You know that feeling when you have some seriously juicy gossip that you can't wait to tell anyone, but you've been sworn to secrecy? We've had that for the past week or two. Invited to a top secret Activision event in London last Tuesday, we've been under orders to keep seriously schtum about the whole thing, with nary a whisper on social media allowed, lest we be in breach of the embargo they made us sign before we were allowed to see the super secret game in question. The super secret game we got to see? It was only the next Skylanders game! So, after a presentation, and a chat with the folks behind the game, here's everything we know about the next great Skylanders game:
What's it called, and what's the twist this time?
The new game is called Skylanders SuperChargers - a name that, while it may bring to mind a Mario Kart style spin off (which has to be a shoo-in at some point, surely?), actually refers to the main hook this time around - vehicles. While the majority of the game is a traditional, on foot, co-op style Skylanders adventure, the twist this time around is that you'll be able to use brand new vehicles, to access themed vehicular sections - which seem to be pretty substantial side quests in their own right. With 20 all new Skylanders characters - the "SuperChargers" - to collect, the game will also see 20 vehicles launched alongside it, which range from submarines to motorbikes to helicopters and everything in between, letting you access the game's vehicle based stages. In a nice touch, these toys have been made to be played with outside of the game too, complete with moving wheels, propellers and the like. Inside of the game, they can be used to access special vehicle-themed areas, split between land-based racing, riding through water-y wave courses and high-flying dog fights - mixing things up once more. In a nice touch, that means there'll be a maximum of 40 figures to buy (not including limited editions) - a substantially reduced spread compared to the other games.
How about the new figures, and compatibility?
The new figures this time around are called SuperChargers - a new breed of Skylanders that seemingly have special affinities with vehicles (more on that later). With 20 SuperChargers on offer, there'll be 2 Skylanders for each of the ten elements, with each element getting a brand new Skylander, and a "repose" of an old favourite - only this time, there's a bit more to it. Rather than just a cosmetic upgrade, these reposes are now more like reimagined figures, coming complete with a brand new move set to go along with their funky look, with the likes of Terrafin, Stealth Elf and Trigger Happy being given a total makeover, and earning a new set of upgrades in the process. Awesome!
Any Skylander, from Anchors Away Gill Grunt to ZooLou and from Barkley to Wrecking Ball, can be used in Skylanders Superchargers - all 300+ figures from the previous games are fully compatible, and fully playable in the new game. Better still, you don't need to buy a brand new Skylander to be able to drive the vehicles, as any of the old figures can be used - even dino-copter Chopper, who doesn't really have much in the way of arms. We think we'll probably start out by having Tread Head go a touch Xzibit - a Skylander who likes riding bikes so much he decided to ride a bike on a bike so he can bike while he bikes. While we're not sure how well Stump Smash will manage a steering wheel, making sure that you can use all of the existing 300+ figures out there with the game is a nice touch, even outside of the traditional on-foot areas.
So, what's special about the SuperCharger figures?
While the game may be compatible with all 300+ Skylanders that have been released so far, that's not to say there isn't an advantage to picking up the brand-spanking new SuperCharger Skylanders figures. While everyone out there can leap in a submarine/hot-rod/UFO and take it for a spin, the SuperChargers bring something new, and rather funky, to the table.
You see, SuperChargers are the only breed of Skylanders who can mod the vehicles - swapping out tyres, engines, wings and the like for better pieces to truly get the most out of them. Whether it's switching to a volcanic booster engine that shoots out deadly lava rocks or the hilarious Mr. Squeeks submarine engine - a squeeky turtle-shaped inflatable swimming ring that doubles as a speedier propeller - there's oodles of variety to the mods, and loads to find hidden in levels. Each SuperCharger Skylander has their own unique signature vehicle too, and when paired together, you'll get an even more souped up car to boot, with enhanced stats, mods and abilities - such as an added flamethrower and spikier wheels when you pair newcomer Spitfire with his trademark hot rod, Hot Streak.
Will there be any new Trap Masters/Minis/Giants/Swappable characters?
Sadly not. While we can't understand why the newer games don't seem to be making the most of the fantastic lightcore technology (let's face it - there are few things cooler than plonking your figure on the base, and watching it magically light up), we can understand the developers wanting to streamline the selection. With each new Skylanders release, the range of figures you can buy seems to get more complex and convoluted - Trap Team for example, caused all sorts of confusion when it required one specific class of Skylanders (Trap Masters) to open in-game gates - out of three or four different types of figure available. Fortunately, it seems they've learned their lesson this time, as every single character coming out for the new game will be a SuperCharger, capable of modding the new vehicles; regardless of whether they're brand new figures or reposes of old favourites.
What comes in the Starter Pack?
The Starter Pack for the game will include a new portal (as always!) and three figures - Super Shot Stealth Elf, the familiar life type that's been re-released for every game so far, newcomer SuperCharger Spitfire, a demonic-looking fire type bird, and their vehicle of choice, Hot Streak. Much is being made of the fact that you'll be able to play the whole game from start to finish with the figures you get in the box, and that the bonus areas you access with the other vehicles are entirely optional - which is nice.
What about the gameplay?
From the (admittedly little) we've seen so far, it seems Skylander SuperChargers is taking the path of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". After the disappointing Trap Team, development duties for SuperChargers has switched back to Swap Force studio Vicarious Visions - and, if you're anything like us, you'll likely think that's a good thing, as Swap Force was far and away the best Skylanders game so far.
