show some movement.
Best of all, there's less of a price gouge going on. As long as you have at least one vehicle for air, land, and sea, you can access almost all the game's areas – a massive improvement on last year's Trap Team, where playable areas could only be unlocked by the most expensive toys.
SuperChargers does have a few metaphorical tire blowouts – handling on some vehicles can be awkward, you'll have to do a lot of backtracking and replays to find every hidden item, and it's still immensely frustrating to not have control of the camera – but nothing so bad as to ruin race day entirely. The best Skylanders yet.