Parents, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to make one of the most important decisions of the year.
You have to choose between Skylanders, Disney Infinity (now with added Star Wars) or – new for 2015 – LEGO Dimensions? Yes, Christmas is almost upon us and there’s three kid-friendly adventure games for your games console with the now-obligatory NFC “portal” and plastic figurines to collect.
Each of these three games follows the same formula: you get the disc, USB-connected stand and two basic models in a premium priced box. When the young ‘uns play, they place a character on the stand to see a 3D version appear in-game. You can only play characters you own, and buying more is further injury to your wallet. It’s a formula that was invented by Activision with the highly successful Skylanders in 2011, but has the latest game in the series done enough to keep it fresh in the face of new competition?
For me, the answer is most definitely not. The new feature for 2015 is that as well as characters, you can now place two car models on the portal. The cars don’t appear on screen immediately: most of the single player game plays out in the same top-down-ish adventure style of its predecessors but at key points, the player hops into the driver or gunners’ seat and has to compete in a race or arena-style piece of vehicle combat.
To my adult eyes, the car sections feel forced and added in at the expense of the story. Where the first few Skylanders games had genuine humour and a ton of self-awareness which could be used to justify the raid on parents’ pockets, the plot here is utterly forgettable and by-the-numbers. It’s so half-hearted I’d rate the story telling of Disney Infinity ahead of it – and that’s always been the poorer of the two when it comes narrative in this particular genre of kids’ game, as it didn’t have to bother much.
In my experience, children love Infinity for the Minecraft-style world building with their favourite characters from the films, not just the single/two player adventures. The first Skylanders game had a script full of knowing asides, wisecracks and slapstick which made it by far the smarter and enjoyable of the two at heart. In Superchargers, that’s no longer true: Disney’s games have improved over time, Skylanders has lost its touch.
To make things worse for Superchargers, the cars aren’t particularly interesting either: sure they’re upgradeable as you go and you can race multiplayer online, but it’s no Mad Max or Mario Kart. Given that there are more real-world toys that can be sold with the car models, like garage playkit, its primary purpose of separating parents from their money is increasingly less well hidden.
If this is the best Skylanders can do when pitted against newcomer LEGO Dimensions, which not only boasts the writing of Telltale but also uses mini-figs for the real world models of in-game characters, it’s time to pack it in.
Fortunately for Activision, I’m not the target market. So to get a fair appraisal of its chances, I asked someone who is: my nine-year-old daughter. She’s a big fan of both Skylanders and Disney Infinity and weighed in with some surprisingly different thoughts.
What do you like about Skylander Superchargers?
I really like the new racing bits, because they are challenging. It’s the races that make it different to the games that have gone before.
What don’t you like?
I don’t like the part when you lose a race and you have to start that section again.
What did you think of the story compared to other Skylanders games?
I didn’t really like it that much. It wasn’t really that funny.
How does it compare to other Skylanders games?
Skylanders Superchargers is my favourite so far because of the racing parts. And I can use my old Skylanders with it too.
Do you prefer Skylanders or Disney Infinity?
I like them both the same. But they’re very different.
Would you trade all the Skylanders and Infinity games the new LEGO one that also has a portal and figures?
I don’t know, I’d have to play the LEGO game first.
So there you have it. What do I know about what kids want? Not as much as Activision, apparently. I could pass on this year’s Skylanders, but for the target market it gets almost top marks.