What do kids love as much as — if not more than — action figures? Things for them to drive. Whether it's a convertible for Barbie or a tank for G.I. Joe, no toy box is complete without a car, plane or boat for your dolls to cruise around in.
So when Activision announced it was adding vehicles to this year's edition of its blockbuster Skylanders franchise, the universal reaction was "Of course." Who wouldn't want to ride shotgun with Spyro, Gill Grunt, Jet-Vac and the rest of the gang as they burn rubber all over the Skylands?
"Skylanders SuperChargers" (for most game consoles, $74.99) doesn't completely reinvent the series. As usual, the starter kit comes with toys — this time, two characters and a car. When you place the plastic figures on a platform connected to your console, the characters come to life on your TV screen. Most of the time, your Skylanders run around doing typical Skylander things: collecting treasure, solving puzzles, fighting monsters.
Some scenarios, however, require a car, so you need to place one on the platform and get behind the wheel. You may need to race as quickly as you can down a track, grabbing jewels and power-ups. Or you may be thrown into a demolition derby against a fleet of enemy-controlled jalopies. The automotive insanity is nicely integrated into the story line, and there's enough variety from one course to the next that you never feel like you're stuck in traffic.
You can beat the 10-hour solo campaign with just the characters and car provided in the starter kit, although there are frequent side missions that require an air or water vehicle. Those go for $16 apiece, and I'd recommend buying one of each; you don't want to miss the aerial dogfights or seafaring adventures in "SuperChargers."
That need to invest in more toys will draw the usual complaints, but "SuperChargers" is actually less demanding than previous Skylanders installments. The vehicles, like the characters, specialize in eight different "elements" — fire, magic, tech and so on — but you can see most of what this game has to offer with just a handful of figures.
And this game does deliver a huge amount of play. Beyond the main story, there's a fighting arena, a collectible card game, daily challenges and assorted ways to decorate your home base. And, of course, there's racing, with dozens of events for each type of vehicle. In short, even if you don't want dozens of action figures cluttering up your living room, there's enough stuff in "SuperChargers" to keep busy until next year's edition.
If you do love those toys, rest assured, there are plenty of new ones available. (Nintendo fans will surely want to grab the Donkey Kong and Bowser figures.) They're almost as much fun to play with if you aren't plugged in. Three stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten
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