Portal Masters: Start your engines.

The Skylanders are back and bigger, better, and faster than ever. Developed by Activision and Vicarious Visions, the latest installment of the toys-to-life franchise, Skylanders SuperChargers, brings vehicle play into Skylands, allowing players to race on land, in the sea, and even take to the skies like never before.

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What’s Inside
Each Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack includes a new portal (yes, again), which is slimmer and lighter than any of its predecessors. The portal features some sweet blue flames and a slate grey base, reminiscent of rugged terrain and much different from last year’s crystal-inspired Trap Team portal. However, since the game is fully backwards compatible (thanks Activision!), there’s still a spot on this portal for last year’s Traptanium traps.

The Starter Pack also includes Spitfire, a Skylander of the Fire element who is bursting with electric blue flames and spirit-like movement, as well as Spitfire’s custom racecar, Hot Streak, which features some serious firepower with a glowing engine and metallic back-end turbines. Super Shot Stealth Elf, a Life element Skylander, is the last figure in the Starter Pack, and this blue-braided female is ready to take on the Darkness with her ninja skills and brand new turret blaster. Plus, kids get an ultra-bright poster mapping out the new SuperChargers and their signature vehicles, and a Skylanders Battlecast trading card.

Getting Started
Once kids are ready to play and connect the portal to the console (we played on the PS4), they’ll be not shocked at all shocked to find that once again, Kaos is trying to ruin Skylands. This time, he’s using the Darkness to power the Sky Eater, which will eventually swallow up Skylands—unless the Skylanders put a stop to this madness! Luckily, Master Eon has equipped the Skylanders with supercharged vehicles powered by Rift engines, which will help the elemental creatures stop the Sky Eater, and bring order back to Skylands.

Once the game begins, kids will be able to choose between four difficulty levels, so experienced, older gamers will be able to put their skills to the test, while younger kids will be able experience the supercharged action with ease.

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Game Play: Adventure Mode
Skylanders SuperChargers is an exhilarating fusion of puzzles, missions, and exploration. Players are challenged to complete on-foot missions first and then bring their vehicles into the mix, giving kids a great balance of classic Skylanders play with the high-speed new elements.

In the first level, kids have to run around collecting power-up gears, food, and other mini treasures, while taking out streams of Chompies (yes, they’re back), in an effort to find Hugo, Flynn, and Cali, who guide kids along throughout the game. After making your way through a series of unlocked doors, it’s eventually time to hop into Hot Streak and kick things into gear.

When it’s time to ride, players not only need to make it to their destination, but they also need to fight off villains and obstacles while they speed through Skylands. There’s something unbelievably satisfying about blasting road blocks to dust with sweet Wind Flares without even slowing down (all while the car emits a neon glow and leaves enemies in the dust! #epic).

While the Skylanders move pretty slowly on foot, there’s nothing slow about the game once they are in the driver’s seat. Though the high-octane action definitely kicks things up, when we tested the game on the second difficulty level, we were pleased to see that even if you go too fast, you can’t fall off the edge of the tracks, so kids won’t need to worry about losing lives or starting over multiple times (necessary, for this novice).

Customization
Right off the bat, kids can customize their vehicles with special modifications, changing out the armor, sound effects, wheels, and offensive abilities. As kids complete missions, they’ll collect new mods along the way. After about 20 minutes of play, I was able to arm Spitfire with a new horn and a hot pair of Coal Shooters. Once kids get a new mod, they can preview them to see how they look and what they do. The vehicle appears on-screen with some sweet voiceover (literally, this guy gives Morgan Freeman a run for his money) taking kids through each new element of the mod. Best of all, kids can swap out different mods at ANY point in the game, whether they are in the middle of a timed mission, zooming along in the fast lane, or battling a big boss.

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The More Skylanders, the Better
As with the past iterations of Skylanders, kids will be able to complete the game using the figures included in the starter pack, but after the first level, the subsequent areas of the map are designed for Skylanders of different elements, such as Magic, Water, and Air, which are not included. By the second level, I swapped Spitfire for Dive-Clops and Dive Bomber, since the level featured large areas of water. Dive-Clops featured a cool blaster weapon very different from Spitfire’s fire spray, and Dive Bomber was able to dive down deep AND skid along the surface of the water.

Bottom line: Yes, you can play the game with one or two figures, but players who are looking to complete every single element of every single level will want to have a few more Skylanders and vehicles up their sleeves—which will also keep gameplay fresh and exciting.

Real-Life Play
Skylanders pioneered the toys-to-life movement, bringing physical toys to life inside of a video game when kids tap them onto the Portal of Power. And while the video game has a ton of play value to offer, don’t look at the figures merely as physical DLC upgrades—they’re much more than that. Lots of kids add their Skylander character figures to their physical toy boxes, integrating them into their regular, off-screen playtime. The new vehicle figures feature real moving parts, such as Hot Streak’s rolling wheels, and Dive Bomber’s spinning propeller. These elements allow kids to get more play out of their Skylanders in the real world, which is an awesome new upgrade since the character figures don’t feature any articulation.

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Everything Else
Skylanders SuperChargers also features a local two-player racing game and a competitive online racing game with up to four players, which allows kids to use voice chat to communicate with their opponents, which we haven’t tested yet but will as soon as its live!

Keeping consistent with previous Skylanders games (and Spyro games, for that matter), the graphics are incredibly stunning, launching players into the robust, overgrown, twinkling world of Skylands once again. The figures—both vehicles and characters—feature an incredible amount of thought and detail, which collectors will appreciate.

With multiple modes of play, new characters to collect and revel over, and tons of new vehicles to speed through Skylands, Skylanders SuperChargers is a fresh update offering kids more play value than ever before.