The level we were shown was set high up in the cloud kingdom of Skylantis, where the Skylanders are searching for an item known as the Thunderous Bolt - which should have been safe under the protection of Lord Stratosfear, until the sillies decided to side with perennial series baddie Kaos - and we all know what that means. Essentially a world full of Lightning Rod characters - blue, Zeus-like beings who are essentially torsos floating on clouds, the foggy setting means you'll need to keep your eyes peeled, as the whole level starts out shrouded in cloud, that only parts when you get close. It's a pretty visual effect, even if the explanation of the tech side did go over our head a bit - and it also makes it that little bit too easy to miss things, with all sorts of secrets, enemies and perils hiding beneath the cloud cover. New bad guys, such as the Cloud Biter Trolls, also make use of the clouds, inhaling nearby ones and growing in size and strength in the process.
Generally speaking, it's more of the same Skylanders we've come to know and love - the same mix of co-op exploration, battling and light puzzle-solving we've grown accustomed to over the years. Throughout the level, familiar laser puzzles cropped up, each more complex than the last, requiring you to rotate lasers and shift blocks around to point them at a pair of stone lion faces to open a gate - standard Skylanders fare, really. In keeping with the spirit of SuperChargers though, the traditional lock puzzles (you know the ones - with the fat green blob with the silly tongue), see the fuzzy green goblin creatures sat in a hovercraft this time, zooming through a maze of cogs and rotating discs to a key at the end, which opens up the locked door. An enhanced version of the now-traditional Skystones card-based minigame is also promised, although we didn't actually get to see how Skystones Overdrive differed from previous iterations.
Next we jumped ahead to see how the various vehicle sections worked - starting with a land-based track. Using the fire-element drag racer, Hot Streak, the first half of the stage involved racing around a course at high speed, over jumps and around hairpin bends, collecting up the new vehicle-specific currency, Gear Bits. It's probably worth mentioning here that while the game only supports one vehicle at any one time, these sections are still fully co-op, with one player taking over the driving, while the other handles the guns. Enemy vehicles made appearances from time to time, dropping pesky mines to avoid, while tracks off the beaten path hid collectable mods for the land-based vehicles. The second half of the stage meanwhile, was a tad more puzzley than high-octane speedy racing - in order to open a locked gate, you needed to ring two bells. Bells which were placed just over a couple of jumps, with twisty hairpin bends, near-vertical sections of track and enemies littering the lead up to them. After launching ourselves off each of the ramps to ring each of the bells, the door unlocked, and on we went.
Then came one of the sea sections, where we took the Dive Bomber - a chunky blue submarine - for a spin. With more than a passing resemblance to aquatic racer Hydro Thunder, you need to steer your ship around a course, over waves, and past potentially deadly obstacles, on the lookout for Gear Bits and Mod chests, as before. But where the sea sections really get interesting is that you effectively have two courses on top of each other - one above and one below the waves, and you can switch between the two at will. Each is pretty drastically different too, with it's own set of perils and hidden passages to keep an eye out for. One section required you to chop and change between the two at a fair pace too, as fairly regular spiky bars blocked your path either above, or below the waves - and shifting from one to the other was the only real way to avoid the majority of the obstacles, another.
Given that we were in the cloud kingdom of Skylantis, a flying level was almost certainly on the cards at some point, as we hopped into Stormblade's favourite interceptor jet, the Sky Slicer. Flying through hoops, collecting Gear Bits and barrel rolling around mines, it started out as a fairly straightforward airborne obstacle course. But, as always, Kaos' minions won't let you get away too easily, and a load of enemy ships started attacking - although they were no match for the Sky Slicer's rapid fire chain lightning attack and homing missiles.
As a finale, we were shown a boss fight against Lord Stratosfear's Storm Sequencer - a giant wave machine with a bad attitude. Creating some rather gnarly waves, its spinning underwater arms threw the Dive Bomber submarine to and fro as we tried to pelt the machine with torpedoes, taking out the Storm Sequencers shields and whittling down it's heath. As always, the more beaten up the boss got, the less it liked it, treating itself to several huge boosts in power in the process, launching some powerful lightning storm attacks and calling in armoured boats for reinforcement. In a really nice twist, these armoured boats were totally invulnerable to your attacks - so in order to defeat them, you had to lure them towards the lightning attacks the boss was giving off. Pretty clever. With the enemies out the way, all that was left was to torpedo the Storm Sequencer into submission, saving Lord Stratosfear from Kaos' clutches and recovering the Thunderous Bolt in the process - and so ended our little demonstration.
Any other interesting titbits?
We collared the producer at the end of the presentation to clear up a few of our burning questions. The new portal does support traps, but not the villains - traps can be used to unlock special ammo. While toys may have been simplified, it seems the elemental gates - a mainstay of the series since the beginning - have got a bit more complex and fragmented. Instead of simply requiring a Skylander of the corresponding element to unlock, there seems to be three main 'gated' sections - the land, sea and sky vehicle sections, elemental vehicle gates, and then generic supercharger gates - although how all these will work in practice, it's perhaps too early to say.
When we were trying to work out where the Skylanders series might go next, vehicles has been one of the potentials we'd come up with - albeit as more of a spin off, racing-style game rather than as a part of a larger Skylanders adventure. We think we prefer the idea of it this way though, and are seriously looking forward to the release of Skylanders SuperChargers when it hits every platform imaginable (the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U) this autumn, on the 25th September. We're also rather interested in what the 'different, complimentary experience' coming to the Wii and 3DS will be, with more details promised at industry tradeshow E3, later this month.